All I can say is “Wow”. This particular cruise was not on our bucket list, but Royal Caribbean offers Next Cruise deals to onboard passengers. We were on a cruise with You Are Not Alone Travel Group in 2017 and decided to take them up on the offer. The offer was a buy one get one half off. Who wouldn’t go for a deal like that? I think the idea of seeing Morocco is what sealed the deal. Jim and I are extremely happy we took this cruise. First shout out is to Gina, who took care of our travel arrangements. She made sure payments were timely and kept us abreast of any changes. The next shout out is to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, who provided exceptional service. We wanted this to be a stress free vacation, so we let Royal Carribbean take care of our flight and ground transportation. Of course, I’m not one to blindly trust so I checked out prices for both. Surprisingly enough it was competitive and you can’t beat the convenience.
Now on to cruise talk. This was a 12 night cruise with 8 ports of call visiting 4 countries on 2 continent. Can you say “Wow”? We flew into London Heathrow, where Royal Caribbean representatives greeted us and gave instructions to board a motor coach to Southampton Cruise Port.
It was a comfortable ride and we were able to see the English countryside on the 90 min drive to the cruise port. We arrived at the port, checked in, stopped by our room and then headed straight for the lunch buffet.
That was the first of many delicious meals. We were happy with the meals throughout the cruise. Jim and I prefer sit down meals in the dining room over the buffet. Royal Caribbean provided the best of both by offering both buffet and menu ordering in the dining room during breakfast and lunch.
The first day was a cruising day. This was perfect because it gave us an opportunity to rest from the long flight and acclimate to the different time zone. The ship had the typical cruise activities so there was plenty to do on the ship. It also gave us an opportunity to recharge and plan for the adventures ahead. We booked all our excursions through the cruise line because that fell right in line with the desire for a stress free vacation.
Our first Port of Call was Vigo, Spain. The weather was perfect. The shore excursion was a motor coach ride, Vigo Sightseing and Bayona. Our tour guide struggled with English and the driver was not familiar with Vigo and was very inexperienced. She backed into a wall and scraped a sign. We made the best of the tour because the scenery was magnificent
The next Port of Call was Lisbon, Portugal. Again, the weather was perfect. The shore excursion was Lisbon by Land and Water in an amphibious vehicle. Our tour guide was “Awesome”. She had the whole group engaged and told interesting anecdotes along with identifying the cityscape. The first half of tour was riding through the city streets and the second half was floating in the Tagus River. The driver was excellent. As part of the tour, we stopped at Pasteis de Belem, http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/ , where we were provided warm vanilla custard tarts. They were amazing! Lisbon has an interesting history, which can be attributed to its location. We would definitely make a return trip to Lisbon.
The next Port of Call was Agadir, which was supposed to be the highlight of the cruise for me. Unfortunately, it was not. Maybe my expectations were too high. Jim said that it remindeed him of a Mexican border town. There was a lot of poverty and the things that bothered me most were the smells and the air quality. Agadir is dry, and arid, with dust and sand everywhere. I suppose, we should have taken the Marrakech excursion, but we didn’t want to be on a bus for six hours, so we opted to stay in Agadir. There wasn’t a lot to see, but we took the Panoramic City Drive. Our tour guide wasn’t very talkative. I think he chose the wrong job. He answered questions when asked, but wasn’t very forthcoming with information. We went to a Souk market. It was a bit overwhelming and finding a restroom was a major challenge. Again, the smells in the market were not pleasant. I don’t think we will make a return trip to Agadir.
Next stop was Lanzarote, Canary Islands. I had read about Canary Islands, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. The islands are of volcanic origin and the name of the islands does not derive from the canary bird rather, the birds are named after the islands. According to the position of the islands with respect to the north-east trade winds, the climate can be mild and wet or very dry. Lanzarote was very dry and like nothing I had ever seen. We were told that it never rains there. The only precipitation they get is through condensation created from the drastic changes in day to night temperature. Ironically they produce wine and have several vineyards on the island. Lanzarote landscape is barren and many scenes from sci-fi movies are filmed there. Our excursion was Camel Ride & Fire Mountain. Our camel was friendly and very playful. Fire Mountain was a sight to behold. We were standing on an active volcano. We visited a winery which sold souvenirs made from volcanic rock. Since, the wine is used to replace water in the Lanzarote people’s diet, it had a mild pleasant taste. The tour guide was great and the driver had to be in order to traverse the difficult terrain.
The second Canary Island stop was Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, which looked more like I had envisioned. The weather was beautiful for our excursion, Gran Canaria City Sights by motor coach. Las Palmas had all the comforts of home, even a golf course, which cost a fortune to keep green. It had beautiful beaches and beautiful homes for the rich and famous. We’d definitely like to spend more time in Gran Canaria.
Back to Portugal and a stop at Funchal, Madeira Island. The weather was not so kind in Madeira, but we had the most fun there. The excursion was a city motor coach ride, a cable car ride up to Monte and a Toboggan ride half way down. It rained on the way up in the cable car, but the view was still magnificent. The tour guide and motor coach driver were great. The only downside to this excursion was the long line for the toboggan, but it was worth the wait. Two men, called “Carreiros” dressed in white and wearing straw hats, guided the toboggan downhill. They wear special, rubber-soled shoes that help them steer and brake the toboggan, which is a wicker basket attached to two wooden runners (that glide on greased rags). The trip to the bottom takes about 10 minutes down a curvy road. We couldn’t go as fast as usual because of the rain and wet road. This was a good thing because we were told we could expect to reach speeds up to 30mph. The excursion ended with a Madeira wine tasting. I wasn’t a fan of the wine, but the Madeira people are very proud of it. All of it tasted like a desert wine to me. I’m not an expert on wine, but we got the same reaction from our shipmates. This was a great excursion, I highly recommend it.
Our last Port of Call was La Coruna, Spain. There was a lot to see in La Coruna. Our excursion consisted of a motor coach ride and a walking tour of “Old Town”. The tour guide was exceptional, both informative and comical. The “Old Town Walk was about a mile. We learned about the history of the city and about the Pilgrimage to Santiago. We visited the Tower of Hércules and learned about the many legends of La Coruna. We also visited the Castle of San Anton. Our tour guide was a great story teller. The tour culminated with more wine to taste along with tapas to sample. Great excursion.
These are just the highlights from the trip. We made some new friends, learned about some new places, and identified some places to make a return visit. But more importantly, we succeeded in accomplishying the goal of a stress free vacation.