“Beyond” Barcelona…with Captain Kate and the World’s Most Famous Cat

After a couple of days hanging out in Barcelona, we boarded Celebrity Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Celebrity Beyond. Prior to our cruise, the ship had only sailed on a handful of passenger voyages. As avid cruisers, we have followed Captain Kate McCue on Instagram for quite some time (as well as her cat Bug Naked), so we were thrilled to find out that she would still be onboard as the Captain of our vessel.

Embarkation at the port of Barcelona was very smooth. This is the third cruise we’ve taken since sailing has resumed post-pandemic, and this was by far the smoothest process we’ve seen. We were sailing in The Retreat class of cabins, which certainly helps speed things up…but from the time the taxi dropped us at the port to stepping foot on the ship was less than 15 minutes.

We went directly to our stateroom to drop off our carry on bags and grab our key cards, and then we headed to the Luminae restaurant to eat lunch. After a quick check in at our muster station (thank God the crowded, hot, mandatory all-guest muster drills of the past are no more), we were ready to set sail. Our stateroom was on Deck 11, just a few doors down from the bridge (and from Captain Kate and Bug’s stateroom), and Belinda was just thrilled when, as we were sailing out of Barcelona, Captain Kate waved at her from the bridge.

The view from our balcony into the bridge as we sailed away from Barcelona. Belinda loved being able to look in there and see Captain Kate!

This was a packed itinerary with only one scheduled day at sea (the last one). We started in Marseille, France, and we decided to spend the day on our own wandering around, and enjoying our first time back on French soil since we moved back to the USA. We had a leisurely morning of wandering through the Vieux Port and Le Panier. We had lunch at a wonderful little French bistro, Le Comptoir aux Huiles, shopped at the small Galeries Lafayette outpost in Marseille (oh, how I have missed you!), and made our way back to the ship. I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews of Marseille, and a lot of people head to Cannes or another city, but we enjoyed the opportunity to be back in France. I will say that my French is much rustier than it was when we were living there, but it came back pretty quickly!

Our next stop was Villefranche Sur Mer. It is typically a jumping off point to visit either Nice or Monaco. We have stopped at this port before, and that time, we went into Nice…and noticed upon returning how cute this little port town was. So, we decided to stay here this time and just wander on our own. If you have watched the 2nd season of “Emily in Paris” on Netflix, Villefranche is the town where they filmed the scenes that were supposedly in St. Tropez, so it’s definitely picturesque. We walked through the (very hilly) little town, Belinda was thrilled to partake in a French croissant, and we had lunch in another charming French Bistro (whose name I can’t remember and I didn’t get a photo!). It was a great day!

That evening on the ship, Belinda was so happy to meet Captain Kate in person for the first time. We ran into her at the coffee bar on the ship, Cafe al Bacio. She was so gracious to stop what she was doing and take photos and chat with the guests. (Side note: crew were still required to wear masks on the ship, but it was optional for passengers.)

Unfortunately, we only had two days in France…then it was on to Italy. We first stopped at Santa Margherita, a port we’d never visited before. While this port is only 4 miles from the beautiful Portofino, when we got of the ship, this little seaside village was so cute, we decided to stay and explore on our own here. We first walked through the Piazza Mazzini looking at all of the cute little cafes and shops. We walked along the beautiful promenade. And we made the climb up the hills to visit the Villa Durazzo and gardens. Unfortunately, once we hit the top, we realized that the Villa was closed that day for a private party, so we didn’t get to go inside. But the gardens and the view was spectacular and worth the climb. Then for the highlight of the trip, we ate lunch at Ristorante Antonio, where they only cook what they can buy that was caught by fishermen that day. We had a fabulous seafood lunch…absolutely delicious.

Continuing our Italian touring, our next stop was the port of La Spezia. The last time we were here, we opted to go to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. This time, we spent the day in Tuscany…first visiting a pasta factory where they still package all the pasta by hand (we definitely brought several pounds of pasta home in our suitcase). Then, we went to a Tuscan farmhouse for lunch…where they made everything they served us, including the wine. The food was delicious, and what could be better than eating lunch outside in Tuscany? It was a lovely day.

One of the reasons we chose this specific cruise was because it visited Corsica, which is one of the places that we had planned to visit when we lived in France, but didn’t get to it since the pandemic canceled a lot of our travel plans. Unfortunately, we were clearly not meant to visit Corsica. After boarding the pilot at Ajaccio, the winds and a storm whipped up so we delayed docking. Captain Kate explained that we were going to wait out the storm and try again. Unfortunately, conditions did not improve, and she made the choice to abandon our plans for a day in Corsica and take us out to sea to find nice weather instead.

