Our holiday started on the Thursday – two days before we were due to board the Disney Magic when we flew from Heathrow to Barcelona. We had booked our flight a year in advance and used our British Airways Avios miles which meant our flight cost a whopping £17 each – you can’t get a better bargain than that. We chose the flight that departed at 6:25am in the morning as it meant that we could just get out of bed and go instead of having to hang around and wait. Also from years of personal experience when Heathrow suffers from bad weather or air traffic control delays, the very early morning departures are the least disrupted. Also as with our last cruise, we would have two nights to enjoy Barcelona. I would never travel the day of the cruise (or even the day before) as I cannot even to begin to imagine the stress of even having a small delay. Why would you risk travelling on the day where you could in theory miss your cruise if your flight got delayed or even cancelled. Even if you’ve never had a flight delay or cancellation before, there is always a first time and I will never put myself in that situation.
After getting a taxi to Heathrow at the crack of dawn, we were at check in just before it opened. There was no queue at security and thankfully Pret was already open in the departure lounge meaning we could grab a sandwich to eat on the plane so we didn’t have to suffer the British Airways breakfast offering – the normal breakfast is bad enough but the vegetarian option is a million times worse.
After a short non eventful flight (with a great view of the city and the port from the right hand side of the aircraft) we landed into a very hot and busy Barcelona Airport. Immigration for anyone with a European passport was quick and easy whereas for anyone else it was slow and painful with hideously long lines – payback from Europe for the lines we have to suffer in places like JFK, Washington and Miami.
Our luggage was already on the belt and we quickly made our way to board the Aerobus to Plaça de Catalunya. The bus is a fantastic way to travel into the city and costs €5.90 and runs every 5-10 minutes and there is plenty of space for luggage. To save trying to juggle several large bags whilst trying to buy tickets, we had purchased our tickets ahead of time online and simply handed over the e-tickets that we had printed. The journey into the city took just over twenty minutes and drops you off right in the centre of Plaça de Catalunya across the road from El Corte Ingles.
We had a short five minute walk from the bus stop to our hotel on La Rambla. We picked Le Meridien to stay at because it was not very expensive and its location made it a fantastic hotel to stay as everything was close by. The official check in time was 3pm but after only a short wait in which we went to Starbucks a few doors away to grab a coffee, our room was ready for us by midday.
As we’d been awake since 03:45 that morning, we took some time to rest before heading out to start exploring Barcelona. As I’d been before a few years ago, I knew my way around. We had a quick look around La Boqueria market, checked out the Disney Store (it was very crowded and there wasn’t much Barcelona-specific merchandise) before heading to Casa Nova Foto to buy a camera strap for one of our SLR’s – they are located just off Plaça de Catalunya and if ever forgot or lose any of your camera accessories whilst in Barcelona, they will be the best place to visit.
One of the things I immediately noticed that day and indeed the next was how different La Rambla was to my previous visit a few years ago. On my last visit, there were street entertainers along with birds and animals in cages everywhere yet on this visit there were none apart from one or two “entertainers” near the Columbus statue by Port Vell. Also on my last visit, the pick pockets stood out like a sore thumb and you could see them hanging around waiting to pounce on their next victim yet again I didn’t see anything. The majority of people in Barcelona are sensible and keep their bags on the front of them whilst out and about but there are still some that hang their bags off their shoulders out of sight or keep their wallets or phones in their pockets which is just plain stupid and asking for trouble.
As we were both starving at this point, we decided to get dinner early. I had heard some great reviews about a tapas place called Bar Lobo which was conveniently located opposite the entrance to Le Meridien. As it was still early, we were seated right away and not long after our food arrived. We ordered Hummus and Pita Bread, Patatas Bravas, Fried Hot Green Peppers, Squids Andalusian Style and Fried Mushrooms. Every single dish was amazing but the peppers were incredible. Also I’m generally not a fan of squid or calamari in general, but at Bar Lobo it was delicious.
Before heading back to the hotel, we made a quick visit to Carrefour the other side of the hotel on La Rambla to buy some drinks to take with us on the ship. The selection was great and we ended up buying a litre of gin, twelve cans of tonic and six bottles of Cava. Our cruise was one of the last Disney cruises with no carry on alcohol restrictions and as we would be onboard for eleven nights, we made the most of the opportunity. We then headed back to the hotel as the long day had pretty much finished both of us off and sleep was desperately needed.
