Retirement extravaganza

Steve and I wanted to celebrate our retirements with a magnificent trip — and so we did! This was truly the trip of a lifetime – a Retirement Extravaganza! It was my immense joy to plan this trip for over close to two years, and I was on cloud nine from the day we decided to take this trip!

I still marvel at all of the wonderful experiences we had and the interesting people we met.

Here’s the short story: 17-night transatlantic repositioning cruise to Barcelona, Spain from Galveston, Texas on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas cruise ship. We with port stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal, Malaga, Spain, Alicante, Spain, Palma De Mallorca, Spain, and finally disembarking in beautiful Barcelona. Whew!

Retirement Extravaganza - Vision of the Seas cruise ship route map of cruise from Galveston, Texas to Barcelona, Spain
Transatlantic Repositioning Cruise – Start to Finish

At the end of our cruise, we spent four days in Barcelona and then flew to Italy where we spent three to four days in each Florence, Naples, Pompeii, Salerno, and finally Rome. We are so fortunate to have had this incredible experience and I would like to share a bit of it with you.

Expensive trip?

No, not so much. I created an itemized list of each location we planned to visit — the biggest trip of our lifetime. I itemized anticipated costs and expenses for each day of the trip and listed these costs on my trip-planning spreadsheet, sorted by location.

This included anticipated costs of all lodging, meals, beverages, transportation costs, tours, fees, anticipated tips, anticipated souvenirs, as well as a miscellaneous category (just in case). After adding all those costs I had our budget for each day and a reasonably expected total cost for the trip. Then we began to save the necessary amount of money to pay for these budgeted costs.

It takes a while to compile these reasonably correct estimated costs, but gathering this information early on in the planning process gives me great peace of mind so I can focus on all the fun stuff. Incidentally, I believed this would be the only transatlantic repositioning cruise we would ever be able to take, but guess what? We have another one planned for April 2020, departing from Australia!

Update: Our April 2020 cruises have been canceled, of course, in light of the world’s condition in March 2020. We do have a repositioning cruise to Copenhagen planned for April 2021 that I am so looking forward to.

Because of our budget and forward planning, this was not one big one-time purchase, and over time, some costs actually decreased. For this trip, Royal Caribbean lowered the cruise price on its website at least twice before we made our final payment.

The cruise line will not notify customers of the cost reduction, but if you call and request the reduction, or simply call and ask if there has been a cost reduction, they are happy to oblige. For that reason, I checked the website regularly to see if the cruise fare had decreased.

I also regularly checked Royal Caribbean’s cruise planner website for discounts and lower prices for onshore excursions and onboard amenities such as beverage packages, internet packages, dining packages, and spa services.

What to pack?

Packing took a lot of careful thinking. This was a 41-day trip and we are not tiny little things with tiny little clothes that we could just toss into backpacks. We are “healthy” senior folks, used to our “comfortable” clothes, and needed clothes for different climates and situations.

I watched several YouTube videos about how and what to pack and read everything I could find online about packing for a long trip. Laundry was available on the ship but cruise ship laundry is always expensive. We packed a portable travel clothesline, beach chair clips and Tide packs so we could wash small items in our stateroom and dry them on our balcony on those multiple sea days.

I ended up taking about ten casual outfits; mostly capris, shorts, and shirts/blouses with extras in the underwear category. I also packed about five casual dresses that could be accessorized to dress up or down and dressy clothes to wear on cruise formal nights.

Sweaters and light jackets were necessary as well as swimwear and coverups. I skimped on shoes and packed ballet flats, one pair of marginally dressy shoes, sneakers, two pairs of sandals, and good old flip-flops. Still, that was a lot of shoes.

We took our own snorkel gear and that took up a lot of space. There was no limit on the amount of luggage we could take with us on the cruise ship but after the cruise was over we had a quick little flight from Barcelona to Florence and it had a very limited luggage weight and size allowance.

