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Crown Princess Cruise Review by cboyle: Volcanoes, Wines & Historical Places - Canary Islands & Transatlantic


cboyle
16 Reviews
Member Since 2002
892 Posts

Member Rating

Cabin Not Rated
Dining 5.0
Embarkation 4.0
Enrichment Activities 3.0
Entertainment 5.0
Family & Children Not Rated
Fitness & Recreation Not Rated
Public Rooms 5.0
Rates Not Rated
Service 5.0
Shore Excursions 5.0
Value for Money 5.0

Compare Prices on Crown Princess Canary Islands Cruises

Volcanoes, Wines & Historical Places - Canary Islands & Transatlantic

Sail Date: October 2013
Destination: Canary Islands
Embarkation: Southampton

ABOUT US

John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our early sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I would be looking for flags from Portugal, the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores.

We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. Many of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, Australia/New Zealand, the Panama Canal, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, Hawaiian Islands, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, the North Atlantic (Greenland/Iceland), parts of the British Isles, the Norwegian Fjords, the Galapagos Islands and the Holy Land/Egypt. We have taken land tours to the Netherlands, Canadian Rockies, Mexico (Cozumel), More London, France (several wine regions and Paris), China, Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza wine region), Chile (Santiago, several wine regions), Hawaiian Islands (Kauai, Maui, Hawaii) and to many parts of the continental USA.

On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.

We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, but have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, Celebrity and Commodore.

ABOUT THE REVIEW

Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including links to tourist sites and maps. Because we have sailed many times with Princess, we have seen many of the shows and performers; this cruise would also give us the opportunity to see most of them more than once. Thus we do not feel compelled to see a show every night, especially if we have had a long day or need to be up especially early the following morning.

Although we booked this as a 26-day cruise, it was also marketed as a 12-day cruise to the Canary Islands and a 14-day Transatlantic cruise. This review includes information on our pre-cruise stay in London (2 nights) and Portsmouth (2 nights), the Canary Islands cruise and the Transatlantic cruise (which ultimately had 3 of the 5 scheduled port calls canceled).

TOUR GUIDE CONTACT INFORMATION

In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take Princess tours when the logistics or cost make that a better option. We took one Princess tour on this cruise because of the short time in that port and the lack of other viable alternatives. We also took two shared private tours and toured the other ports on our own. Although several port calls were canceled, I have included information about the operators we had intended to use.

LISBON: DIY tour to Sintra by train (www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g189158-c146578/Lisbon:Portugal:Getting.To.Sintra.html)

GRAN CANARIA: DIY tour by Cicar rental car (www.cicar.com/EN/gran-canaria-car-hire)

TENERIFE: Shared private tour with Patsy Little (patricialittle@hotmail.com)

LANZAROTE: DIY tour by Cicar rental car (www.cicar.com/EN/lanzarote-car-hire)

MADEIRA: Shared custom tour with Daniel Madeira Taxis (www.danielmadeirataxis.com/cruise-ship-excursions.shtml)

VIGO: Princess tour “Santiago De Compostela on Your Own”

SOUTHAMPTON: DIY tour to Bath by train (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/Destinations/Top-destinations/Bath)

LE HAVRE (CANCELED): DIY tour to Mont St-Michel by rental car (www.rentacar.fr; if your ship docks on a Sunday, email le_havre@rentacar.fr to reserve a car at the cruise terminal)

VIGO (CANCELED): DIY winery tour by Avis rental car (www.avis.com/car-rental/location/EUR/ES/Vigo)

LISBON: DIY tour using Lisboa Card (www.lisbonlux.com/lisbon/lisboa-card.html)

AZORES (CANCELED): Shared private tour with Amazing Tours (www.amazingtours.se/uk/shoretours.htm)

BERMUDA: DIY tour using public ferries and buses (www.bermuda-attractions.com/bermuda_000070.htm)

REVIEW OF THE CRUISE

09 OCT (WED) IN TRANSIT TO LONDON, UK

We flew American nonstop from RDU to LHR a few days ahead of the cruise in order to visit some new (to us) sights in England and to get over jet lag before the cruise. We booked the open-jaw, fully refundable flights using Princess EzAir during a special promotion; that saved us several hundreds of dollars pp compared to the best prices John had been able to find for nonrefundable tickets at other travel sites.

It was really nice to spend the morning relaxing at home instead of getting up in the middle of the night to fly to and spend the day waiting in some stopover airport. Security at RDU was exceptionally fast and easy: we did not have to empty our pockets, remove any items of clothing or take anything out of our hand luggage; we didn't even have to walk through the fancy body scanners. We did have to go through the regular metal detectors and there was a security dog that sniffed each of us. We were not the only people surprised by this; the TSA agents were constantly stopping people from removing their shoes, belts, jackets etc. and taking out their laptops and plastic bags of tiny toiletries. I hope this means that the dogs are a more reliable way to detect safety threats with less inconvenience for travelers.

10 OCT (THU) PRECRUISE DAY 1: LONDON, UK

Despite having tried to time-shift a couple of hours over the last few weeks, the difficulties of sleeping on the plane still left us a bit groggy when we arrived at LHR shortly after dawn. We passed through immigration, customs and baggage claim with no problems. John did notice that the cable tie on one suitcase had been cut, indicating that it had been opened and inspected by TSA. This was the suitcase with all the items that would not be needed until the cruise. Maybe it was the shoes or the travel surge protector that looked suspicious in the x-rays; at least TSA did not jumble up the contents noticeably.

Once out of baggage claim, the first task was to obtain some pounds from an ATM. I later learned that all the ATMs at the airport are owned by Travelex, which explained the poor exchange rate. At least there was no fee with the debit card I used and we only needed a little cash for taxis and the like.

Next it was off to the Underground station to add some value to the Oyster transit cards we had bought on our 2008 visit to London. During previous visits to Europe, we had been unable to use our US-style magnetic strip credit cards in ticket machines. Specifically for this trip, we obtained a new credit card from PenFed, which not only has the chip-and-PIN technology used in Europe but also has no foreign transaction fees. This card worked like a charm in the ticket machine and we were soon on the tube for Westminster.

We emerged from the tube station to partially sunny skies and a view of Big Ben, then headed across the Westminster Bridge to the London Marriott Hotel County Hall. Although two nights at this hotel put quite a dent in our Marriott Rewards Points balance, it was worth it to be near so many major tourist attractions and transportation options. We were prepared to check our luggage but a room was already available. Even though we were staying with rewards points, we were given a room with an actual view (of the Jubilee Gardens and a section of the London Eye). The room itself was a bit small but had a comfortable king-sized bed and a separate living area with a small sofa, armchair, table, large desk with chair and small side table with stool. The main problem we had with the room was that the room safe did not operate properly; someone quickly came to reprogram it. There were other, minor problems: it took three requests to get a second bathrobe, the TV remotes did not always function properly and the water faucets and shower had some issues. Naturally, the more plush the Marriott brand, the fewer amenities; breakfast and wifi (6 GBP/hour!) were not included. However, the excellent location trumped everything else.

After freshening up a bit, we had plenty of time to stroll over to the London Tourist Office (near Trafalgar Square) before it opened. There we exchanged the voucher for our London Passes (www.londonpass.com) and guide books. We had bought 1-day passes on our previous visit and were pleased with the amount of money we had saved over buying tickets to individual attractions and with the skip-the-line feature, which saved us a lot of waiting time. For this visit, we bought 3-day passes earlier in the year, when they were on sale for the same price as 2-day passes. These passes are also available with a transportation option, but we are avid walkers and the pay-as-you go Oyster card is more cost-effective for us. In the following, I will indicate by “LP” the attractions we visited using the pass.

