Sea Legs & Sea Days
Much has already been written about the beautiful ‘Saga Sapphire’ both by our feature writers and members. So I shall just add that the Sapphire is a much loved ship by loyal Saga guests and will be sorely missed when it is de commissioned. Fear not, Saga have two fantastic new vessels coming on line in June 2019 and 2020, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure. Both heralding a new age of ‘boutique’ style’ and offering even more comfort and luxury while keeping the ‘small ship’ atmosphere.
Onto to my latest cruise, it was mid-winter and included visits to Madeira, the Canaries, Morocco and Spain. I chose this cruise for two reasons – firstly I have never visited the Canaries and wanted an overview of the main islands to find out which I felt I would possibly return to. Secondly, I wanted to know what it is actually like to sail from the UK in mid-winter, through the infamous Bay of Biscay and into the Atlantic. Certain friends and acquaintances did question my motives, but it is all in the name of research!
Finding our Sea Legs
Let’s get the weather out the way first. I have been across the Bay of Biscay many times on Brittany Ferries to Spain and felt I was a good sailor. I have never had to take medication so what could possibly be the problem? My husband Clive is the same and we were completely confident about it all. On our first morning, before we had even left the Channel, we hit enormous waves and a deep swell plus gale force 10-11 winds. Both of us became queasy but reception handed out tablets, (no charge) and they worked very quickly. Expecting to find the ship deserted at meal times as everyone kept to their cabins, the opposite was true. Life went on as normal and we soon all got to know each other very well as we lurched about from pillar to post! Meanwhile the crew moved around with complete ease and hats off to our lovely waiters who carried huge trays of drinks and food without a mishap. A sense of ‘we are all this together’ purveyed and when the storm passed the general opinion was ‘that was exciting’. Our Captain, Julian Burgess, is very experienced and been through much worse and reassured us all with regular updates. I can honestly say, once nausea is under control, the experience would never put me off sailing at this time of year again.
Blue skies eventually came our way and steamer chairs and sun beds made an appearance, firstly with cosy blankets and then, the further south we went, the outdoor pool was filled, and beach towels were handed out. Meanwhile the UK was experiencing atrocious storms and snow, so we lapped up the warm weather.
Enjoying Sea Days
It takes three ‘sea days’ to reach our first port of call and I wasn’t sure how we would cope with being ‘confined’. We are both active people and like to keep busy. I needn’t have worried, ‘sea days’ turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday. Time to totally relax, enjoy wonderful food and try some of the activities on offer. I decided to join the Spanish language course where tutor Mike Eyley took a light-hearted approach with lessons that were much more fun than I remember from school.
Meanwhile, Clive lapped up some photographic hints and tips with a series of presentations by on board photographer Roger Lee. We could have done so much more, joined the choir, learnt bridge, ballroom dancing, painting and handicrafts and kept fit with yoga and Pilates.
The icing on the cake was the treat of a luxurious facial treatment in the spa, followed by some time relaxing in the indoor aqua area which includes a pool, sauna and steam room. The entertainment programme wasn’t only in the evening, often there would be musical interludes during the day. The variety of entertainers kept everyone happy, fabulous singers, an energetic dance troupe, some traditional Flamenco and more.
Despite all that was on offer, when the sun came out just lying on deck was my activity of choice and it was never a problem to find a quiet corner.
First stop – Madeira
In no time we were docking in Funchal harbour on the pretty island of Madeira.
It was a warm and sunny day and just as attractive as everyone says. Clive and I chose to explore the capital, Funchal, on our own. Wherever possible Saga lay on shuttle buses to town centres for independent passengers and that is extremely helpful and avoids expensive taxis. Maps are also readily available as you leave the ship.
We strolled through the main shopping area into the colourful Mercado dos Lavradores where we were tempted by beautiful displays of exotic fruits and a bustling atmosphere with some local vendors proudly wearing traditional costume. We stopped on the newly designed promenade to enjoy a famous patas de nata custard tart, obligatory when in Portugal! We had plenty of time so took the breathtaking cable car up to the village of Monte and enjoyed fabulous views in all directions. We had a long walk back to the ship, but the promenade is flat, and we felt we needed some exercise after 3 days at sea. Saga excursions had a variety of tours including a walking tour of the famous Levadas, which was very tempting, maybe next time. Or a sunset cruise in the bay which our Captain joined and reported was great fun. As usual, a number of coach tours were on offer and always popular.
The Canary Islands
Our cruise visited three of the Canary Islands, all interesting and each with a different environment. The shore excursions on offer gave us a snapshot of each island, this is the beauty of a cruise, the chance to put your toe in the water as it were! Clive and I split up on some occasions, with him choosing the energetic options of hiking and exploring, and me opting for culture, coach trips and shopping. As Saga Holidays are for clients over 50, they offer a wide range of activities and excursions to suit all ages and abilities with detailed descriptions of what fitness levels are required.
First stop was Tenerife and we docked close to the town of Santa Cruz with just a short shuttle bus ride to the town. It was Sunday so the shops were closed but the large market was open and full of life with plenty of cafes serving café con leche and cervezza. After a buffet lunch back on-board ship we set off for our first organised excursion, to the old town of La Laguna. The guide gave us a potted history of Tenerife and took us on a short walk around the town before we went onto a local bodega for some wine tasting. A generous number of tapas were on offer and included the local delicacy of small boiled potatoes in their skins dipped into a piquant sauce – delicious!
Back to the ship and onto Canary Island no.2 – Las Palmas. Clive went off bright and early to do the strenuous hike around the Bandama Crater, a trip he thoroughly enjoyed. The route took him deep into the bottom of the crater where he could see the effects of the eruptions over 3,000 years ago.
I opted for a more leisurely pace with a coach tour combining culture and shopping. Our guide took us the old town known as ‘Vegueta’ and to the Casa de Colon – the Columbus House Museum. We browsed the interesting displays documenting Columbus and his voyages to the New World. Then came the shopping element, both in the old town of Las Palmas and a brief stop at the enormous Las Arenas Mall. Plenty of retail therapy for even the most ardent shopper.
Lastly Lanzarote and I waved Clive off to explore the Valley of 1,000 Palms and Los Jameos del Aqua, a complex of caves that is part of a four mile volcanic tunnel formed by molten lava. A section of the tunnel was turned into a fantastic 600 seat auditorium surrounded by rock formations with fantastic acoustic qualities.
I boarded a coach to tour the island visiting the old capital Teguise and Caleta Famara Beach before stopping for refreshments at the Monumento al Campesino. The 50ft high monument dominates the rather flat landscape and was built as a tribute to the islands farm workers. There is a selection of artisan workshops to browse around before enjoying a coffee or glass of wine in the café. We then drove back to the ship passing by the popular holiday resort of Playa del Carmen, somewhere I could come back to one day.
Going on separate excursions was a great idea as it gave us so much to talk about when we swapped stories on our return to the ship.
Canary Islands ticked off we set sail for exotic Morocco – the adventure continues!