A Trip Report

A Cruise and

Land Tour

Of (parts of)

Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal

October, 2022

The Setup

The background for this trip goes back a ways: specifically to early 2020.  We had planned our trip to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu (see that trip report) for March of 2020, but of course Covid-19 interfered and Celebrity Cruises cancelled that trip.  Celebrity offered us the choice of a full $$ refund or a future cruise credit of 125% of what we had paid for the cruise.  Since we intended to take that cruise/tour sooner or later, we took the credit.  When we did take the Galapagos – Machu Picchu trip, there was very little on which we could spend that extra 25% credit, so we ended that trip with about $5000 In credit on Celebrity.  We normally do not take cruises on large ships (see our several reports for cruises on Windstar ships) but other than the Galapagos ships, all Celebrity ships are very large.  The credit was non-transferrable and expired at the end of 2022, and we certainly could not let it go to waste.

We had been talking about wanting to explore Spain, but a cruise-only trip really would not provide a very complete view of the country, so I started looking at combining a Celebrity cruise and a land tour in Spain.  We eventually settled on this combination of the Celebrity cruise from Rome to Barcelona, and then a land tour by Gate-1 exploring Spain for 13 days.  On the Galapagos trip, one of the Celebrity officers had suggested that we try their “Retreat” facility.  You get access to the Retreat by booking one of their “suites” and of course that costs somewhat more.  I’ll discuss the Retreat and our suite more in the section about the ship, the BEYOND.

Getting there and Back


Waiting for our delayed departure

I arranged our flights on Delta and both flights, going (to Rome) and coming back (from Barcelona), were non-stop flights.  The flight to Rome was about 45 minutes late leaving, but arrived only 15 minutes late and that was no problem.  The return flight departed on time and arrived in Atlanta about 40 minutes early.  When I made the reservations 5 months prior to the trip, it looked like the planes would be lightly loaded so the chance of getting a free upgrade was good.  I booked what used to be First Class but now plays second fiddle to the “Delta 1” seating in both directions.  Before the trip, all the Delta 1 seats got taken, so we stayed in the seats we reserved, but they were reasonably comfortable and the service was good.   Customs and passport control throughout the trip was easy.  The most confusion we experienced was the change in the process of using the ”Global Entry” facility returning to Atlanta. 


Watching our progress to Rome

We did have to have another flight in the middle of the trip to get from Barcelona, where the cruise ended, to Lisbon, where the land tour was to start.  I made these reservations with TAP, the primary Portugal airline and made them first class in the hopes of making the process a little simpler.  We got a bit of an education on how European airlines operate.  The ticket counter was not staffed until about 90 minutes before flight time (we got there 3 hours before the flight). The gate was not assigned until 45 minutes prior to the flight time (when the inbound flight landed). There were no general “announcements” for the start of boarding, we just noticed people starting to board.  Their “first class” seats were just regular coach seats but with the middle of the 3-seat row blocked out.  No special service either (I could have used a glass or two of wine by then).

Waiting in the Barcelona airport.

Although the flight was about 45 minutes late, we had no major plans for that afternoon in Lisbon other than checking into our hotel.

About our Transfers

With the multiple flights and such, I had pre-arranged multiple transfers.  We had a transfer from the Rome airport to the port of Civitavecchia through Celebrity, a transfer from the Barcelona port to the Barcelona airport through Celebrity, a transfer from the Lisbon airport to our Lisbon hotel through Gate-1, and a transfer from our Barcelona hotel to the Barcelona airport (again) through Gate-1.  Unlike some of our previous trips, all transfers went well with no problems.

I should also mention that, as with previous trips, I made the cruise and tour arrangements through Vacations To Go.  James Bingley (jbingley@vacationstogo.com) performed his usual excellent support and assistance for the cruise while Tanya Khalaf (tkhalaf@vacationstogo.com) did all the arrangements for the Gate-1 land tour

About this report

Since this trip was so long, I’m afraid that this report will also be a bit long and probably have a lot of photos.  After editing and culling out the less successful photos and videos, I still ended up with a little over 1000 photos and videos.  But don’t worry, I will not attempt to include them all in the report.  To make this a little easier to handle, I will break the cruise up into two “chapters” and the tour into three “chapters”.    Since it is a fairly significant topic in itself, I will start off with a separate section about the Celebrity Beyond.  You can read whichever chapters you want: anyone only interested in the cruise can read chapters 2 & 3, while someone only interested in the land tour can read chapters 4, 5, and 6.

Click on these links to take you to the appropriate chapters

Chapter 1:  The Celebrity Beyond

Chapter 2:  The cruise – Corsica, Porto Fino, La Spezia, Villefranche

Chapter 3:  The cruise -  Marsielle, At sea, Mallorca, Valencia, Barcelona

Chapter 4: The tour – Lisbon, Seville, Cordoba

Chapter 5:  The tour - Ronda, Costa del Sol, Malaga, Gibraltar, Alhambra, Granada, Toledo

Chapter 6:  The tour – Madrid, Escorial, Barcelona, Wine/Cava tasting


Some general comments


Some comments do not really fit anywhere else in this report, so I will collect them here.

Food and dining

With only one exception (expensive and poor Sangria in Barcelona) we had very good success in finding interesting places to eat and in almost all cases, the food was tasty, the service was good, and the price was more than fair.  Not only was the food good, but the wine was also always good (sometimes very good) and the cost of the wine very reasonable.  Sometimes finding a suitable restaurant was a little intimidating, but we always managed to find something interesting and certainly never went hungry.


The Hotels on the Tour

We stayed in a variety in the type and relative quality of the hotels.  My favorite hotel was the Lumen Hotel in Lisbon and that is where we had the best room in terms of convenience, the view and the balcony we had.  I suspect that we got that good room because we arrived a day early and got one of their better rooms while the people who arrived “on schedule” got the standard rooms (no view and no balcony).  The hotel in Costa del Sol was interesting in that it consisted of two good sized rooms, but the plumbing was noisy: we could hear when toilets were flushed in adjoining rooms.  Several times the hotel was nice, but the rooms were very small (Seville, Madrid, Barcelona).  I have decided that Gate-1 books rooms the same way as Collette apparently does: they book very nice hotels in good locations, but take the cheapest rooms in those hotels.  I have to think that a minor increase in cost would provide a significant improvement in the quality of the rooms.


The People

All of the workers we met on the cruise and the tour were friendly and happy to provide good service.  All of the guides for all excursions and tours were friendly and knowledgeable.  All of the servers in restaurants and stores were happy to do almost anything we requested and generally provided very good service, even when our tour group of 30 descended on a restaurant.  I did not see anyone get mad or upset or even raise their voice.   Although sometimes language was a bit of a barrier, we always try to converse with everyone and treat everyone as just another person.  They sometimes have interesting stories or information to pass along.