London Passes acquired, the next stop was Waterloo Railway Station to purchase return tickets to Windsor. The PenFed card again worked fine in the ticket machine and we were soon on our way. Fortunately for us, the Windsor and Eton Riverside station is the end of the line or we might have missed our stop. That was because the gentle rocking of the train combined with jet lag caused each of us to nod off occasionally. Nevertheless, we made it to Windsor and the chilly air temperature and brisk wind quickly perked us up.

From the railway station it is a short walk uphill to Windsor Castle (LP) and there is a separate entry queue for LP holders. We got our tickets and map, passed through a security check and picked up the included audioguides for the self-paced tour. The Castle, one of QEII's official residences, is an impressive collection of buildings surrounded by a sturdy wall. The audioguide pointed out the many defensive features, such as the slots for firing arrows and the dry moat. Inside the Castle, the first stop was Queen Mary's Dolls' House, which holds her huge collection of miniature furniture, household objects, art, books and vehicles. Next was a display of drawings and paintings by past and present members of the UK's Royal Family (plus a drawing by da Vinci). Then it was on to the State Apartments –-- room after ornately furnished and decorated room. Some of these rooms are still used by the Queen for various official functions. Thankfully, the audioguide gives an overview of the main features of each room and leaves each visitor the choice of hearing more details if he/she chooses. Thus, we heard enough about the rooms to be interesting while being spared the information overload we endured on our visit to the Fontainebleau Palace in France. Our final stop in the Castle was St. George's Chapel, which is architecturally quite striking and contains the tombs of several British monarchs.

After visiting the Castle, we strolled through Windsor (www.windsor.gov.uk/visitor-info) to Windsor Great Park and the Long Walk, a straight 3-mile long path. There are good views of the Castle from the Long Walk. We strolled away from the Castle until we could see the green dome of the Frogmore House Mausoleum, the tomb of Victoria and Albert, then turned onto a side path out of the Park and through Windsor to the River Thames. There were many swans, geese and ducks in the river and a company offering boat rides. We had thought to have an early supper of fish and chips along the river but the weather was not pleasant enough for al fresco dining. We returned to the main street via the Windsor Royal shopping mall, back toward the train station and over the bridge to Eton. From the bridge, you can see the walls and towers of the Castle looming over Windsor. We did not continue along the road to Eton College because no public tours were offered today. Instead we returned to the station and London, again fighting the soporific effects of the swaying train coach.

We still had time for one more sight in London before calling it a day. Our hotel was across the street from St. Thomas' Hospital, home to the very small Florence Nightingale Museum (LP). Although most of the museum deals with her contributions to the nursing profession and to improving sanitation standards in hospitals, as a biostatistician I was primarily interested in her statistical activities. Unfortunately, there was only one display case that mentioned her work in that area but it contained a book with a copy of Nightingale's innovative “coxcomb” diagram (www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/images/contentImages/collection-highlights/coll_f11.jpg). This diagram consists of 12 adjacent wedges (one for each month), radiating from a common center. The radius of each wedge is proportional to the total number of troop deaths in a given month and colored bands on each wedge show the numbers of deaths due to various causes. The graph vividly illustrates the seasonal variation in the number of deaths and how the number of deaths due to infectious diseases vastly exceeded those due to combat injuries. If you are not a biostatistician or a nurse, you probably would not consider this museum a “must see.”

11 OCT (FRI) PRECRUISE DAY 2: LONDON, UK

Still suffering from jet lag, we did not get a solid night's rest last night. Nevertheless, we were up early and in the queue for Westminster Abbey (LP) about 20 minutes before it opened. There were already about a dozen people in line and by opening time the line stretched for more than a block behind us. Admission to the Abbey includes an audioguide and there are also verger-led tours for an additional cost. The Abbey is a fascinating place, crammed with tombs and memorials ranging from simple slabs in the floor (Charles Darwin) to huge sculpture groups (Issac Newton) on the walls to sarcophagi topped by life-sized effigies of couples spending eternity together. Many other famous scientists are buried or memorialized there, such as Halley, Maxwell, Faraday, Kelvin and Watt. The “Poets' Corner” is devoted mostly to playwrights, authors, poets and actors. Naturally there is a large memorial to Shakespeare and the walls and floors were covered with names like Chaucer, Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll –- too many to mention. I was happy to spot the stone for Sir Laurence Olivier, honored in the same building where some of the kings he portrayed are buried.

After nearly two hours in the Abbey, we headed to the Wellington Barracks to see the inspection of the New Guard that takes place before the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace. During the inspection, a military band stands in a circle and plays various classical and popular tunes; they were playing “Thriller” when we arrived. After the inspection, the New Guard, led by the band, marched off to the Palace, passed through a huge throng of onlookers and entered the Palace gates. It was obviously not possible to get any closer to see the rest of the ceremony, so we remained at the edge of the crowd until the Horse Guard arrived. Then we headed through St. James' Park and back to the Westminster Embankment as it began to rain.

At the Westminster Pier, we picked up our City Cruises' River Red Rover tickets (LP); these tickets are HOHO and good for the entire day. Our destination was Greenwich. During this 75-minute cruise, there is either recorded or live commentary pointing out sights along the river. We hopped off at the Greenwich Pier to tour the “Cutty Sark,” a tea clipper famous for her speed. Although this attraction is not included in the LP, there is a discount for those 60+. We had taken this same river cruise on our 2008 visit and toured the Royal Naval Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, but the “Cutty Sark” was under restoration and could not be visited. Now the ship is enclosed in a new museum (www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark/) where visitors can walk through all three levels of the ship; there is also a small collection of ship figureheads on the level beneath the hull. The “Cutty Sark” is truly an elegant sailing ship and quite popular among model builders. John had once built a model (long gone) of her many years ago but resisted buying any of the kits on offer in the gift shop.

We hopped back on the City Cruises boat and hopped off at the Tower Pier. It was still raining steadily and the strong wind was not kind to our cheap folding umbrellas as we walked over the Tower Bridge to the “HMS Belfast” (LP). The ticket here also included an excellent audioguide and the tour (9 decks!) was more comprehensive than that of any other naval vessel we have ever visited. John is a military history buff but even he had not considered the “Belfast” a high-priority attraction. However, we both found it interesting and well worth the visit.

Then it was back over the Tower Bridge, where the wind further demolished our umbrellas. We had considered taking the tube to the British Museum, which we had only had the opportunity to sample on our previous visit, because many of the galleries are open late on Friday nights. By now we were starting to wear down and the rain was demoralizing, so we hopped back on the City Cruises boat, hopped off at Westminster Pier and returned to the hotel.

12 OCT (SAT) PRECRUISE DAY 3: LONDON AND PORTSMOUTH, UK

This morning we checked out of the Marriott and made a quick trip to Waterloo Railway Station (more about that later). After that, we walked over the Jubilee Bridge, stopped to view Cleopatra's Needle and caught the tube to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (LP). The gardens are large –-- 326 acres –- so we were only able to visit a few of the highlights. We arrived just before the gardens opened and first visited a huge glass conservatory, the Palm House. True to its name, it was filled with many species of palms and tropical plants. We even spotted a rubber tree, perhaps a scion of those plants that were smuggled out of Brazil to England, were nurtured at Kew Gardens and broke the Brazilian monopoly on rubber production. There was a balcony to allow views of the tree canopy and an underground gallery of aquatic plants and animals. Across from the Palm House was the much smaller Waterlily House, which was devoted to an attractive display of 75 varieties of pumpkins, squashes and gourds. Fortunately the weather was much nicer today and there were many families enjoying the exhibit, including one little girl repeating “Pumpkin pie! Pumpkin pie!” Another large glass house was home to the Princess of Wales Conservatory, showcasing tropical plants from around the world arranged by ecosystem. A feature we have not seen in any other botanical garden was the Treetop Walkway, a high boardwalk in a grove of trees. As we left the gardens, we were sorry that we had not allotted more time for them and promised ourselves a longer visit in the future.

