We recently returned from a 3 week cruise from Liverpool to the Cape Verde Islands – brr! We certainly noticed the cold when we returned on 11th December. We went with Fred Olsen on a special offer as they were not particularly places we were dying to visit but 3 weeks of warmth in Nov/ Dec was very tempting. We had a very comfortable cabin with a terrace though it was too cold to use it until we got down to Madeira; even Portugal was somewhat chilly in November. The bed arrangement in the cabin was a bit cluttered and difficult and the TV programmes never seemed to work as scheduled but it had everything we needed, even bathrobes, binoculars, umbrellas etc. We had fresh flowers and fruit and afternoon canapés but the latter were a disaster as first of all we had to fight to get veggie ones and when we did we never found any we enjoyed in three weeks.
We found in general that there were too many days totally at sea , 10 out of 20 which we found boring as quoits, bingo, making sock monkeys and talks about Judy Garland and Errol Flynn belonged to those in a much later age group than ours ( we are in our 60’s). We did enjoy the port talks as they were well illustrated and the speaker very entertaining but would have liked more in depth talks about the history and folklore of the areas that we were visiting. Similarly the evening entertainment, mainly cabaret/ variety was also not to our taste, we would have really liked a cinema and some theatre though the comedian and the flute player were okay.
There was endless food on the ship – 2 or more courses for breakfast, 3 courses for lunch and up to four for the evening meal and if that was not enough there was morning coffee with biscuits, afternoon tea with cakes and sandwiches and a later supper club which we never made it to. I was amazed that I only put on 2lb over the three weeks, all that walking around the deck and playing table tennis must have done some good. The vegetarian selection was excellent and there were also gluten free and vegan options and everything was carefully marked both on the buffet selection and on the printed menu so even desserts were marked as suitable or otherwise. The evening menu also had at least 3 vegetarian dishes so it was usually easy to find something you liked. The vegetarian options also included tofu and quorn so not just the usual endless cheese dishes and dishes included vegetable moussaka, tagliatelle in cream sauce with quorn, mushroom and lentil vol au vent, cheese and vegetable strudel, roasted vegetable tortilla, vegetable sausages in giant Yorkshire pudding, , filled aubergine roll with spaghetti ( this was delicious) , paella, filo basket with mushroom ragout, carrot and courgette croquettes and many other interesting dishes. In addition there were always fruit and / or salad starters and a wonderful array of soups including a lot of tasty chilled soups. Definitely no complaints from either of us re the food which is pretty unusual.
We set sail on Sunday afternoon and arrived at our first port of call, Leixoes in Portugal on Wednesday. Here we had opted for a half day trip which included sailing on the Douro river, a coach tour of the pretty town of Porto ( lovely architecture) and a port tasting at a local cellar, all very enjoyable if rather colder than we had expected. Our next stop on the Friday was Funchal in Madeira where we stayed in port overnight and which was considerably warmer. As we were in Madeira earlier in the year we did not need to go on any trips but the ship was anchored very conveniently for the city centre so it was a very pleasant visit. Two days at sea followed, nice and warm as we got closer to Cape Verde, and then we called at Mindelo, our first island in that archipelago. We did not find this very exciting – it was described as “undeveloped” but in fact we did find it dirty and a bit menacing and I was unhappy at all the really thin stray dogs that no one seemed to care for. We did however have an hour or so on a wonderful clean beach with a gorgeous sea – we are not really beach people but it was a pleasant change to paddle in the warm clean water and the sea breeze cooled down the temperature ( 32 degrees) which was rather too hot for us. The next day we visited the second island Praia and went on a 7 hour discovery tour. This was altogether different from Mindelo – beautiful verdant scenery reminiscent of south America, plenty of wildlife – monkeys, butterflies, dragonflies, egrets, kingfishers etc. and lovely flowers. The included lunch was very limited for vegetarians but we managed and it was worth it for the scenery.
The next day was again a sea day but this time we got a bonus, schools of flying fish, what a lovely sight! Following a further sea day we arrived at Santa Cruz, Tenerife where we had booked for whale watching trip but to our dismay it was cancelled and too late for us to join a trip the gardens which we had fancied. We did not find it to our taste but there were some nice buildings and can recommend the Museo de Belles Arts where the staff were very friendly at it was quite permissible to play with and handle some of the very tactile modern art sculptures. As this island is Spanish we did not find it easy to eat and ended up with pizza for lunch as usual – we find Spain to be very vegetarian unfriendly other than Barcelona which is wonderful for eating. Next day we were in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The ship docked very close to the modern centre but we had a disappointing start as it was Sunday and we hoped to go to the old town part but the bus driver would not let us on without pre purchase of a ticket and none of the ticket offices were open!
However a short walk took us to a wonderful museum – Elder museum of Science and Technology – which was free and extremely interactive so we spent a few happy hours there and there was also a very good craft market to amble around though we found prices a bit on the high side. We had a very good meal in the restaurant at the front of the museum, for a change the vegetarian choice was okay and it was really fresh. The next day was port again, this time Lanzarote where we had a great trip to see the volcanoes, very dramatic and a pretty island not spoilt by high rise buildings. We actually saw dolphins from the deck after leaving port so a great day all round.
After a further day at sea we arrived at Lisbon – you only truly appreciate how hilly Lisbon is when you are at the port looking up at the hilly streets and buildings overhead! We had a wander up the hills to some lovely buildings including a convent and found a very veggie friendly café with excellent wi fi for lunch (Portugal seems much more veggie friendly than Spain – no idea why). Later we walked along the front to a very grand square, a very pleasant day altogether a bit warmer than on our way out via Portugal. Our final visit the next day was to Vigo in Northern Spain. This was not particularly exciting (port chosen for its proximity to various attractions but we did feel like another shore trip) but it was a pleasant place to walk before we spent the next day or so at sea. It was a rather choppy last day but we did get the bonus of seeing lots of dolphins in the Irish sea so that somewhat compensated. Throughout the cruise we were fortunate with the weather at sea and had wonderful sunrises and sunsets – we certainly missed them on our return. All too soon we were back in Liverpool for the long drive home. I would definitely cruise again but perhaps wait until we are older for Fred as most of the passengers were considerably older than us and also would choose a cruise with less sea days.