Alas, this is as close as we got to Corsica…

We were lucky that for the vast majority of our cruise, we had somehow managed to miss the heat waves that kept scorching through Europe. The first part of our trip, temperatures were generally in the mid-80s, which without AC feels hotter than it would in TX since you can’t cool off anywhere, but not terrible. That all changed when we hit the Eternal City. We arrived in Rome on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the two patron saints of Rome. That meant certain things were closed, but most shops and restaurants stay open. The Vatican was closed that day (which was ok since we’d seen it before), but if you wanted to wait to see him, the Pope was going to address the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at noon. We took the train into Rome’s St. Peter’s Station, right near the Vatican, but by the time we arrived at the square, it was only 10:00AM…and 2 hours in the heat to hear the Pope didn’t sound like how we wanted to spend our time. So, we walked around the square, and then went to visit one of the sites we hadn’t seen in our previous visit to Rome…Castel Sant Angelo. This old fortress/castle/museum tells you the history of Rome. It was beautiful, provided beautiful views of Roma and Vatican City from it’s windows, and (importantly on this day) provided lots of shaded areas to stay out of the sun. After the castle, we went to find a place to eat lunch near Piazza Navona at a little place called Osteria da Secondo, which was excellent Roman food. Our original plan was to walk to the Villa Borghese after lunch, but it was so hot (100F) that instead we opted to walk to the Trevi Fountain to throw our coins in the fountain to guarantee our return to Rome. After that, we took an Uber back to St Peter’s Square to sit in the shade and rest for a while before heading back to the train station. We walked almost 9 miles in the heat that day, and we were all exhausted.

Our last port of call for this cruise was Naples. We only had two things planned for today — go to Pompeii to see the ruins, and then come back and have real Neapolitan pizza for lunch. We visited Pompeii before, but both kids requested to go back again. It’s such an amazing place, and while it is heartbreaking to think of what happened there in 79AD, it is just beautiful to tour. After walking through the ruins at Pompeii and taking the bus back to Naples, we began our search for pizza. Our concierge on the ship gave us the name of a pizza place to try, but it was closed because its oven was broken. So sad! So we went on a hunt for another pizza place that was good. I don’t recall the name of the place since we were all hot, tired and hungry when we got there…but it was absolutely delicious.

Our final day of cruising was spent at sea, which was a nice way to relax, pack, and take time to explore this beautiful new ship. The only downside with Mediterranean cruise itineraries is that you spend so much time at port, you don’t really get to see much of the ship! While we did go to the Retreat pool and sun deck every day to cool off after we got back on the ship, we didn’t explore too much else! Our last day, we went to a talk given by our Captain, where she told the story of how she got into the industry and also talked about how the Beyond was built. A little while after that, our concierges arranged for a meet and greet with the Captain and all of the kids that were traveling in the retreat. I’ve never been on a cruise before where so many people lined up to meet a captain. Of course, this is one amazing captain, and I’d sail with her again without hesitation. Later that afternoon, we had to take Belinda to Bug Naked Trivia to get a chance to meet the famous cat (the winner got a cuddle with Bug). Belinda was absolutely crushed that we didn’t win…especially because we came in 2nd and only lost by 1/2 point!! Next time!

This was our first cruise on the Edge class of ships. The Beyond is the 3rd one (after the Edge and the Apex). Having sailed in the Retreat on some of their older ships, which were retrofitted to include a Retreat Lounge and the Luminae restaurant, it was nice to be on a ship where the space was deliberately dedicated to the Retreat. The ship itself is beautiful and spacious, and there are so many unique areas that feel more like an upscale resort hotel than a cruise ship. We ate most of our dinners in Luminae, but we did eat one night at the Eden restaurant, which was very good. I will say that the highlight of our dining on the Beyond was the dinner we had at Le Voyage, which is chef Daniel Boulud’s first restaurant at sea. That meal was amazing, and although it was definitely a pricey evening, it was exquisite. Fern and I did the wine pairing with the meal, and the pours were so generous I had to stop finishing every glass they served because I was getting a little bit tipsy! Even the kids did the tasting menu and enjoyed the food, much to the delight and amusement of the waiters (who probably aren’t used to kids eating like ours do).

We liked the Beyond so much, we booked a placeholder trip to do another cruise next summer on this ship. Since the cruise line has such generous cancellation without penalty policies, we’re still unsure if we’ll actually take this trip — with a child who will be entering his senior year after next summer, the schedule is a little uncertain — but we’ll be thrilled to once again go “Beyond.” And I’m pretty sure Belinda is hoping to see Captain Kate and one very famous feline again!

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