I recently had the good fortune to host a group onboard Crystal Cruises, for the 12 day "Canary Island Serenade", sailing from Lisbon to Barcelona.
The Crystal Serenity had just come out of dry dock. The Lido Café was totally re-done, including the Palm Court and some of the Bar’s and Lounges. The cuisine was excellent in every venue, whether in the main dining room or the snacks served onboard. Staff were friendly and helpful, always with a smile on their faces. Our Verandah stateroom had welcome amenities like slippers and bathrobes, as expected on a luxury cruise. Housekeeping came twice a day and included a nightly turndown service. Everything onboard is inclusive except for spa treatments.
To make the most of the trip, we decided to add a little pre- and post-cruise time on our own. Never having been to Spain, Madrid was an obvious choice. We were pleasantly surprised by all Madrid had to offer. It was late November and the weather was more wintery than not. We had no rain, I did find a Starbucks to keep us warm. Madrid is a great walking city. The Prada is a must, and should be visited if only for a couple of hours. The city offers great tapas bars where one can have a meal quite inexpensively. Hop-on hop-off busses are a good way to get familiar with the layout of the city. The shopping is great. The decorations for the Christmas season were being put up, and the city looked quite lovely at night.
Our next stop was Lisbon. We only had one night and therefore not to much time for sightseeing. Once you are in the city center you can explore the historical sights by foot or tram. The boulevards with huge trees on each side made you feel like you are walking in a park, and everywhere were little outdoor markets and venues selling goods (almost like the Christmas Markets.)
We boarded Crystal Serenity and sailed off to the Canary Islands. Our first stop was Funchal, Madeira, then Santa Cruz de Tenerife and finally Arrecife, Lanzarotte. My favorite was Funchal, even though it rained buckets while we were exploring the town. This subtropical island is often called "Garden of the Atlantic," and was supposed to have been Winston Churchill's favorite retreat. Santa Cruz is a vibrant, typically Spanish city, without the tourist mayhem that typifies much of the south. Arrecife is also called the "Island of the Moon" due to its violent volcanic eruption in 1730 which lasted 5 1/2 years. The Islands’ inhabitants were protected by the Castillo de San Jose in the early 1800 and 1900s, located at the Harbor.
Next were the Moroccan ports of Agadir and Casablanca. Agadir is a popular destination for sun-worshippers, since it is the center of the Barbary Coast and enjoys lovely warm temperatures year-round. Make no mistake, Agadir is quite a modern city. Of course, everybody wants to go to Casablanca at least once, to see "Rick's Café” made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Best way to see what the city has to offer is with a knowledgeable and trustworthy guide.
We had quite a few more ports to explore, and on the list was Cadiz on Spain's southwest coast. What a contrast between the old and new town. The old town has all the historical buildings and cathedrals with its main squares, and the new town has wide avenues and many modern buildings. The seaside has one of the longest beaches I have ever seen. From Cadiz it is also only a short two-hour drive to Seville. A little known fact is that Christopher Columbus set sail for the "New World" from Cadiz-- and he is buried in Seville.
We cruised through the night toward Valencia, passing the "Rock of Gibraltar." I wanted to see it badly, but it was four o’clock in the morning and so foggy that one could only see some fading lights in the distance. The Rock just came and went in the middle of the night, shrouded in mystery.
After a day at sea we arrived in Valencia, a port town on the southeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula, facing the Mediterranean Sea. If you like culture neatly packaged, this is your kind of town. Dozens of museums are here, including Valencia's history to ceramic, rice and bullfighting. Valencia is one of those cities easily explored on your own. Some of the narrow streets are a walker's paradise, with century-old buildings and town squares.
Our last port-of-call was Barcelona, located on the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula. I was so looking forward to it and was not disappointed. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and also known as the country's most progressive city.
Early in the morning we visited "Sagra Familia," the large Catholic church designed by renowned Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, in the early 19oo's, and being completed in the 21st century. Our group was fortunate to have a private Mass held by the priest from the ship.
The tree-lined pedestrian boulevard, "Las Ramblas," was full of merchants in their booths selling their goods. At one of the stands I had the best hot chocolate ever, made with Nutella. So delicious! Hop-on hop-off buses are a great way to explore any of the major cities mentioned. Barcelona is a vibrant city even in winter.
Leaving Barcelona, we continued post cruise on our way to Paris. It has been quite awhile since I have been, but Paris is still as magical as ever. It was December and cold, but we still lucked out. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and it was dry and crisp. We decided to stay at the Hotel de Louvre for the last two nights of our trip. Loved the location and the ambience, so Parisian. Service was great and the rooms quite spacious.
We did not waste much time and started to re-explore the city by foot and by bus. Stopped at the most important attractions, of course, and had lots of hot chocolate and cappuccino's on the way to keep us warm. We made the most of our short time in Paris and hope to get back soon for a longer period of time.
After a good 3 weeks abroad, it was nice to come back to sunny Southern California.
Contact Maiki Cenci for assistance with your arrangements.