Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Observations on My First Cruise Part I

As expected my first cruise experience was an interesting cultural experience. I'll breakdown my review in two parts since it is quite a long post. I'm writing it while in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during one of our days at sea.

our cruise ship the ms Rotterdam docked in Cartagena, Spain
I'll start my review with some of the basics about our cruise. Our cruise was a total of 15 nights starting on Sunday, November 5th in Rome, Italy and ending on Monday, November 21st in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Technically Rome's port is about a solid hour train ride away in the city of Civitavecchia. Civitavecchia is a difficult name to pronounce but not that hard to get too from Rome's Termini train station. We sailed on Holland America's ms Rotterdam. The ship can hold a little over 1,300 passengers and has around 600 crew members. The ship was built in 1997 and is considered the flagship of their feet. They do have larger and newer ships. It is the 7th ship named Rotterdam Holland American with first dating back to the 1870s. We had 6 ports of call in the Mediterranean before crossing the Atlantic. I'll get into ports of call next. Alethea and I had a basic inner stateroom with no window on the 2nd deck. Other key stats were that the average age of the passengers was 65 years old per our cruise director. I also heard by the way of two different conversations with passengers that we had about 900 Americans, 300 Canadians, and the rest were European and few Aussies. Now on to the ports of call.

room 2613 on the ms Rotterdam
One of the reasons we chose this transatlantic repositioning cruise over others that were departing around the same time were because of the ports of call. The 6 ports of call we visited in order were Ajaccio, France on the island of Corsica, Barcelona, Spain, Cartagena, Spain, Malaga, Spain, Tangier, Morocco, and Funchal, Portugal on the island of Madeira. We visited a port of call each of the 1st five days before having a full day of sea when we reached our last port of call in Funchal. My favorite port of call was Malaga, Spain. Malaga is in southern Spain. It is a well kept city with beautiful architecture, churches, and made for a good day of walking. I was surprised at this because I had not even heard of Malaga before the cruise. Barcelona probably would have actually been number one except that Alethea (along with Diane & Ronnie) and I had just spent three full days there back in April. Good news is that we weren't suffering from sinus issues this time around! We did just a little sightseeing by walking around the Latin Quarter before stopping at a bar for a beer and some free wi-fi. We bought some toiletries and stocked up on wine since we could bring as much on board as we could carry. If we brought beer, liquor, or champagne it would have been confiscated and returned to us on the last night of the cruise. Alethea actually also got a haircut in Barcelona when we stumbled upon a rather cheap salon while walking around town. 

Alethea @ our 1st port of call in Ajaccio, France
Two other ports of call that I enjoyed were Funchal, Portugal and Tangier, Morocco. Tangier was the port of call that I was most interested in when we were making the decision on which cruise to take. We had wanted to go to Morocco on our round the world trip back in the spring but decided against it because we were running out of travel energy and there had been a bombing that killed I believe 6 tourists at one of the cities we wanted to go to about a week before we would have visited. I enjoyed our stop in Tangier although it was a little taxing which is what I was expecting. We weren't completely off the boat before someone was asking us to buy something. We received many solicitations throughout our stop. It kind of wears on you after a while or at least it does to me since this isn't common in American but can be pretty common elsewhere in the world. Not too long after we made it to the start of the old town area we were picked up by two pre-teen boys who walked around and showed us different parts of town that we probably wouldn't have found without them since our map from the ship was so bad. The quality of the maps we received on board for our ports of call weren't that great. We found better maps at Traveler Information offices once on land. Our adopted tour guides did take us to a a shop where a gentleman gave us a sales pitch on carpets and other items. He did let us go up on the roof top of the store where we experienced some good views of the city. The sales pitch wasn't too aggressive and we were pretty much used to it by now. At the end of the day we gave our two tour guides the remaining amount of euros that I had in my pocket which was only a 5 euro note and about 80 euro cents. Alethea told them in French, which they spoke, in the beginning that we didn't have any money. They did ask for more but I'm pretty sure they were satisfied with what they got.

Alethea with our two Tangier tour guides
We did experience an interesting event while in Tangier. Toward the end of our walk we noticed a crowd of mostly men and shouting in Arabic. I quickly noticed they were carrying a body on wood stilts that was wrapped in a green decorated blanket. I knew right away it was a funeral procession and wasn't too alarmed. We moved over to the side of the street and watched it go by. One American lady that was probably around 70 turned to us and wondered what they were shouting, she then said “probably death to Americans”. It was a classical stereotypical incident. Alethea told her they were shouting tributes to the person whose funeral they were celebrating. In all the countries I've been where Islam is the predominant religion I've never heard a bad word about Americans.

roof top view of Tangier, Morocco
Another port of call I enjoyed was Funchal, Portugal on the island of Madeira. Funchal has a tropical feel to it. It has some traditional Portuguese architecture with some pedestrian only streets to wonder around. It is a popular place for Europeans to visit since it a relatively close destination with a tropical climate. Winston Churchill used to visit here quite often back in the 30's and 40's according to a brochure. It would have been nice to do a little more exploring throughout the island. It was overcast and it rained a little bit while we were there. It was the only port that we didn't walk into town from on our ship. We could have but it would have taken at least 30 minutes. The cruise ship arranged buses to take us closer into town. Of course, there was some arguing over people jumping in front of other people in line as we boarded the bus on the way into town.

church in Funchal, Portugal
I did enjoyed our visits to Cartagena, Spain and Ajaccio, France. These two didn't stand out that much to me. There wasn't anything really bad about them they were just small or there wasn't much to see. The weather was nice in Cartagena and there were some pretty views overlooking the city. In Ajaccio we got to see the house where Napoleon was born and the church he was baptized.

To be continued........

Link to photo album: