This morning the ship arrived at the pilot station at 7 am. Soon we entered the port and were safely moored at 8 am.
Las Palmas, founded in 1478, is a cosmopolitan city, with a big sea port. It boasts three beaches, is reputed to have the best climate in the world and is the co-capitol, along with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands.
The ship was cleared shortly after arrival so the passengers could proceed ashore. The tours today were:
Puerto Mogan Transfer. This tour took the passengers to Grand Canaria’s charming, smallest and most southern resort to explore for a leisurely few hours.
Yellow Submarine Adventure. This tour took the passengers on board a submarine to explore the underwater world off Puerto Mogan.
Essence of Grand Canaria. This tour showed the passengers the volcanic origins of the Canary Islands by visiting the Bandama Crater, which rises 1900 feet above sea level. Also visited was La Hacienda del Buen Suceso, the oldest ranch in Grand Canaria.
With all aboard we backed out of the port, swung the ship, disembarked the pilot and set course for Lanzarote.
After the Sail Away Party the evening offered a pre-dinner classical concert by the Lirica Piano Quartet, pre-dinner cocktails in Shackleton’s, and a post-dinner Fashion Show. Show Time featured a performance by Tenor Shimi Goodman in the Discovery Lounge and Late Night Live in Shackleton’s with Stuart Anderson at the keys till late.
Today’s berth was at the new cruise terminal, a pleasant 15 minute walk from the centre of town for those ready for a bit of exercise. My wife and I took another opportunity to go for a walk and had lunch in a restaurant with the view of the little fishing harbour.
In the meantime Hotel Director Eddy Denaeghel, Cruise Director Jo Boase, Food and Beverage Manager Andrea Mylius and Executive Chef Dirk Roessler went on a sponsored 58km bike ride in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.
The island of Lanzarote is mountainous and volcanic. This creates dramatic landscapes of mountain ranges and desert. The island was also home to the artist Cesar Manrique, who was a prolific artist and a great influence in the preservation of this unique island.
Our tours today were:
Northern Highlights. As the name states this tour visited some of the highlights including the picturesque village of Haria, which is known as the valley of 1000 palms, Mirador de Haria, a famous view point, Mirador del Rio, which offers the best views in the archipelago and Los Jameos del Agua, a massive complex of caverns part of a four mile volcanic tunnel.
Fire Mountain. This tour offered the passengers an insight in the fascinating history of the island’s volcanic history, which is revealed in Timafaya National Park.
Cesar Manrique Foundation. This tour offered the passengers the opportunity to discover the genius of Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote’s most celebrated artist. Visited were his house, constructed around five volcanic caves, the cactus gardens, which contains over 1100 varieties of cacti.
For passengers who wanted to explore independently a shuttle was running between the ship and the town.
All on board was at 4.30 pm. Soon the ship left the berth and the port, disembarked the pilot and set course for Lisbon.
This evening I had hosted my final Britannia Cocktail Party, which was attended by 201 members. I had the pleasure of welcoming a new Sapphire member and introducing the nominees, runners up and Employee of the Month for September. After dinner there was a performance from Piano Showman and Wizard on the Keys Chris Hamilton, followed by Late Night Cabaret in Shackleton’s with Explosive Vocalist Michael Jarrod and Stuart Anderson.
Yesterday we had a relaxing day at sea. I say relaxing, but our passengers’ day was filled with talks and entertainment, wonderful meals including a fabulous Canary Islands Lunch on the open decks, and a MacMillan Fund-Raising Viennese Afternoon Tea Dance. Great fun, with a spin around the dance floor and a traditional raffle. The evening offered a pre-dinner classical concert by the Lirica Quartet, Showtime featured the Explosive Productions Singers and Dancers, and then Late Night Jazz in Shackleton’s with the Saga Orchestra and Stuart Anderson.
This morning we arrived at the mouth of the river Tagus at the very civilized time of 10 am. From here we sailed up this scenic river to our berth, where we were safely moored at 1200 noon.
Lisbon, the capital and largest city of Portugal is a major industrial and commercial area with an exceptionally fine harbour, which is the chief seaport. The city has a long and interesting history and there are many buildings and sites to prove this.
Today’s tours were:
Sintra Town and Palace took passengers to the charming town of Sintra to admire the many stunning buildings and works of art in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. This beautiful town is also home to Sintra National Palace, which dates back to the Middle Ages.
A Taste of Lisbon was a relaxing drive through beautiful Lisbon and its environs.
