In Funchal, I’m on an important mission and nearly miss the boat – I mean ship! Calling a ship a boat is tantamount to a maritime insult! My father was in the navy and his instruction re nautical terms endures. At least I know whether I’m on the port or starboard side of a vessel and at the bow or the stern.
After an easy, comfortable Eavesway coach journey to Dover, I join Fred Olsen’s Boudicca as she set sail on our seven-night Spain, Madeira and Tenerife cruise. I’m always excited to get on board and to start the adventure. My twin cabin with large window has plenty of wardrobe space, but I always use every hanger! There’s a large TV, a dressing table and bathroom with shower over the bath.
Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira is known as ‘the island of eternal spring’. Madeira’s economy relies on tourism and bananas. UK residents make up around 40 per cent of the visitors who enjoy a warm climate and gentle pace of life.
Funchal’s promenade is lined with splashes of colour – the vibrant blue and orange Bird of Paradise blooms are everywhere. But I haven’t time to linger. I need to find and photograph the statue of Funchal’s famous footballer son, Cristiano Ronaldo, for my soccer mad grandsons.
Alongside the statue, there’s a shop selling Ronaldo footie shirts, so I dive in, grab two from the rail and hold them up to assess the size. Buy bigger rather than smaller is the key for rapidly-growing youngsters.. Decision made, I pay and run with only 10 minutes to final boarding time. On the way, I recollect stories of passengers who’ve misjudged the timing and have been left bereft on the quayside, watching as their cruise ship starts to move away. But I make it easily with minutes to spare.
Our cruise is just the first leg of a 168-night Grand Voyage, which takes in destinations such as Cape Town, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City. On these voyages, cruisers have several options re where they join and leave the ship. With such exciting adventures ahead, I wouldn’t have chosen to disembark after seven days, but I’m not complaining!
Our morning catamaran sail from Funchal harbour takes us past Reid’s Palace Hotel, stately, elegant and set high on a cliff. The late Winston Churchill was a regular guest at Reid’s. At the age of 75, he wrote his memoirs during a stay here. Another famous guest was Margaret Thatcher, who spent her honeymoon at this hotel. Served on a terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Reid’s acclaimed afternoon tea is something special – and it probably should be at around £30 per person.
Fred Olsen’s traditional afternoon tea costs £8.95 and very nice it is, too. It’s a white-gloved affair, presented in the stylish observatory. On the tiered cake-stand, a selection of dainty sandwiches supports the next level, which balances a cluster of warm scones, clotted cream and jam with a top tier of tempting little cakes, fancies and tartlets. The rose petal loose-leaf tea is my favourite.
Fred’s food is always so good and cruisers look forward to meal times. One evening when I couldn’t decide which dessert to choose, lovely waiter Mithlesh from Dehli, one of Boudicca’s amazing crew members, presented me with a smile and three different desserts on a plate! I passed them around our table so everyone could try a taste. And tasting is all-important in the ship’s kitchens where the chef tastes each dish on the menu before every meal to ensure the highest standards.
It doesn’t matter that there aren’t any lamp posts to lean on in the Atlantic Ocean.
The late George Formby’s most famous song is in my head as, in an on board ukulele class, I learn to play two chords of it. Not an undiscovered career-changing talent, then. With a choice of classes, lectures and groups, a library, musical concerts and more, plus a range of treatments in the Atlantis Spa, there’s always something to do on sea days. But when it’s warm and sunny, what’s better than to be out on deck to snooze, read or people watch.
From La Coruna, my excursion takes me to the charming old town of Betanzos, with its cobbled streets and glass-fronted balconies.
At the Casa do Queixos, Cheese House, we’re welcomed by a piper in traditional Scottish dress and accordionist. Inside is quite dark but sunlight streams through the windows on to the long wooden tables. It’s like sitting in an old-fashioned parlour. We watch a cheese-making demonstration while supping local wine from individual earthenware bowls and sampling some tasty local cheeses.
The ‘child cheese’ is so called as it takes nine months to mature.
How the ‘booby’ cheese gets its name, I’ll leave to your imagination!
Cosmopolitan Santa Cruz on the north east coast is the capital of Tenerife. It’s a busy port which features a dazzling white avant-garde opera house, an art museum, lively nite spots and a world-famous February carnival. Wandering the back streets, we find a little café bar, then sit outside with a glass of wine and watch the world go by.
But, inevitably, our fabulous, seven-night sojourn comes to an end. It’s time to disembark and to say farewell to friends we’ve made on board who are continuing their 168-night adventure via Fred Olsen’s Grand Voyage.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.