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Cruise time! Our fellow aussie Saint Chinian residents, Wayne and Sue recommended that we should go on a cruise while down in these parts. They had done an NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines) cruise last month, leaving from Barcelona and cruising out to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic. They raved about the great service and value for money. So that was good enough for us and we subsequently booked ourselves on to the same cruise.

We drove down to Barcelona the day before the cruise departed and spent the afternoon  and evening in town. It was nice to be back in Barcelona even though we were only there a week ago, but it is a great city and one we will come back to before we leave Europe. It was a comfortable 3.5 hour drive down the motorway, far better than the train trip we took last week.

Barcelona from the Norwegian Jade

Our cruise ship was the Norwegian Jade, built in 2006, refurbished in 2008 and twice as big (heavy) as the Titanic. We were allowed to board anytime between 12 noon and 5pm. Departure was scheduled for 7pm that evening. It was a painless process to get on board. We dropped our luggage of at the terminal, went through checkin, had our credit card swiped, had our personal swipe cards created, walked on board and went straight to our ‘stateroom’ which was on level 9, which is 2 floors above the main deck. Our room was an internal room, no portholes or balconies for us, but it was comfortable and large enough. We didn’t plan to spend too much time in our room staring out of portholes any way.

The luxurious Norwegian Jade

Our luggage had yet to arrive so we decided to check out the boat. We hadn’t had lunch at this point so we headed for the buffet. The buffet was one of four general restaurants on board (i.e. all inclusive meals). There were 8 other ‘speciality’ restaurants ranging from French to Tempanyaki which attracted a $10-25 cover charge. But the buffet was good enough for most of our meals. There was a great variety, well cooked and presented and the staff were ever so friendly and helpful. This was to turn out to be the distinguishing feature of the cruise. NCL have great staff, mostly from the Philippines and the sub-continent. We felt well looked after.

A bit of a surprise was the price of wine on board. It is not possible to BYO (scanners). We had to pay Australian prices! That definitely was a shock as we had been accustomed to paying a fraction of that in France. It was actually still a bit cheaper that Australian pub prices so it was acceptable. Internet access was extremely expensive though, $100 for 250 minutes. It was slow and erratic and many minutes were wasted reconnecting.

Our first two days were at sea, so we spent those days exploring the ship, chilling out and enjoying the ship’s entertainment. We joined a progressive trivia contest, which was held in a bar each afternoon of the cruise. That was a bit of a trap, as we ended up in the same bar each afternoon. Someone had to do it.

Our first port of call was Arrecife, Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. Lanzarote is a rather young and consequently barren volcanic island. Arrecife is the main town. There was not much happening here so we had a stroll around for a few hours and head back to the boat. NCL had a number of day excursions but they were quite expensive and really did not sound very interesting, so we decided to make our own fun.

Arrecife, Lanzarote

The Norwegian Jade departed Lanzarote at 5pm. The next morning we were berthed at Santa Cruz de Teneriffe. We were on shore by 10am and stared to explore the town. Santa Cruz was a much more substantial and lush city compared to Arrecife. We decided the best way to see the town was to jump on to one of the topless double decker buses that are in most cities of the world.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz was a pretty town. Lots of well maintained buildings and parks. We spent the day walking around, visiting the markets and soaking up the local atmosphere. At this point we actually found ourselves feeling that we’d rather be enjoying the total relaxion on the ship than wandering around a port city! So it was back on board to enjoy the relaxing shipboard life until the next port – Funchal in Madeira the next day.

Santa Cruz fish markets

Farewell Santa Cruz

Madeira

Funchal is a city built around (and on) a steep hill so we decided the first thing we needed to do was go to the top via the cable car. What magnificient views we got as we climbed higher and higher above the port, watching our ship become smaller and smaller down in the water.

After enjoying the views from the top & having a look at the old church, we decided to go down the hill another way – road toboggans!

These oversized baskets with built-in seats are a traditional way of descending the hill and since it looked like fun, we decided to give it a go. Two drivers begin by pulling the toboggan down the slope, but they quickly change to either standing on the back, or running along pushing it from the back. We literally slid down the road halfway back down the hill towards town, laughing and smiling all the way. It was definitely great fun – although finishing up in the middle of hillside suburbia meant that we either had to walk the rest of the way down, or take one of the taxis standing by.