Back in Westminster, we visited the Churchill War Rooms (LP). This attraction also included an audioguide tour. The War Rooms, where Prime Minister Churchill and the War Cabinet led the British war effort and that sheltered them during the Blitz, have been restored to their appearance at the end of WWII; this part was extremely interesting. In the middle of the tour of the War Rooms, visitors are diverted to the Churchill Museum showcasing his life and accomplishments. Although this museum had many fine exhibits, the audioguide tour was a bit confusing because it was not in chronological order and the audioguide numbers were hard to spot in the displays. We were disappointed to find out later that we missed seeing an Enigma cypher machine.

We still had time for one more attraction, so we decided to visit the Jewel Tower (LP), one of only two remaining complete buildings from the medieval Palace of Westminster. However, there was quite a line and no separate entry for LP holders, so we simply viewed the outside of the Jewel Tower and returned to the hotel to collect our luggage.

The Waterloo Railway Station, where we planned to catch the train to Portsmouth, is only a 0.4-mile walk from the Marriott. South West Trains makes a special offer of discounted admission tickets to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard if you buy the Dockyard tickets when you purchase the train tickets (www.southwesttrains.co.uk/portsmouth-historic-dockyard.aspx). Although the Dockyard tickets themselves are valid for one year from the date of purchase, we had not noticed that the vouchers the ticket agent sold us on Thursday were only valid for today. That was why we went to the station earlier this morning, to exchange those vouchers for ones that would be valid tomorrow instead. We had no problems making the exchange, but the ticket agent again refused to sell us the advertised Senior price ticket, claiming that the Senior ticket “was not in the computer system.” Oh well, we still managed to save over 9 GBP pp compared to the regular cost of the Dockyard tickets. And I will be complaining to South West Trains about their false advertising (for what little good that will do).

It was a 1 hr 35 min ride to Portsmouth (www.visitportsmouth.co.uk/visitor-information). The George Hotel was only 0.3 miles from the Portsmouth Harbour station; the Dockyard was about halfway between the station and the hotel. The George Hotel (www.thegeorgehotel.org.uk) is very small –- only 10 rooms above the small pub and restaurant –- but comfortable and the rate included both free wifi and breakfast. John and I took advantage of the pub to enjoy a pint before attending Vigil Mass at St. John's Catholic Cathedral, which was just a few blocks up the street. Later, when we were trying to get to sleep, there were some problems with traffic noise and happy patrons leaving the pub; if you stay here, bring earplugs.

13 OCT (SUN) PRECRUISE DAY 4: PORTSMOUTH, UK

This morning we were offered the choice of a cold (cereal, fruit, yogurt) or hot, cooked to order breakfast. We choose the Full English Breakfast, which was huge: two poached eggs, a sausage, two slices of English bacon (more like Canadian bacon than the US version), mushrooms, a broiled tomato, baked beans and toast. That was definitely a meal that would keep us going for a long, wet day exploring the Dockyard!

It had rained during the night and was still misting as we walked the short distance to the Dockyard visitor center (www.historicdockyard.co.uk); the weather would only get worse as the day progressed. Although the attractions were not yet open, the visitor center was already selling tickets and making reservations for the timed-entry “Mary Rose” Museum. We exchanged the SW Trains vouchers for all-attraction tickets and got spots on the first “Mary Rose” tour. This site is similar to places like Colonial Williamsburg, where the grounds are open to the public but a ticket is needed to enter the various attractions.

We splashed over to the “Mary Rose” Museum that just opened this year. The “Mary Rose” was Henry VIII's flagship and sank during a battle in 1545 with the loss of over 500 lives. The wreck was raised in 1982 and since then has been treated with polyethylene glycol (antifreeze) to stabilize and preserve it; this is the same method used to preserve the Vasa, which was recovered from the Stockholm harbor. While only about 40% of the ship remains, it is fascinating to view it from three levels. Galleries one each level display some of the myriad artifacts recovered from the ship as well as skeletons and forensic reconstructions of several of the crew who drowned in the sinking.

Next we toured the “HMS Victory,” Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The “Victory” is the world's oldest commissioned warship and is still the flagship of the Royal Navy. John and I have read several nonfiction books about this period in naval history and are fans of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, which take place slightly later in the 19th century. In preparation for this visit, we watched a movie based on O'Brian's books (“Master and Commander”) and a movie (“That Hamilton Woman”) and a BBC TV series (“I Remember Nelson”) about Nelson's life. On our 2008 visit to London, we had seen Nelson's tomb in St. Paul's Cathedral and the jacket he was wearing when he was shot (displayed in the National Maritime Museum). It was stirring to walk the decks of this historic vessel and see the famous painting “The Death of Nelson” marking the spot where the legendary hero died.

Next we tried to take the harbor tour but the tour boat was temporarily not operating because one of the motors had gone out on the first tour of the day. Instead, we toured the “HMS Warrior,” built in 1860. This was the first iron-hulled ship in the world and could be propelled either by wind or steam. Built to counter French technological advances, she was so fast, powerful and intimidating that she never had to engage in battle. It is particularly interesting to compare the “Warrior” with the 100-year-older “Victory” to see some of these advances in the science of shipbuilding.

When we checked back at the harbor tour kiosk, we learned that the motor had been fixed and the tours would resume in a few minutes. The 45-minute tour took us past active naval vessels, vessels built and undergoing sea trials for other countries and vessels decommissioned and being sold for scrap. The narration also pointed out interesting sights at sea and on the shore, such as the pub where Nelson reputedly drank his last pint before setting sail on the “Victory.”

After the harbor tour, we walked to the far end of the dockyard to view (not open to visit) the “Monitor 33”, built for service in WWI; there are also two smaller boats at the Dockyard for external viewing only. Finally, we visited the two buildings of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The first building had a nice collection of ship figureheads. One wing of the second building was devoted to life on naval sailing ships and the other to Nelson. This second wing contained memorabilia and items used by Nelson and Lady Hamilton (his mistress/common law wife). There was a statue depicting how Nelson is thought to have actually looked, based on scholarly study of contemporary portraits, drawings and descriptions. Interestingly, this wing was dedicated in 1995 by Nelson's and Lady Hamilton's great-great-great-granddaughter.

Finally tired of braving the elements with our increasingly dilapidated and useless umbrellas, we headed back to the George Hotel for a traditional roast dinner and more ale. There was a choice of roast beef, pork or turkey (we got the beef) served with lots of gravy, roasted potatoes, boiled new potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, cabbage, peas and carrots. The meat was sliced very thinly and might have made a nice po-boy if the gravy had had some garlic in it. Overall, the meal was good but seemed under-seasoned to our New Orleans taste buds.

14 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 0: PORTSMOUTH AND SOUTHAMPTON, UK

This morning, we decided to enjoy a slightly lighter version of the Full English Breakfast –- John omitted the baked beans and I left off the beans and the sausage; this was still quite filling. After relaxing a while and finishing packing, it was back to the train station for the trip to Southampton (www.discoversouthampton.co.uk/visit). There is a free shuttle bus from the Southampton Central Station to Ferry Terminal 1 (www.redfunnel.co.uk/travel-connections/bus-connections/citylink/); from there it is a short (0.5 mile) walk to the Ocean Terminal, where the “Crown Princess” was docked. The “Independence of the Seas” was also in port at the Mayflower Terminal.

Check-in was quick but the security line was quite long. John's briefcase of electronics needed an extra examination. Despite the long line, we were in our cabin by 12:30 p.m. and had all our belongings put away by one o'clock. John made reservations for dinner at Sabatini's Trattoria ($25 pp) and I called room service to exchange some items from our mini-bar setup. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the ship.

