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20th September, 2014

Valletta, Malta

The temperatures rocketed as we made our approach into Valletta today and there was a buzz of excitement in the air for the celebrations that were about to take place to mark 50 years of Maltese independence. It was also an exciting arrival for one of my cadets, Daniel Borg, who is one of 2 Maltese cadets who Saga is giving berth space for them to get sea time for their certification to officer Status. It is always nice to see your home port as you arrive. I have the exact same feeling as I have take Saga Ships up the Clyde, near to my home!!

As we sailed in through the Breakwaters and started approaching our berth, we got the gun salute from the fortress followed by a resounding cheer from the guards. It is a great way to arrive in one of the most spectacular ports in my view - Grand Harbour, not just because of the architecture, but because of the history and bravery by the island during the Second World War. Valletta was built by the Knights of St John in 1565 and named after the French Grand Master of the Order, La Valletta. The city itself is a masterpiece of baroque architecture with narrow streets leading to pretty courtyards, with fountains and statues dotted throughout.

We were all fast alongside about 1145. Shortly after lunch our passengers ventured ashore with the hope of getting a glimpse of Prince William who had flown over to Malta especially for the celebrations.

There were three afternoon tours for passengers to choose from including ‘Medieval Mdina and Mosta’ where passengers visited the ‘Silent City’ and formal capital of Malta and one of the finest ancient walled cities in the World. The ‘Scenic Malta’ tour took passengers on a 4 hour trip around the island giving them a real overview of it. They stopped at the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk for traditional Maltese refreshments. The final tour today was ‘Mdina and Rabat Discovery’ which took passengers on a scenic drive towards the Medieval city and upon arrival they had the opportunity to take a trip on one of Malta’s trackless trains. They listened to a 30 minute commentary giving a background of the historical, cultural and architectural importance of the areas of Rabat, Mtarfa and the outskirts of Mdina.

We were docked overnight in Valletta which allowed passengers to enjoy the celebrations either on board or ashore. Our berth was on Pinto Wharf and it was the perfect location to see the evening’s events unfold. I had asked previously as to where the fireworks were placed so I could “park” the ship in the right direction, with the stern facing the celebrations. From the ship we could see the streets filling with people as the local Maltese residents came out to celebrate along with many tourists.

The evening celebrations began with a fly past by three World War II Planes representing Faith, Hope and Charity who defended the island throughout the Second World War. They finished their fly past with a sparkling pyrotechnic display. Following the fly past we were dazzled by a light show including images of Malta’s past and present glories projected onto one of the walls of one of the fortresses. At around 8pm the first of many amazing firework displays began, each one more impressive than the previous, and just when we thought it was all over another display began! Between the fireworks we were impressed by fleets of red and white lit Gondolas and water taxis skimming the quayside, illuminated jet-skis and water jetpack pilots defying gravity before diving below the surface. There was even a high-speed, low-level helicopter flyby, so close to the ship that it startled and surprised many.

On board passengers danced the night away out on the Veranda deck to party music by the Sapphire Orchestra. The decks were filled with passengers until the early hours with champagne flowing all night long.

Unfortunately we had to shift the ship just after midnight to our allocated berth. The authorities had allowed us to go to our first berth so we could be right in the heart of the celebrations but we had to move off as another cruise was due in the early hours of the morning. However I didn’t mind we were repositioning, as the port was still buzzing with party revellers and it was a beautiful night so it was a pleasure after such a lovely evening.

After a very late night for many our passengers were up early for another busy day. There were two different tours to choose from including a day trip to Gozo and also a Palazzo Parisio and Prosecco tour which is a unique 18th century palace in the very heart of the ancient village of Naxaar. The Palace is the ultimate memorial of the ambitions, aspirations and pretentions of a Maltese noble family.

We stayed alongside in Valletta until 11pm this evening, allowing the passengers to really make the most of their time in this wonderful city during such a special celebration. I’m sure many will be taking away some very special memories of our visit to Valletta.

Captain Alistair Mclundie

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.