We decided to try walking for the exercise. However, this wasn’t a good choice as the slope of the hill was so steep that our legs were aching in no time. This must be a common occurance because, just as we were thinking how nice it would be to sit in a car, along came one of the taxis to offer us a lift. Thankfully the taxis turned out to be very cheap by our standards.

We wandered around town admiring the scenery and enjoying icecreams before returning to the ship again. One more port to go – Malaga on mainland Spain the next day. We were almost ported-out already by this stage, but each port was turning out to be better than the last, so we were ready to enjoy the last one.

Malaga turned out to be a very nice town, with lots of wide, marble-paved pedestrian streets to wander around and many many lovely little outdoor bars & cafes for enjoying the gorgeous weather. Malaga was the birthplace of Picasso, so we grabbed a map and started our own walking tour, beginning with Picasso’s family home, which is now a small museum & gallery. This was quite interesting so we spent a bit of time there learning about his life & art. There is also a large Picasso museum in town with lots of his art, but we decided to skip that after the house tour.

Continuing with our walking tour, we passed the lovely central Cathedral, the ancient Roman ampitheatre and the Alcazaba (Moorish fortress), as well as all the shops, cafes & restaurants. The weather was just gorgeous, our warmest day so far.

The last two days of the cruise were spent at sea again and after visiting 4 ports in 4 days we were more than ready for those two days completely chilling out. As mentioned, there are many restaurants on board and we ended up trying the French Bistro and the New York steakhouse restaurants (with surcharges) as well as the buffet for our meals. They were both great,  but even in the buffet we were able to have fresh meals made to order – such as (my favourite) pasta with pesto, chillies and garlic.

Our cabin steward (Charles) looked after us well with twice-daily servicing of our room.. including leaving little “surprises” for us to find in the cabin, like our little monkey friend below, hehehe

Being good Aussie travellers, we always kept an ear out for our fellow countrymen and almost didn’t find any on this cruise. Almost. We enjoyed various types of the entertainment provided on board, things such as the trivia quizzes (which we didn’t win by the way), professional shows in the theatre (such as a version of “Shout” with singers & dancers celebrating 60s London music), and “variety” shows and contests in one of the lounge bars. Well one evening we were watching the “Dancing with the Stars” show (passengers paired with one of the cruise staff dancers) when the losers kept getting sent off to the “loser’s room” and interviewed by the guy in charge there. Well as soon as he turned on his microphone, we looked at each other & announced “He’s an Aussie!!!”. After the show, the dancers & singers were all standing around having drinks with each other & passengers, so we sidled up to him, nodded knowingly and said “Hello Aussie!” He was as pleased as punch to meet us, as according to him we were the only Aussie passengers they had come accross. It turns out there were four of them on board so we had a nice drink & chat with all of them.

A couple of days later, we were sitting in our usual spot at the bar for afternoon trivia when two women came along & ordered a bottle of Moet (with a very Australian pronunciation, LOL) so once again we found our heads snapping around & exclaiming “You’re Australian aren’t you?!” So there were two other Aussie passengers, two friends who work for the ATO in Sydney and had come on holiday together.

With all this food & drink, we were a bit worried about our increasing waistlines so we are very proud of our gym efforts. We visited the gym on a total of 6 out of the 10 days for a decent workout, with Rod running on the treadmill and Paige riding cross-country programmes on the bike machines. Unfortunately this didn’t keep some of those extra kilos jumping ship just to come home with us!

All in all it was a great, relaxing holiday, although with the “extras” that you pay for once onboard, it ended up being a little more expensive than we planned. We would still recommend this as a great way to holiday, just plan for those extras in advance. In between all the partying with Aussie singers & dancers, competing with Americans & Canadians for the trivia title, and the multiple restaurants, we managed to also have a swim or two, try out the jacuzzies, and lay about reading books for a while. Very very nice. Paige actually got through three books!

With our 10 days of indulgent relaxation over, we arrived back in Barcelona, collected our car and headed back up the motorway to St Chinian. We were back home in our little cottage by early afternoon.

Next adventure – moving to the North of France for our next phase, and Paige’s trip to Perth to meet our darling little grandson Logan.

Au revoir, à bientôt!

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