I forgot to mention that we had booked the lowest category balcony guarantee. However, we were assigned (only 6 days before embarkation!) a deluxe balcony midships on the Caribe deck. The reason these cabins are “deluxe” is that the balcony is about twice as large as standard balconies and they are partially covered, giving guests a choice of sun or shade. Very nice!

As usual, the food at Sabatini’s was excellent; we had a window table overlooking the stern as we sailed away from Southampton toward Lisbon. This voyage offered the Princess wine packages but we were told that we could not carry unused punches over to the second leg of the voyage. We decided to buy the Gold 12-bottle package (see below) and used the first punch for a nice Barolo. Unfortunately, we learned that the sommelier position has been eliminated for the third time in the 20+ years that we have been sailing with Princess. After dinner, John and I skipped the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” in favor of resting up from our busy four days in London and Portsmouth.

About the Wine Packages: The packages offered were Silver (wines up to $29) 12 ($240), 10 ($210) or 7 ($161) bottles and Gold (wines up to $45) 12 ($336), 10 ($290) or 7 ($217) bottles. Note that a 15% gratuity is added to the price of each package. Also note that either package can be used to purchase more expensive wines: the list price of the wine is charged to your onboard account (no gratuity added) and your account receives a credit for either $29 or $45.

15 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 1: AT SEA

Today we slept in to continue our recovery from all the activity in London and Portsmouth. We did manage to pull ourselves together enough to attend the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet, which was held in Skywalkers Nightclub. At least 75% of the people who had been posting to the roll call showed up. We met the person who had organized a tour we joined for Tenerife and the couple who would be joining us in Madeira. The M&G conflicted with the port lecture for Lisbon and we never saw the lecture aired later on the Princess port lecture channel.

John and I spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing; I also worked on this review. The ship would spend the rest of the day and all night traversing the Bay of Biscay. Later we heard people complaining about the rough weather and saw seasickness bags around the ship but we did not think the ship's motion was anything remarkable.

Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this leg and the Captain's Welcome Champagne Waterfall. Earlier in the evening there was a party in the Princess Theater for the Gold and Ruby Captain's Circle members; there would be three parties on the second formal night for the Platinum and Elite members. After dinner, we attended the production show “Destination Anywhere” (anywhere means Las Vegas, London and Africa). The show made me wonder whether Londoners like being represented by West End prostitutes and Jack the Ripper as much as New Orleanians like being represented by Basin Street prostitutes and voodoo queens. Maybe if I put the proper gris-gris bag around the funnel of a toy Princess ship and stuck in a few pins, we could get some new shows? It might be worth a try.

16 OCT (WED) CRUISE DAY 2: AT SEA

Another day to rest up, read and work on the review. We did go to the port lecture by Lyndon Jolley. This was a combined lecture on Gran Canaria and Tenerife and was repeated later on the stateroom TV. Mr. Jolley barely gave any information on Gran Canaria but his section on Tenerife was better. This evening the show was a vocalist/comic (Mike Doyle), which we did not feel it was essential to attend.

17 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 3: LISBON, PORTUGAL (8:00AM – 4:30PM)

Today was Lisbon (www.visitlisboa.com/Home_UK.aspx?lang=en-GB), a new port for us. Although Princess often docks at the Alcantara Pier (near the Ponte 25 de Abril, which is described as looking somewhat like the Golden Gate Bridge), the “Independence of the Seas” was docked there today. The Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; we docked at the Jardin do Tabaco. This pier is located midway between the Praca do Comercio and the Santa Apolonia train station, so it is much more convenient than the other two piers for passengers who want to explore the city on their own on foot. The small terminal building appeared to have no services except a rack of city maps and a few brochures. However, the main tourist office (Ask Me Lisboa) is on Praca do Comercio, only about 0.5 mile from the dock. There is also a tourist office in the Santa Apolonia train station.

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to visit Sintra (www.cm-sintra.pt/default.aspx), a favorite summer retreat of Portuguese royalty and aristocrats, and save Lisbon proper for the port stop on the next cruise. We walked from the dock to the Praca do Comercio and through the triumphal arch, which commemorates the reconstruction of the city after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 1755 that killed over 60,000 Lisboans. This arch marks one end of the main shopping street, Rua Augusta. We followed this pedestrianized street, stopping at a bank ATM to add to our cache of euros, to the Rossio train station. We walked right past the station at first because it is cleverly disguised as a palace; the Starbucks should have been a giveaway. Once inside the station, we bought return tickets (4.3 euros pp plus 0.5 euro pp for the required rechargeable travel card) to Sintra and caught the train, which runs every 15 minutes; the ride takes only 40 minutes.

The Sintra Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape, consists of seven sites plus associated parks, gardens and forests (www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/). There are hiking trails that link all of the sites but our time was limited today. Instead, we took the #434 tourist bus that circles Sintra every 15-20 minutes; a full-day ticket costs 5 euros pp (pay in cash on the bus). We exited the bus at the Moorish Castle, built around the 10th century. Here we could purchase a combination ticket (25 euros pp) to the three sites that we planned to visit: Moorish Castle, Pena Palace and National Palace of Sintra.

At the Moorish Castle, it was great fun to scramble along the walls and up the towers for panoramic views of the Sintra Hills, the coastline and the Pena Palace higher up the hill. There are also remains of the medieval inhabitants of the area, such as graves, dwellings and granaries carved into the lava rock. After touring the castle, one can wait for the #434 bus or make the short (about 10 minutes) walk to the entrance to Pena Park. From there, it is an additional 10-minute walk to the Pena Palace itself; for less keen walkers, there is a shuttle from the entrance up to the palace for 2 euros pp. Pena Park is 500 acres filled with plants from all over the world and crisscrossed with paths and trails. We would have liked to wander the park at length but had to keep an eye on the clock to obey the all-aboard deadline.

The Pena Palace was built by Don Fernando II, the consort of Queen Maria II, in the middle of the 19th century. The last royal inhabitant was the mother of the last king of Portugal, whose reign ended with the founding of the Republic in 1910. The exterior of the palace is brightly colored in brick red and ocher. The various rooms are lavishly decorated with the painted ceramic tiles (Azulejos) typical of Portugal. Some of the rooms have intricate carvings that cover the walls and ceilings; other rooms are painted in trompe l'oeil to give the same effect. The furnishings were richly carved. Although this was obviously the residence of wealthy people, it did not display the sheer opulence of Windsor Castle. After we finished touring the palace, we were hurrying to catch the #434 when I stepped awkwardly on a cobblestone and twisted my right ankle. There was nothing else to do but soldier on to the last site on the schedule.

The National Palace of Sintra is in the historical center of Sintra and is easily recognized by its two white, cone-shaped chimneys. Like the Pena Palace, its use as a royal residence ended in 1910. The original palace was a summer residence of the Moorish sultans and was rebuilt again and again until now the structure is a conglomeration of styles. The rooms feature the gorgeous multicolored Azulejos. A number of the rooms are named for the paintings on the wooden ceilings: swans, magpies, mermaids, galleons. The Stag Room ceiling also features over 70 coats of arms of aristocratic Portuguese families. After touring the palace, we checked out a few of the souvenir shops and I was able to find a Portuguese flag for my collection.

We returned to Lisbon on the train with no problems except for a swollen and bruised ankle. We stopped at a Pingo Doce (local food store chain) near the station on Rua 1 Dezembro to check out the Portuguese wine selection. There were a number of wines in the 1-2 euro price range (maybe good, maybe swill);John picked a brand he recognized (9 euros). Then we walked down Rua Augusta to Praca do Comercio, where we stopped at the tourist office on the square to purchase a 1-day Lisboa Card. These cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator etc. (See the journal entry below for October 31 for more details.) We planned to use the card during our second Lisbon port call, on the next leg of the cruise.

