This was an 8-night cruise visiting four ports, two each in Portugal and Spain, which afforded the opportunity to fulfil a long-standing ambition of visiting Santiago de Compostela. Sailing from Southampton, the itinerary was:
Lisbon - Porto - A Coruña - Aviles.
The Black Watch is a relatively small (it's barely a minute's walk from the restaurant astern to the forward show lounge), comfortable, easily navigated ship offering a relaxed sea-going experience - when not bobbing up and down in the Bay of Biscay or the Atlantic, that is. It is also one of the world's oldest ships, having begun life as a Viking vessel! There are plenty of public spaces both inside and out and the classic, wide promenade deck allows for enjoyable strolls.
The white exterior was rather blighted by rust streaks and contrasted sharply with an elegant, tastefully decorated, clean interior.
Announcements were in English only and the passengers with whom I came into contact were all from the UK and almost all were young in spirit if not in body.
Embarkation and Disembarkation:
We used ParkAtMyHouse and found the drop-off and pick-up to be pain-free and reliable. Having previously used off-port parking, either can be recommended.
Embarkation was severely delayed due to an impromptu inspection by the Maritime Cruise Authority, and air-bridge problems. To his credit, Fred laid on a shuttle to Southampton town centre and we, like many other passengers, took advantage of this.
The passenger safety drill was conducted as we moved away from the port.
Disembarkation was efficient and a rather relaxed affair.
Our clean and comfortable outside cabin was ideally located between the launderette and the beauty salon, and even had kettles and safe drawers. The beds were in an L-shaped configuration with one being made up as a settee during the day. A note in the bathroom cabinet explained that bars of soap (rather than the liquid soap provided), shower caps, sewing kit and other assorted items would be provided upon request.
This was available in two locations, and the quality and choice of meat, fish and vegetarian options were a delight.
Buffet dining was available in the slightly-too-small Garden Cafe.
Breakfast and lunch in the Glentanar Restaurant was a mix of buffet items, and menu items on request.
Afternoon tea included excellent scones and cream, against a backdrop of the occasionally-not-quite-in-tune musical trio. The patisserie offerings for the afternoon Tea Dance on the second sea day were indescribably good.
Did you hear the one about the English couple, the Scottish couple and the Welsh couple? They all became friends at a fine dining table where the late-sitting experience in the Orchid Room (a slightly stuffy annex off the Glentanar Restaurant) was excellent. The cheerful waiters contributed to this bonhomie. There were two formal nights to which most of the men wore dinner suits and others, like me, wore smart, sober attire. There were also two themed nights: Nautical and Rock 'n' Roll. The ship, very commendably, even provided hats for the former and scarves for the latter. Most joined in but you didn't feel awkward in the least if you didn't.
The Supper Club buffet, available from 11pm till midnight, included biscuits that were so large they could have been used for shuffleboard - conveniently they came in two colours. The hot-drinks station, located adjacent to the restaurant was spacious and open 24 hours although packet biscuits were only available for mid-morning coffee. Some cruise lines still don't appreciate that a drink's too wet without one!
The shows in the Neptune Lounge were varied and generally entertaining, sometimes unintentionally so - the dancers can dance and the singers can sing, but the latter's struggle to cope with both disciplines led us to wonder if they might be graduates of the Eric Morecambe Performing Arts Academy.
The late-night dancing and entertainment up in the Lido Lounge were particularly enjoyable - kudos to the musicians and dance hosts (and teachers for their tips on how to dance on 2).
The photography and history lectures were informative, well-presented and well-attended, and the piano recitals were entertaining and deservedly well-received.
What is it about port lecturers and piss-pronunciation? The Spanish and Portuguese for 'avenue' is 'avenida', not 'avienda'! Despite these and other locutionary lapses, the port lectures were not just focussed on the shore excursions but thankfully also offered useful information for the independent traveller.
Public Rooms and Spaces:
The ship has an always-open library, internet room, card room, games room, observatory lounge (whose function was militated against, initially, by uncleaned, salt-sprayed windows), and bars and cafes both indoors and out by the pools.
Warning! People can be very possessive about jigsaws. (I promised JacqTar not to reveal that it was she who caused one particular male passenger to lose his rag.)
The onboard shops were quite adequate and included a small but varied book selection, and the photo shop quickly sold out of their stock of Canon cameras with viewfinder. There was also a gym, and self-service launderettes where cruise passengers are more commonly exercised.
Unfortunately the decks were not smooth enough for playing shuffleboard - copious quantities of spinach should be consumed before playing.
Ports of Call:
We did not take any shore excursions but those that did seemed happy with them - although we met some who were a little grumpy due to a lot of standing around in Santiago de Compostela (they should have joined us in the adjacent parador for Cola Cao and almond cake).
1. Lisbon (a 15-minute walk or 5-minute bus into town):
An enjoyable day visiting Sintra and some of its outlying palaces and gardens.
2. Porto (a 30-minute ride on a tourist bus - they come out to Leixos for cruise ships):
A fine day exploring port warehouses on one side of the river and tourist attractions on the other.
3. A Coruña (a 10-minute walk into town):
An enjoyable visit by train to Santiago de Compostela, followed by exploration of the port.
4. Aviles (a 2-minute walk into town):
A wonderful day boozing in bodegas and generally chilling in a lovely, little-visited port.
This was an extremely enjoyable cruise visiting interesting and some less-frequented locations. The experience was enhanced by sunny (if not particularly warm) weather (the ship does not feel claustrophobic even if outside spaces can't be used), helpful and pleasant crew, fine food and even finer dining companions. A combination of swells and winds made for a generally bumpy ride - and particularly challenging dance lessons (my triple-time waltz steps tended to be 1-2-3 stutterstutter; 1-2-3 stutterstutter). With hot drinks on tap and a traditional promenade deck I would certainly consider sailing aboard her again but please:
- Clean the windows
- Paint the ship
- Smooth out the shuffleboard