Lisbon Tram and Port Wine was the perfect combination of seeing the sights and enjoying a taste of the local tipple.
A shuttle bus was running between the town and the ship.
With everyone aboard we left the berth and retraced our scenic trip of the morning to the pilot station and the mouth of the River Tagus from where we set course for our final port of this cruise, Southampton.
The evening offered a pre-dinner classical concert, a pre-show Musical Quiz with Stuart Anderson, team trivia, and pre- and post-show dancing. Showtime starred Tenor Shimi Goodman while Late Night Cabaret featured Explosive Productions Vocalists Lauren, Michael and Francesca with piano entertainer Stuart Anderson.
Before we reached Southampton passengers still had two days at sea to enjoy.
Thursday, included a noon classical concert by the Lirica Piano Quartet, a noon sailing solo in the Shackleton’s with Stuart Anderson performing some of his original songs and telling the stories behind them and there was a gathering of Spirit of Adventure cruisers. The wonderful meals included my Captain’s Fish and Chip Shop for lunch.
That evening it was time for My Final Farewell Cocktail Party, which started at the earlier time of 6pm to fit in all the speeches and the amazing presentations by members of the crew and the passengers. A very wonderful and emotional experience, which Tina and I will remember with fondness for the rest of our lives.
Friday was another fun and activity filled day, which included a noon Cabaret in Shackleton’s and a special Chocolate Tea featuring a performance by our very own Saga Passenger Choir.
Tomorrow morning we will be bright and early at the pilot station at 0515 to be berthed in my final port. This cruise is my last one as Master as I will retire from my 45 year maritime career in Southampton. It has been a wonderful and emotional cruise. We’ve had so many experiences which will remain with my wife Tina and me for the rest of our lives.
Tina and I wish you all happy reading and happy cruising.
Well, hello again, faithful blog readers! You might (or more likely, might not) have noticed that I have been absent from the Captain scene for a while now. I was seconded to assist our new-build team for a period ashore in the office with some marine design and technical aspects of our new ship, Spirit of Discovery. Plenty of challenges and excitement there. However inevitably, the team ashore became fed up of a crusty Captain in their midst and it wasn’t long before I was packed off to sea again. So, here I am!
Delighted to be back aboard little Saga Pearl II again. I quickly found my way to the Bridge and re-familiarised myself with all the knobs, buttons and levers on the Bridge before setting sail from Southampton towards the sunny south, and the Mediterranean sea. Two days at sea with dolphins and executive chef Dirk’s food were to be enjoyed. The gloom of the English weather lifted on the evening of day 1, and a glorious sunny calm day 2, before arriving at our first port of Leixoes in Portugal.
Now, I struggle to pronounce Leixoes (supposedly said as “Lieeayxoowzs” or similar). Therefore to provide our passengers with an authentic example of how to say it properly, and to set everyone up to blend in by sounding like locals when ashore, I asked the harbour pilot to pronounce it properly over the PA system during my arrival speech on the morning we arrived.
Fog hung over the port upon our approaches, but reassurance was provided when our local pilot boarded just outside the breakwater and informed me that we had actually found the right spot. On our final approaches to the dock, the fog unveiled a beautiful calm day and, other than the several hundred fishing boats heading out to sea, an almost ghost-like morning in Portugal’s second largest city, (and much more easily pronounced) nearby Oporto. Roman fortified, but also bursting with its famous fortified sweet ‘port’ wine and excellent seafood, this place is a must-see (and taste) indeed. Well, for our eager passengers, at least.
I had far more ambitious tasks planned for the day, including diving into a splendid-looking pile of paperwork as well as trying desperately to get rid of a pesky error message that kept popping up in a most irritating fashion on my computer screen. Meanwhile, everybody else had disappeared off to Duke’s Palaces in nearby Guimaraes, or set sail on river tours through Oporto, or to taste wine. I wasn’t jealous at all…
Pleased to see everyone return to the ship with smiles and a little sun tan, (including some of my colleagues who enjoyed a fantastic sounding bike ride along the beach-front) the time came to say goodbye to this fabulous town and move on in our journey. Three toots on the ship’s whistle indicated that were moving astern out of the harbour. We waved goodbye to the dozens of fishermen off-loading their catch in the fishing port, before setting sail back into the North Atlantic ocean and further south towards Gibraltar Strait and our next port, Malaga. But not before being promptly greeted by another bank of fog. Nobody minded this except me, though, as it was supper time…
Well, after a beautiful sunny day spent at sea, cruising past Cabo de Sao Vicente on the southwestern point of Portugal’s Algarve, then passing the famous battleground of Cape Trafalgar and squeezing through the Gibraltar Strait overnight, saw Saga Pearl II approaching the idyllic city of Malaga early in the morning. In fact, I almost assumed that we were approaching this country on the incorrect time zone, as it was still dark as we came through the harbour breakwaters at 0730. However, luckily before addressing the matter with my navigator in a stern manner, I realised it was supposed to be this dark at this time of morning in this region. The clock change is imminent, which will soon address this problem and have the Spaniards out of their beds a little earlier come November.
Due to the Saga Pearl II’s small size, at less than 245m in length, we were able to secure an excellent berth just right in front of the city centre, and not have to berth a few miles out of town as other more modern giants must do. This meant that our passengers were able to step off the ship right into the waterfront market, and along the promenade where shops, bars and restaurants lay. Right ahead of us, and on the same berth, lay a large super-yacht laden with toys - a helicopter, sailing yacht and several other power boats of various size scattered over her aft deck. Well, if it were mine, there would have been a couple of vintage cars, a seaplane and a motorcycle on board as well in order to be fit for purpose…
Malaga, situated on the Costa del Sol, is in rather a fortunate location and enjoys most favourable weather conditions year-round – today being a perfect example. Protected from chilly northern winds in winter by the stunning Penibeetica mountain range just to the north, makes for a mild winter climate and a hot summer one.
The city itself is a wonderful mix of old and new, and the surrounding area is littered with sleepy fishing hamlets and farmland producing olives and almonds - the epitome of traditional rural Spain, really. Passengers who so chose, were whisked off to some local villages to experience Flamenco dancing, wine-tasting, tapas, paellas, stunning scenery and much more. I was particularly taken with the ‘Vintage Car and Hat Museum’ excursion, however unfortunately had to remain on board to oversee one of our important crew drills. I do love a good vintage hat.
At 18:00, it was time to say farewell to Malaga and as such we sailed away in the evening sun, several hundred onlookers admiring our little ship as we manoeuvred from the waterfront. A few toots on the whistle to say cheerio, and eastward we turned once we left the harbour breakwaters, everyone’s thoughts turning to evening drinks followed by another superb dinner. A perfect sunset was on display to the west as we sailed off towards our next port of Palma, Mallorca. Down below decks, the beautiful voice of Maria Lyn was warming up in order to entertain those who managed to drag their full stomachs from the restaurant to the Discovery Lounge after supper…
Well, we were due to arrive in beautiful Palma, Mallorca on the morning of the 14th of October…however Captain Tanner, who happens to reside on the island, reviewed the arrival time and all of a sudden we magically arrived the evening before! Therefore, our passengers enjoyed an evening sail-in past the stunning cathedral in order to dock alongside just before sunset, allowing those who wished the opportunity to wander ashore and enjoy the city promenade or dine in one of the many tapas bars or themed restaurants littering the old town.
I also set a challenge to our more enthusiastic passengers – the latest passenger back to the ship that night would win a prize…and with a Friday night in Palma de Mallorca, anything was possible! For those who were not so inclined to frequent the discotheques of Magaluf though, our on board entertainment featured the fantastic Due Esencias, a spectacular Flamenco dancing, violin playing duo, followed by live music in Shackleton’s bar until late…
The following morning brought another stunning sunny day, and many of our passengers awoke feeling fresh (with the exception, perhaps, of our prize-winning final passenger back on board the night before…) and ready to take off on excursions around the city and further afield. As well as the impressive old town, this island features dozens of beautiful beaches, mountains, ample countryside, cliffy coasts and rural spots to visit.
One of our organised excursions took off to visit the impressive Cuevas del Drach (Dragon’s caves – don’t worry, the tour runs in the afternoon during the Spanish dragon’s siesta hour), another to board a 105 year-old train to take everyone on a panoramic trip through orange groves, fairytale villages, quaint wayside stations, over viaducts and through tunnels to arrive at the beautiful mountain-side town of Soller. Other excursions took passengers on a guided tour of Palma itself, whilst two others visited the famously stunning town of Valldemossa and picturesque village of Deia on the west coast, tucked within the UNESCO protected Tramuntana mountain region.