We still had a little time before we had to return to the ship, so we followed part of a walking tour of the Alfama (www.frommers.com/destinations/lisbon/749263), a section of the city that was not destroyed by the earthquake. The Alfama is a warren of narrow streets and stairways that covers the hillside below the Castelo de Sao Jorge. We walked past a couple of old churches, one of which is built over the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua. We made a brief visit to the Se Catedral, which is quite plain for a European cathedral; its claim to fame is the font where St. Anthony was baptized. We continued further uphill to two miradouros (viewpoints) where we could see the white, red tile roofed houses spilling down the hillside to the water. One miradouro was outside the Santa Luzia church, whose exterior featured a blue and white, ceramic tile mural of St. Lucy holding a palm branch in one hand and pair of eyeballs on a plate in the other. Her eyes were plucked out during her martyrdom; thus she is the patron saint of those of us with poor eyesight and those suffering from diseases or disorders of the eyes. The other miradouro, Largas das Portas do Sol, also had nice views. From here, we simply followed the winding streets and stairways in a generally downhill direction until we reached the waterfront.

Back at the ship, I iced down my knee, took some aspirin and kept my foot elevated until after the sail away; that helped a little. There were great views of Lisbon as the ship sailed down the Tagus River. After passing under the Ponte 25 Abril, there were views of the Belem section of the city and its major attractions: the Jeronimos Monastery, Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower; we planned to visit those sites on the next leg of the cruise.

To take my mind off my ankle, we decided to dine at the Crown Grill ($25 pp); food always helps. We had a salmon and crawfish appetizer and the black-and-blue onion soup. The waiter brought us a fork along with a soup spoon for the soup; he said it is much easier to eat the cheese and crouton crust with a fork –- what a good suggestion! Although the steaks (we had NY strip) were first-class and cooked exactly to our order, the taste simply does not equal that of meat cooked over an open flame. We also shared a portion of the grilled lobster tails (four very small tails) grilled with garlic butter. The finale was a dessert sampler with small portions of each of the four dessert options. After this delicious dinner, I decided to limp back to the cabin and rest my ankle instead of seeing the production show “Motor City,” which we had seen many times already.

18 OCT (FRI) CRUISE DAY 4: AT SEA

Today was a chance to rest my ankle and also my left knee, which had decided to act up; perhaps I hyper-extended it in the same fall. I made it down to the combined port lecture on Lanzarote and Madeira; this lecture was repeated later on the stateroom TV. At the end of the port lecture, Mr. Jolley alarmed the audience by explaining how a landslide on La Palma island would cause a tsunami that would not only drown everyone on the Canary Islands but also devastate the entire east coast of the US and the west coasts of Europe and Africa. This gave us something pleasant to anticipate as a possible highlight of our visit to Gran Canaria island tomorrow.

The Princess Grapevine wine tasting was held this afternoon in the Michelangelo dining room. As Elite Captain's Circle members, John and I received complimentary invitations. At one time the wines were the same at every Grapevine but in recent years there has been more variety. We were happy that all of the wines today were new to the Grapevine. Even the old reliable Errazuriz Late Harvest dessert wine was replaced by a Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante.

This evening the show was a magician/sleight of hand artist (Brett Sherwood). He was excellent, putting a new spin on several old tricks and including some new ones that we had not seen before. We had carefully selected seats to avoid John being picked as an audience participant (he is a lodestone for magicians) and both of us enjoyed the show greatly.

In the Princess Patter for tomorrow, there was the following announcement: “Spanish Government Value Added Tax (VAT) Please note that the Spanish government collects a 10% VAT to all food and beverage purchases made on all cruise ships in Spanish waters and ports. Items exempt from this mandate are tobacco products and promotional drink packages (i.e., Ultimate Soda Package, Coffee Cards, etc.) For your convenience, the tax will automatically be charged via your stateroom account.” I wonder whether other countries will start assessing this tax?

09 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 5: LAS PALMAS, GRAN CANARIA, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (8:00AM – 10:30PM)

Today we had a nice, long port day in Gran Canaria (www.grancanaria.com/patronato_turismo/EN.283.0.html). Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had recommended renting a car from Cicar to explore the island. This was an excellent choice because the rental office was right outside the fence from the ship on the Muelle de Santa Catalina Poniente. The office was not open when we arrived shortly before 8 a.m. but an agent arrived about 8:10. Apparently we and a Canadian couple were the only people who had reserved a car in advance. Even with a reservation, all the paperwork had to be written out by hand. It was not clear where the cars were located, so we had to wait until the Canadians finished their paperwork for the agent to show all of us where the cars were parked; that was in a parking garage further down the pier.

Once we found the car (a Corsa), we headed off but had a little difficulty finding our way out of the port. We had both our Garmin (with a European highways chip) and written directions from Google Maps. However, it was early in the morning and we were excited. We ended up going down a bus-only lane past a police station but no one noticed. We had to stop for gas (the car had about 1/8 tank and we were supposed to return it with the same amount) and my limited Spanish was able to extract directions to the highway we wanted. Once we were on the correct highway, the combined intellectual power of two PhDs was eventually able to determine that we were heading in exactly the wrong direction (the ocean was on our left when it should have been on our right). A quick U-turn at the next interchange had us on our way to our first destination, the Pico Bandama.

Pico Bandama is a volcanic cone over 1800 feet high. It is not too far from the port and thus is included in some of the cruise ship excursions. Despite our false start leaving the port, we arrived there well before any of the buses from the ship and, more importantly, were on our way to the next site before we had to share the narrow road with them.

The next stop was the town of Aguimes, where the Parroquia de San Sebastian is a Historical Cultural Monument. The church is considered one of the best examples of the Canary Islands' neoclassical architecture; it's worth a quick visit. Aguimes is a pretty little town with narrow streets, many of which are one-way and look like someone's patio. We had to circle the town center twice before we managed to find a parking spot in the plaza in front of the church.

North of Aguimes lies the Barranco de Guayadeque. The steep walls of this ravine are over 400 meters high in places. In the Canary Islands, gases released during the volcanic eruptions formed large bubbles in the lava. As the lava eroded to form the canyon, these bubbles were revealed as “caves” in the walls of the ravine. The Guanches, the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, excavated the soft lava rock to connect and enlarge those bubbles to create homes, storage facilities and burial chambers. Even today, people living in the canyon may have a home with a modern facade and an interior that is carved into the side of the ravine. The Centro de Interpretacion de Guayadeque (2.5 euros pp) is built this way. The Centro is small but has numerous interesting exhibits that explain the geology and ecology of the ravine as well as the lifestyle and customs of the Guanches.

Our little Corsa struggled as it climbed up one side of the ravine on the way to Pico del Pozo de las Nieves, the highest point on Gran Canaria (1949 meters). Near the top, the road forks and there is a reconstructed pozo or “snow fountain.” A pozo is a deep pit where snow and ice were once collected in the winter for use during the summer months. The left fork took us to the viewpoint at Pico de la Gorra; the right fork went to Pico de las Nieves. There were a number of other tourists and a food truck/souvenir stand at the Pico de las Nieves viewpoint. From here we could see two noteworthy rock formations, Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga, and Mount Teide on Tenerife.

Roque Nublo is a finger of rock that is a symbol of Gran Canaria. It is also extremely popular. Even though there are one large and two small parking areas, cars still lined the road. We had to drive past the trail head three times before we managed to find a spot to squeeze the Corsa into that was safely off the roadway. From the road, it is a short (about 2 km round trip) hike to the base of the rock at 1590 meters. From here there are good views back to Pico de las Nieves and of Roque Bentayga. Topping out at 1800 meters, Roque Nublo is the second highest point on Gran Canaria.

The next high point on our tour was Roque Bentayga; this fairly flat-topped monolith is the third highest point (1412 meters) on Gran Canaria. There were only a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived; this site is clearly not as popular as Roque Nublo. There is a small archeological museum (free) that was closed; there are good views of Roque Nublo. There is a short (1 km round trip) trail to the base of Roque Bentayga. The trail passes several caves, ceremonial sites used by ancient Canarians and the remains of a defensive wall.