On the Friday morning we woke up with the help of about ten alarms set on both of our iPhones as we had an early start. Breakfast in bed consisted of a quick run to Starbucks for tea and a spinach empanada each which we had bought the night before in Carrefour. The empanada looked a lot nicer than what it tasted as it had no flavour, barely any filling and was pretty much just a lump of dough.
Due to Barcelona being crazy busy that weekend – the La Mercè street festival was taking place as well as lots of huge ships being docked including the giant Allure of the Seas – we had purposely booked an 8:30am reservation to enter Park Guell before it got too crowded once all the hideous tour groups turned up. From the nearby Catalunya station, we took the L3 Barcelona Metro train to Lesseps which took about 10 minutes and cost €2.25 each. From Lesseps Station, Park Guell is incredibly easy to find due to plenty of signs everywhere and is about a 15 minute walk – some of the walk is uphill but since my last visit, escalators have been installed making the journey to the park easy. As we had booked online, we were able to walk straight to the entrance with the e-tickets we printed at home.
On my previous visit to Park Guell, I had been unable to get a photo of the famous salamander due to the number of people visiting so we headed straight there to get the photos with hopefully no one in them. We were in luck as there was only one or two people already there however a very pushy Japanese film crew turned up right behind us and kept asking people to move out of the way so they could film – however as all the rest of us there had all paid our money to get in and got there early to get the photos, we all refused to move. Seriously, if you’re filming then you arrange ahead of time to film before the park opens. It was a good job we all stood our ground as less than ten minutes later just before 9:00am, the first lot of tour buses turned up and the area was swamped so I’m glad we got the photos when we did or else we wouldn’t have got them.
We walked around the park a little bit longer and took in the amazing views of Barcelona – sadly the Disney Magic which had arrived into Barcelona a day early from dry dock in Cadiz that morning was just out of sight. Another nice to know for Park Guell is to keep hold of your tickets as they scan them again when you leave the park as only 400 people are allowed in at any one time.
After taking the Metro back to Catalunya Station, we walked down La Rambla to visit Palau Guell as it was somewhere that I wanted to visit and the photos from the rooftop of the colourful chimneys against the blue sky would come out amazingly well given the weather. It wasn’t very busy at all when we arrived so were quickly able to purchase tickets for €12. The entrance price included an audio tour however neither of us wanted it which they didn’t seem to understand when we refused the handset – we just wanted the views and the pictures.
The chimneys on the roof were indeed beautiful as was the view over the rooftops of Barcelona – there is a hotel opposite with a glass sided rooftop pool which looked incredible and would definitely have an awesome view of both the chimneys and the city. We could also just see the familiar red funnels of the Disney Magic in the distance.
After leaving Palau Guell we headed down to the end of La Rambla to Port Vell where we could easily see the Disney Magic. It was quite a comforting feeling seeing the Magic in Barcelona as it had been in dry dock in Cadiz for the previous two weeks and I had been panicking just slightly about it being delayed and our cruise being cancelled – several cruises were cancelled after the major dry dock that the Magic had had in Cadiz two years previously and that thought had played on my mind for some time.
We were both starving by this time so decided to have a big late lunch instead of waiting to have dinner later that night. We headed to the beautiful Plaça Reial and enjoyed a lunch of paella and sangria whilst overlooking the square.
Our last sightseeing stop of the day was La Pedrera which is also known as Casa Mila. Once again we had prebooked our tickets and were immediately able to walk in with our printed e-tickets with no wait. We headed straight to the roof to look at to the famous chimneys and saw a great view of the Sagrada Familia in the distance.
Whilst at La Pedrera, we both hit the wall pretty badly tiredness-wise so decided to head back to the hotel and start to get all of our bags sorted and ready for the next morning. This mainly consisted of moving all of the bits and pieces from our hand baggage that we wouldn’t need straight away when the boarded the Disney Magic to make room for the many bottles that we had bought in Carrefour.
Just before I fell asleep for the night, I saw that British Airways had cancelled two flights to Barcelona the following morning which made me feel incredibly happy that we had enjoyed such a great time in Barcelona before our cruise and reinforced my thoughts about never flying in the same day. I could fall asleep happy in the knowledge that we were already in Barcelona and in the morning we would only have a five minute taxi ride to the port. That thought and the peace of mind it created was priceless.