Packing cubes worked wonderfully and I weighed most individual clothing items (used my kitchen Drop food scale!) to get a handle on the weight I was squeezing into that extremely lightweight suitcase. We did use laundry service at least once on the ship, but it was painful for me to spend money that way.

Once on land, we had clothes laundered at hotels or found laundry services on our own as we continued our travel.

Retirement Extravaganza - The little suitcase that could!
The little suitcase that could!

As part of our trip planning, we realized that some clothing we had on our cruise, specifically dress-up clothes, snorkel gear, miscellaneous cruise only items (such as magnetic wall hooks, tea light candles used for nightlights, over the door shoe rack used for toiletry storage, beach chair clips, thermal drink glasses) would no longer be needed after the cruise.

We arranged to have our largest suitcase picked up from our Barcelona hotel and shipped back home by a luggage shipping service. I checked three different luggage handling services and decided on Luggage Forward to handle this task. It was a very straightforward process.

We were very pleased with how easy it was to have this task taken care of. I highly recommend this company and will use them again when needed.


For travel, each of us carries two no-foreign transaction fee credit cards and an ATM card that does not charge ATM service fees. I hate ATM fees! Once we have reached a destination we obtain cash in the local currency from ATM machines, as needed.

We needed small bills for tips onboard our cruise so we took dollars for that purpose. Cruise ship gratuities are paid upfront before we leave but the staff onboard are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen, and always smiling and eager to please. They are well-deserving of a bit of extra cash if we can provide it.

Flights and Accommodations?

Even though our cruise ended more than twenty days before we planned to return home, we were able to purchase flights from Air2Sea, Royal Caribbean’s low-priced airfare program it provides to complement cruise itineraries. We required one-way airfare at the end of this journey from Barcelona back to Houston and were able to get a price!

One of my favorite things to do is research the many lodging options available for our trips. I had a fine time selecting, changing my mind, selecting again all the wonderful hotels and B&Bs we stayed at during this Retirement Extravaganza. I base my choices on these five things:

  • Cost – this is most important to us
  • Location
  • Uniqueness
  • Amenities
  • Reviews (I check at least three different sources)

What are we going to do?

We choose shore excursions based, of course, on cost but also we usually require that the excursion can be canceled right up until the day of, or a few days before it is scheduled. During this trip, we did cancel a prepaid snorkeling trip in St. Thomas, just a day before the scheduled, and did not incur any cancellation fees and our money was refunded. We enjoy the freedom to change our minds.

I reserved and prepaid tours in every city we planned to visit after our cruise. We reserved many tours through Viator but used other vendors as well. I learned during my research that it was strongly advised to obtain confirmed, prepaid, skip-the-line tours in several venues.

I followed this suggestion and prebooked most of the tours. This goes against our desire to be spontaneous as I mentioned above, but it also ensured that we were actually able to visit Sagrada Familia, Uffizi Gallery, Accademia, the Coliseum, and the Vatican.

Back at home?

There are a few housekeeping details to be taken care of when going on a trip of this length. We always:

  • Ensure our regular bill payments are automated
  • Inform credit card companies we are traveling out of the country
  • Put a hold on our mail service
  • Purchase travel insurance, in addition to cruise line insurance
  • Provide itineraries to our immediate family

These are my hints, stories, suggestions, ideas — the things I did to make our Retirement Extravaganza a trip to never forget. I definitely have not covered every aspect of our planning, but I’d love to know if this is helpful to you or if you have any suggestions for me. I hope you’ll tune in to check out my upcoming trip stories about these wonderful places we visited on this trip.

Retirement extravaganza

6 thoughts on “Retirement extravaganza

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  5. Oh my gosh, I so enjoyed your story and gave me insight to a couple of things I haven’t done anymore in my trip planning since I came home from Iraq. I can’t wait to read your trip stories and gather more good information Air2Sea and Luggage Forward.

    1. Thanks Linda! I am very glad you liked the stories. I have a series of blogs on our Retirement Extravaganza with a separate blog for each location we visited; to be posted soon. I am finding out new travel information every trip and would like to have any information you’ve got also.

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