Although all of the sites we had visited so far do not appear far apart on a map, we had already been touring almost 7 hours. John had prepared four options from Roque Bentayga ranging from one hour (return directly to the port) to four hours (drive along west coast for more viewpoints). We chose one of the middle options: a visit to the Cenobio de Valeron, the largest pre-Hispanic granary on Gran Canaria.

Up until now, the Garmin had been agreeing more or less with the routes recommended by Google Maps. Now however, the Garmin kept insisting that we should take a “shortcut” off the main road. We turned down a street that seemed reasonable at first but quickly turned into tiny streets that ended at a car parked in front of a cinder bock wall. The Garmin kept repeating that we should continue on; apparently it wanted us to push the car aside, smash through the wall and drive down the side of a ravine. We may be stupid but we are not THAT stupid. We went back to the main road and followed it until we started to see signs that directed us to the Cenobio.

We finally made it to the Cenobio de Valeron (1.5 euros pp, senior price) about 25 minutes before closing time. The time was adequate because only part of the archeological site is open to the public. Nevertheless, this was an outstanding site and we were pleased that we chose this particular route despite the complaints of the Garmin. The granary was carved from the lava rock over 500 years ago and consists of more than 200 caves arranged in a series of large galleries. These caves were used to store food (mainly cereals and seeds) and to protect it from theft. The site is very well done, with ladders and catwalks that allow a visitor to view the site without disturbing it. There are also some displays that give information about the caves and the lifestyle of the ancient Canarians.

From here, it was about a half hour back to the dock. We only had one other heart-stopping moment, when the steering wheel locked and the car would not start. John figured out that the wheels were turned too sharply to the side. After putting the car in neutral and letting it roll forward a bit, the car started up again and we were off back to the pier. It was easier simply to follow the highway signs to the Muelle de Santa Catalina instead of the complicated instructions of the Garmin or Google Maps.

We managed to find a spot in the parking garage even though many of the places in the Cicar parking area were taken up by the local dance troupe that would be performing a folkloric show later that evening on board the ship. I really wanted to see this show but we finished dinner too late for the first performance and the second was not until 9:30 p.m. We were tired from a long day of driving and hiking and had to be up early to meet our group for a private tour on Tenerife, so we did not go to the show.

20 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 6: SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 5:30PM)

Today John and I, along with 21 other people from the Cruise Critic roll call, joined a tour organized by Pat (2Canucks). The guide was Patsy Little, who has excellent reviews on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, there was some kind of communication gap between Pat and Patsy; Patsy was waiting with her tour bus right next to the ship but Pat hustled all of us onto the port shuttle bus and all the way out to the main street along the waterfront. By the time this got straightened out, we were more than a half hour behind schedule.

Our first activity was a walking tour of San Cristobal de La Laguna. We started in the Plaza del Adelantado with a huge dragon tree in the middle. Dragon trees look a little like a palm tree but are not really trees; they are a type of dracaena. Once a flower forms and dies, the plant grows a triple branch from the scar, so the shape is very distinctive. Also, the sap is dark red and looks like blood. Patsy pointed out a number of other plants growing in the square. Next to the square was a building that was formerly the convent of an order of cloistered nuns. The roof of the convent featured an Arab-style latticed patio where the nuns could enjoy some fresh air without being seen.

Much of La Laguna is a pedestrianized area with many Spanish Colonial mansions and palaces. We were able to view the patios in the Bishop's Palace and the History Museum. All the rooms open onto the patio or onto the covered balcony that runs around the second floor. That arrangement kept the house cool in summer and provided a private outside area for the residents. The museum patio had rings in the mouths of carved figures under the balcony eaves; the rings could support a canopy to provide shade for the patio. Our final stop in the town was the market, where all sorts of vegetables, meats, seafood, baked goods and cheeses were on display. A few of us had the time for a short visit to a nearby church, which boasted a beautiful silver altarpiece and silver pulpit.

We were supposed to tour the Teide National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) before lunch, so we headed there, stopping at several viewpoints along the way. From some of the viewpoints we could even see the island of Gran Canaria. Because we had started late, we interrupted the tour at this point for a tapas-style lunch at Restaurant Bamby, which has a fine view of the volcano. The lunch (13 euros pp) was served family style. It included bottled water and both white (made from listan blanco grapes) and red (made from listan negro and negramol grapes) wine. We were first served small loaves of bread with a red and a green mojo (spicy sauce). The first dish was an island specialty –- papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes); these are potatoes boiled in heavily-salted water and served in the skin. Next we had a plate of cheese and cold cuts served with a salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and carrots. That was followed by chunks of fried fish, a garbanzo bean stew and a flan-type dessert. Because the group was so large, lunch took much longer than anticipated and we were now over an hour behind schedule. However, the original timetable called for us to be back at the ship two hours before the all aboard time, so there was no reason for concern.

Finally we were off to see what John and I most wanted to see: the stark landscape around Mount Teide (3718 meters). Measured from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world (after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in Hawaii) and it is still active. We stopped to view the Roques de Garcia, 1000 meter spires that have eroded to show varicolored layers of volcanic deposits. Although the tour could only allow 15 minutes at this site, John and I had time to hike the short trail to the base of the rocks for some great views.

The tour continued on to the interior of Teide's caldera at about 2300 meters altitude. There is a cable car to 3500 meters but reservations must be made far in advance. This tour did not include enough time to take the cable car and, because of the wind conditions, it was not operating today anyway. We drove around and stopped at a number of viewpoints. Before we left the park, we made another pit stop at Restaurant Bamby. Now that the lunch crowd had diminished, the feeders placed around the restaurant's outside deck were attracting a number of the birds now known as canaries. Factoid: The Romans called the islands “Insula Canaria” because of the wild dogs found there and the birds were named after the islands.

The route back to the ship passed through the Orotava Valley agricultural region. There were huge banana plantations, divided into sections by stone walls to protect the plants from the wind. Grapevines were trained along a wire only a foot or so above the ground; the vines in a row are braided along the wire to keep them from being whipped about in the wind.

Our final stop was to see the black sand beach at Puerto de la Cruz. This is part of the resort area of the island and the waterfront is lined with souvenir shops, eateries and hotels. Apparently no one there thinks of flags as a souvenir; I was told they are given away free at soccer games or I could buy fabric to make one myself. We tried some banana liquor at one of the shops. Pat seemed very anxious about the time but we returned to the ship with 45 minutes to spare.

The original size for this group had been set at 12 and I did not know it had grown to 23 until almost the last minute. With such a large group, the price was very reasonable (25 euros pp, not including lunch) but the lunch took a long time to serve and it took extra time to get everyone on and off the bus at photo stops. That, along with the late start, forced Patsy to eliminate the scheduled wine tasting (extra fee) at the Wine Museum. Although this was a disappointment for John and me, about half the group was not interested in tasting any more wine. Nevertheless, Pasty was an excellent tour guide. She is full of interesting information and is very enthusiastic about showing off her island to visitors.

Tonight we enjoyed an all-new show by the magician, Brett Sherwood.

21 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 7: ARRECIFE, LANZAROTE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 3:30PM)

The next port was Lanzarote (www.turismolanzarote.com/en/) where the ship offered a free shuttle bus between the ship and the Calle Juan de Quesada (near Charco de San Gines). We again rented a car from Cicar, which has a kiosk in the information center right on the dock (Muelle de los Marmoles). Passengers were not cleared to disembark until 7:40 a.m., which was no problem because the Cicar office did not open until 8 o'clock. We were the third and fourth people off the ship; a British couple, who also were renting from Cicar, beat us. Again the car (a slightly larger Corsa) was 1/8 tank full; the Cicar agent told us that adding 12 liters would be enough to drive all around the island and return it with that same level of fuel. He also told us the car took diesel fuel.