Meanwhile, back on board Saga Pearl II basking in the sunshine, I was busy entertaining friends and family, and extremely keen to give them the SAGA food experience – but did make sure to warn them that a siesta might be necessary after lunch in order to digest..! Our ever-popular Indian Sous Chef Kumar had cooked up one of his famous tikka masalas, which went down an absolute treat. Indeed, and as I had warned, many of the party found themselves only partially able to move afterwards. Luckily I was able to usher / roll them off the ship before we sailed later that afternoon…
Well, a little later on, and in the evening sunshine, we found ourselves waving goodbye to one of my favourite islands in the world. We sailed out of the Bay of Palma dodging pleasure craft aplenty, and sailed past my home village perched on the cliffs of Bahia Azul, giving my friends a friendly wave and toot on the ship’s whistle whilst our passengers revelled in a lovely scenic sail-by. It had been another lovely day, and while we sailed past the National Park island of Cabrera a little later that evening, passengers enjoyed drinks and dinner out on the open decks aft, smiles reaching from ear to ear. Cruising, to perfection. Next stop: the little island of Gozo.
Another perfect dawn appeared, after another perfect day at sea. On the horizon ahead, lay the rugged red cliffs of the island of Gozo. We gave our passengers a sail-by of the southern part of this island whilst they were enjoying breakfast, before approaching our anchorage off the little harbour town of Mgarr (or “Mg-aaaaaarghhh!!” if one was to say it in a more traditionally nautical fashion…). We found a suitable spot to anchor Saga Pearl II, nice and close to the harbour, and tender operations to ferry everyone ashore soon commenced.
Gozo is Malta’s smaller sister, situated only 4 miles away to the northwest, and at only 8 miles or so in length can easily be circumnavigated by motor vehicle in an hour or so. Which is exactly what some of our passengers planned to do, navigating dirt tracks on their jeep 4WD tour.
Other excursions today included a Highlights of Gozo trip, Scenic Gozo (presumably a similar tour to the highlights one, but with windows on their bus?) and Secrets of Victoria. To clarify, the latter excursion was due to visit the Island’s capital, not to shop for expensive female lingerie! Wherever these excursions did end up was obviously rather marvellous. As I stood on the gangway when passengers returned, they informed me excitedly of stories about magical places they had visited called ‘Fungus Rock,’ ‘Red Beach’ and ‘Fontana Cottage.’
Well, just after lunch and just before siesta time, we weighed anchor to head to nearby Malta and her capital, Valletta, just down the coast. Malta & Gozo are connected by frequent ferry trips so I gave the option to our passengers of staying longer on Gozo should they wish, before catching the ferry to Malta and joining us in Valletta that evening. However nobody took me up on this offer, for it would mean missing the famous Saga afternoon tea on board.
We proceeded around the island of Gozo, giving our passengers a spectacular close-up view of the island’s cliffy coastline, it’s caves and narrow inlets, before heading down to Valletta for a sunset sail-in. It’s always spectacular sailing into Valletta, but even more so in the evening as the sun set over this 550 year–old walled city, ending another beautifully calm, warm Mediterranean autumn day.
Secured alongside the berth right next to the city at 19:00, passengers were free to head ashore and explore. Or feast upon Executive Chef Dirk’s delicious supper on board (option #2 preferred, it seemed), before heading ashore to explore. I decided to opt for option #1 and wandered around the old city with my parents, who had joined the ship in Mallorca for their first taste of a Saga cruise. We ambled around the old cobbled streets until stumbling across a very quaint looking restaurant promising to serve all sorts of local delights, its tables scattered out on the side of the street underneath some enormous trees. Most tables were provided with large umbrellas above them, presumably to protect all the feasting locals from the daytime sunshine which had long since disappeared. We happily sat down in the open air, safe in the knowledge that there was minimal risk of sunburn at 21:00.
What we hadn’t appreciated, though, was that those umbrellas also served an extremely important nocturnal purpose. One we only realised upon noticing a sign nailed to one of the nearby trees, informing the general public (and more importantly, fellow restaurant-goers) of a very important and preserved roosting area for several hundred local birds perched above our heads.
I was the first to be hit, on my hand just after the drinks were served, followed by my mother, a beautiful splat landing perfectly on top of her head. We elected in haste to search for another table before our starters arrived, only to find the locals had bagged them all, some of whom seemed to be smirking in our general direction. Finally we identified another party of diners about to leave – we raced towards their table before anybody else could pinch it. What followed was a superb supper. To top off the entertainment we joined the locals in viewing other prospective diners sat happily at our original table, only for them to discover shortly afterwards why nobody else had been sitting there…
The following day was an entire sunny one yet again, for our passengers to continue to enjoy Valletta and the island of Malta. More jeep tours, medieval castle visits, war museums, prosecco tasting, and those buses with windows were put to good use again by providing another scenic tour of the area for those who wished to see things.