This time we only had a little difficulty getting away from the pier. We were a bit confused about whether or not we were on the correct highway because there was a lot of road construction going on and the ramps that the Garmin and Google Maps were directing us to use were being replaced by roundabouts. However, we had to stop for fuel, so we got directions from the attendant. Between her little English and my little Spanish, it became clear that we were indeed on the correct road and even heading in the correct direction. We also learned that the car took unleaded, not diesel. It is a good thing there is a notice about the proper fuel near the gas cap (and that I know “sin plomo” means unleaded)!

John was anxious to be off as quickly as possible to our primary destination, Timanfaya National Park, to beat the crowds from the ship's tours. Visitors are not allowed to tour the park in their own vehicles; you must take the 40-minute bus tour that is included in the entrance fee. We arrived at the park entrance 10 minutes before the 9:00 a.m. opening time and were the second car in line. By the time the ticket booth was ready to begin selling tickets (9 euros pp, cash only), there was quite a line of cars behind us.

As we arrived at the visitor center for this section of the park, we were directed to a parking space and then to an area where we would be given some demonstrations of the volcanic nature of the area. First, we entered an area that had a hole in the middle that was about 6 feet deep. As we entered, the guide scooped up pebbles from the ground and filled our hands with them so we could feel how hot they were. Next we all gathered around the hole and the guide pushed a dry bush to the bottom. The bush quickly began smoking, then glowing in a few spots and finally it burst into flames. The next demonstration area featured several 6-inch pipes stuck in the ground. When the guide poured a bucket of water into one of the pipes, the water turned to steam in 2 seconds and erupted from the pipe in a geyser-like spout. The guide repeated this several times so we could all get a photo. The last demonstration was outside the restaurant (there is also a gift shop), where you can order food cooked by the heat of the volcano. There is a pit 5 or 6 feet wide and maybe 20 or 30 feet deep. There is a grill over the top of the pit and you can feel the heat coming out. Some potatoes in a pan were set out to bake on the grill but watching potatoes bake is not that exciting.

By now, all of us who had arrived on our own were getting impatient to start the bus tour. Six buses from the ship and a number of other tour buses and vans had arrived. Fortunately, those people could tour the park in those vehicles but they all had to get out in order to see the demonstrations. Finally the independent tourists were allowed to board one of the park's tour buses and the tour began about 9:45 a.m.

John had read that it is best to sit on the right-hand side of the bus (and we did) but that is not absolutely essential. The bus stops at numerous points of interest along the route, so it is possible to stand up and take photos; no one is allowed off the bus at the photo stops. The tour has taped narration in Spanish, English and German. The specific route through the park was laid out by Cesar Manrique, a famous local artist whose works pepper the island and who designed several other tourist attractions.

Timanfaya National Park is a desolate yet beautiful place. Lanzarote is the newest volcanic piece of the Canaries and looks amazingly like the moon. Actually it looks like Hawaii and Iceland in some areas: all lava flows and cinder cones.

As we left the park, the entire entry drive was packed with cars and there were even cars parked on the highway waiting to turn into the entrance. We left the park by an alternate route so that we could enjoy different views of the volcanic landscape.

Our next destination was the wine area around Geria. This is an amazing place! Each grapevine is planted in a pit and surrounded by a low, semicircular stone wall; both the pit and the wall are to protect the vine from the wind. There are acres and acres of black fields studded with these pits and lighter-colored walls.

John had selected the Bodega Stratvs (www.stratvs.com/index.php?lang=en) for a tasting but he did not reserve a tour because he was not sure when we would finish the tour at Timanfaya. When we arrived at the tasting room, however, we learned that we could have a private tour and tasting (12 euros pp) in English if we were willing to wait a short while. We decided to do this even though we knew we might have to omit a site or two later in the afternoon. While we waited, we looked around the tasting and sales room and grounds. There are also two restaurants on site.

Our guide, Katja, turned out to be the person John had corresponded with about a tour. She took us to the vineyard, where there was a cross-section of the ground so that we could see the layers of lava ash, soil and rock. The soil is so shallow and the rock so hard that the grapevine roots can only grow sideways, not down. The volcanic ash collects dew and channels it to the plant; there is little rain and no artificial irrigation.

The winery building is dug into the hillside and vines are planted on the roof. Inside, the winery is small but uses all the latest wine making technology. Down the center of the winery is a series of huge oaken casks, where some wine is being produced by the solera method, the way sherry is made. In this method, some wine is removed from the cask holding the oldest vintage and bottled, that wine is replaced with wine from cask holding the next oldest vintage and so on. Thus each wine that is bottled contains a fraction from all the previous vintages.

After a thorough tour of the winery, we tasted three of the Stratvs wines (accompanied by cheese, bread and cold cuts) and they were terrific. We spent about 1-1/2 hours at Stratvs and decided to buy a bottle of the white Malvasia Seco to bring home with us.

Several of the Princess bus tours were going to Mirador del Rio (entry fee), known for its beautiful view of the ocean and nearby islands. Our destination was the nearby Mirador Guinate (free), which has an equally beautiful view but was deserted when we were there. The easiest way to find this viewpoint is to follow the signs to the Parque Tropical in Guinate and continue on that road to the end.

We had originally planned to visit Cueva de los Verdes, a 6 km-long lava tube. However tours are not offered on a regular schedule; visitors must wait until a group of 30 accumulates. It was getting late and we thought we might have to wait so long for a group to form that there would not be enough time for the tour. It was now that the Garmin gave out; the cigarette lighter hadn't charged it! Fortunately we could follow the signs to Cueva de los Verdes until we intersected the main highway and we arrived back at the dock with no problems. The Cicar agent was accurate about the amount of gas we would need but it felt odd following his instructions to leave the car unlocked with the key under the seat.

Tonight we enjoyed the production show “What a Swell Party,” which is based on the music of Cole Porter.

22 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 8: FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL (9:00AM – 4:30 PM)

Although the weather had been sunny and mild in the Canary Islands, it was raining when the ship arrived in Madeira (www.visitmadeira.pt/?language=c81e728d9d4c2f636f067f89cc14862c) and the forecast was for worsening weather as the day went on. In actuality, the weather got better during the day, although the clouds stayed with us. The ship offered a shuttle to the Marina Shopping Mall for $5 pp each way for those who wanted to explore Funchal on their own. The “Independence of the Seas” was also in port.

John had prearranged a custom tour with Daniel Madeira Taxi (140 euros for a 4-person taxi). We were joined by another couple from the Cruise Critic roll call, John and Janie (boomerone). The ship had docked early due to a medical emergency, so passengers were allowed to disembark a few minutes ahead of schedule. We were hopeful that our driver/guide would arrive earlier than the appointed time of 9:30 a.m., so we scurried down to the pier. Alas, Marcelino (Daniel's cousin) was early but only by 10 minutes. Nevertheless, we were on our way well before the Princess tour buses.

Madeira is a fascinating place! There is basically no level spot on the island. Our first stop was Cabo Girao, a high sea cliff. When we arrived, it was clouded over, so Marcelino suggested that we go directly to the Barbeito (www.vinhosbarbeito.com/en.html) winery for our tour and tasting; we could return to the cliff later when the weather might be better. Along the way, Marcelino stopped several times so we could view the terraced fields that seem to take up every square inch of the hillsides.

The tour at Barbeito was very different from tours at other wineries. Most wineries are trying to limit oxidation, so the wines are aged under cool conditions. However, the characteristic taste of Madeira wines is due to oxidation, so the wines are fermented in heated tanks and aged under warm conditions; they are also barrel-aged much longer than other wines. The tasting was among the top tastings we have ever done. The shop manager, Leandro, pulled out all the stops; we lost count of the wines he brought out. The ultimate wine we tasted was vintage 1885 (not a typo!); the 1910 vintage was only a baby in comparison. All the wines were fantastic. We bought (could afford) a 10-year old Madeira to bring home.