A grand day out was had by all it seemed, and at 18:00 an exhausted bunch returned on board and it was my turn to do some work and manoeuvre out of the port. Therefore I delegated this task to the Staff Captain (an excellent training opportunity for him) so I could join our passengers in viewing the spectacular cannon shots being fired at us as we left the fort of the walled city. Don’t worry – they were blank shots! It was whispered though, that the port had been saving the live shots for the large German ship, due to depart behind us…
Well, our weather-fairy must have had a lie-in on the morning of our arrival into Venice. Instead of the sunshine which had unquestioningly greeted us each morning so far on this cruise, there lay instead a bank of fog. After a short delay, allowing the Venetian pilots to find their foghorns and turn their radars on, we were permitted to enter the port vicinity and the wonky, rather wonderfully-haphazard buildings of Venice, soon appeared ahead of us.
Cruising into this city is always a highlight, hundreds of riverboats, speedboats & gondolas weaving around us almost as if we didn’t exist as we cruised up past St Mark’s Square. The shoreline was, as always, packed with camera-wielding tourists though, as a ship even as small as Saga Pearl II is an impressive sight, towering over local waterfront buildings and squat, listing bell towers.
Once we’d cruised past the main city (and our passengers watching the sail-in on deck had efficiently consumed their bubbly!) we manoeuvred onto our berth at Marittima. Almost everyone immediately got off the ship, straight onto another boat and back down the canal into the city again. We had two days here, but everybody seemed eager to shoot off early and see as many sights as possible, quite rightly too!
Our shore excursion department had as many choices to offer as a Chinese Restaurant menu: one could escape into the city for the entire day and explore all the highlights, or perhaps visit the Venetian Lagoon and island of Murano, famous for its glass-making. Panoramic boat trips were also on offer, as well as Gondola rides, or if one had seen enough sea and boats for a while, then there were options to head inland too. Yes, trips were also offered to visit the nearby UNESCO-preserved city of Verona - where Shakespeare set his play ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and of course ‘Romeo & Juliet.’ Funnily enough, nobody knows whether Shakespeare actually visited Italy, and given that he never seems to mention pizza or pasta in any of his text, I have serious doubts as well.
For those who had exhausted themselves during their first day in the city of water, the ship awaited at her berth to welcome everyone back to enjoy the usual evening feast followed by some special local entertainment I was told. This consisted of four rather odd looking gentlemen dressed as pirates, but carrying guitars instead of guns. I was later corrected by Cruise Director JoBo – these characters were in fact singing Gondoliers, and had not come on board to go swashbuckling or any such nonsense.
Those who preferred to spend their evening ashore with locals were of course free to do so, or there were some evening excursions organised too – a Vivaldi concert at the ‘Scuola Grande di San Teodoro’ (or Theatre, as I prefer to call it) proved to be a popular event. “The Four Seasons,” was on the cards this time apparently, and immediately I was disappointed in not having chosen this particular trip, for I would very much enjoy tucking into a nice pizza whilst listening to a jolly good classical piece or two…
Daybreak on our second day in Venice brought a little more sunshine through the mist than our first, and saw many of our passengers making their way back into the floating city again to explore. I decided to take my family off to a local restaurant not far from Rialto, which had been recommended to me by our guest celebrity chef, Michelin-starred Phil Vickery. After all, who wouldn’t take a dining recommendation from a man so obviously in-the-know. Our quest to find this venue found us weaving down backstreets for a few miles to give us an appetite, before eventually reaching a large sign which marked our arrival.
Inside a smartly dressed local pointed towards a table for 4. To reach it we had to walk past an enormous seafood display, such that you might normally come across in a fish market. Seafood was the order of the day here, and a small mountain-full of it later we were not left disappointed.
Once seated, I took the opportunity to try on my freshly-purchased Venetian mask, a ridiculous looking garment with a beak akin to that of a pelican, bought in eager anticipation of the Venetian Ball due to be held on board in a few days’ time. Other local restaurant-goers’ facial expressions quickly informed me that, despite being in the correct city, there was clearly also a correct time and place to be considered before trying on one’s Venetian mask. My family found it very humorous, though.
A waddle back to the water taxi stand, after an obligatory stop at the Gelateria, had us heading back to the ship again and shortly afterwards we were to sail from Venice after a fabulous couple of days alongside. Where are we going next? Croatia, my navigator informs me. Watch this space…