Then it was back to Cabo Girao, where the view was intermittently obscured by clouds. The miradouro is 560 meters above sea level. There is a glass-bottomed viewing platform where you can look straight down to the rocky shoreline. The next stop was Pico dos Barcelos (335 meters) for great views of Funchal.

Marcelino stopped at several unofficial overlooks for great views on the way to Eira do Serrado. Eira do Serrado (1000 meters) offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and of Curral das Freiras (Nun's Valley). In the 16th century, the nuns would take refuge in this secluded valley to avoid the pirates who frequently attacked Madeira.

Our last stop in the mountains was at Pico do Arieiro (1810 meters), the third highest peak on the island. This is a popular site because it is possible to drive almost to the top of the peak. Today however, it was almost deserted because of the heavy cloud cover; we could only see a little of the storied views. Nevertheless, we climbed the short flight of stairs to the stone marker at the very top of the peak. John had hoped that we could take a short hike here but the trail was closed. We were also starting to run a little short on time because we had spent more time at the winery (with good reason!) than planned.

We headed out of the mountains back to Funchal. Marcelino stopped at Terreiro de Luta, where there is a small church dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. There were good views over the port and we could see the “Independence of the Seas” leaving. Further down the slope, Marcelino suggested that we climb to the roof of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira, for more great views. Then we had time for a very short visit to the Monte Municipal Gardens.

Just below the terrace of the church is the starting point for Monte's famous toboggan rides. At one time, wine casks were transported in wicker baskets attached to two wooden runners. These days tourists can ride 2 km down the hill in those toboggans, which are steered by two guides dressed in traditional white flannels and straw boaters (20 euros for one person, 30 euros for a couple). BTW the ride goes down regular city streets, so the toboggans share the road with other vehicles; supposedly the toboggans have the ROW when they come to an intersection. John and I were not really interested in doing this but John and Janie were. We got some photos of them in the basket, then took more as we followed them down the hill in the taxi. This ride looked like something that was more fun in theory than in practice.

Once we had John and Janie safely back in the taxi, Marcelino gave us a short tour of Funchal on the way back to the ship. At one point, he stopped by a market where I could hop out and buy a Madeira flag. This was a great tour and left us wanting to spend more time in Madeira.

Tonight we set the clocks forward one hour to agree with the time zone (GMT+2) for Spain; this was the first time change that we had had to make.

23 OCT (WED) CRUISE DAY 9: AT SEA

This morning we attended the port lecture on Vigo; it was repeated later on the stateroom TV. The rest of the day followed our usual pattern of reading and relaxing.

Tonight was the second of two formal nights on this leg and three Captain's Circle parties for Platinum and Elite members were held. The Most Traveled passenger had sailed 2026 days with Princess. This is the first time in quite awhile that we have not made the cutoff for the Most Traveled (top 40) Passengers Luncheon, which was 507 days.

Maybe the pins in the toy ship worked! Tonight we enjoyed a brand-new production show “Disco-Blame It on the Boogie.”

24 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 10: VIGO, SPAIN (8:00AM – 3:30PM)

Most people who visit Vigo (www.turismodevigo.org/en) for the first time use it as the gateway to Santiago De Compostela (www.santiagoturismo.com), a destination for pilgrims since the Middle Ages. These pilgrims (pelegrinos) walk or ride bicycles or horses for hundreds of miles and many weeks (or even years) in order to visit the cathedral that houses the remains of St. James Major (Santiago). We had watched a movie about the pilgrimage (“The Walk,” staring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez) before the trip.

Despite Liza Doolittle's assertion that “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” the Galicia region is the rainiest part of Spain. Today was no exception as it rained steadily the entire day with only a few breaks –- another challenge for our poor umbrellas. Because of the short port time and the inconvenient train/bus schedules, it was not feasible to take public transportation to Santiago. Renting a car (with gas, parking and tolls) was slightly cheaper than a Princess tour for two. However, we would have had to allow time to pick the car up in downtown Vigo, return it to the rental point and return ourselves to the ship before the all aboard time. We finally decided that a Princess tour would give us the most time in Santiago with the least hassle.

The tour we chose was “Santiago on Your Own,” which is simply transportation to and from Santiago with a little commentary along the way. We left the ship well before sunrise for the 75-minute drive to Santiago. Although it was too dark to see much, our guide, Laura, tried to point out interesting features of the area such as the oyster farms in the estuaries and the old stone storage buildings raised up on stone pillars.

The bus dropped us off in the Juan XXIII parking lot. We followed Laura down Avenida Juan XXIII and Rua de San Francisco into Plaza Obradoiro (~10 min walk). As we walked along, storekeepers were touting their local specialty, almond cookies. Our meeting spot was under the arcade of the Pazo de Raxoi. We would have 3:40 h to explore Santiago on our own before reuniting there to return to the bus.

John and I headed straight across the plaza to the ticket office for the Cathedral Museum, which is in the crypt under the double staircase leading to the main entrance. Admission to the Cathedral itself is free. However, we got the General Individual Ticket (4 euros pp, senior price) that gives admission to the Museum and the temporary exhibitions in the Gelmirez Palace. There is an audioguide available at additional cost that we did not rent.

Laura had told us that if Mass was going on, we would have to enter through the Puerta de las Platerias on the south side of the Cathedral. Otherwise, we would be able to enter through the Obradoiro facade (the main entrance on the west side) and the famous Portico de la Gloria. However, the Portico de la Gloria is currently under renovation and no one is being allowed in through the main entrance; the Portico de la Gloria cannot be viewed without a museum ticket.

John and I sloshed over to the Puerta de las Platerias and started our counterclockwise tour of the Cathedral. We walked past several chapels to the stairs leading to the statue of St. James that is above the high altar. Pilgrims traditionally embrace the statue at the end of their journey. Coming down the other side, we found the stairs down to the crypt where a silver casket contains the saint's remains; climbing up the other side brought us back up to where we started. We continued along the ambulatory behind the high altar, passing chapel after chapel and the Puerta Santa (Holy Door), which is only opened during designated Holy Years. The oldest existing chapel is Santa Maria de la Corticela, which was originally a separate church and is now attached to the transept; it is still a separate parish from the Cathedral.

Under the Cathedral dome is the device for swinging the huge censer or Botafumeiro. The censer is more than 1-1/2 meters high and weighs about 100 kg when it is full of coal and incense. It takes a team of eight men to set the censer swinging until it is almost parallel to the floor at the height of its swing. The Botafumeiro is only used on certain feast days or when a substantial donation is made. Our port lecturer had shown a video of the Botafumeiro swinging and it is indeed an impressive sight (hwww.youtube.com/watch?v=mtxuvtZqOog).

We continued around the Cathedral to the Museum entrance. The Museum has four levels; this level houses the Treasury in the Chapel of San Fernando, with an assortment of precious liturgical items. Across the hall is the Chapel of Relics, with hundreds of reliquaries including a bust containing the skull of St. James Minor. This chapel also contains the tombs of some kings of Leon and Galicia from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Exiting out into the cloister, we found the Sala Capitular (Chapterhouse) with some tapestries and the Biblioteca (Library). The Library contains two Botafumeiros and a Museum worker showed two girls the padded wooden bar that is used to carry it (two men are needed) into the Cathedral. The Library is lined with ancient books and display cases of illuminated manuscripts and hymnals.

From the Treasury level we climbed up to the top level, the Tapestry Museum. It houses a large collection of tapestries including some designed by Rubens and Goya. This level also provides access to a balcony that overlooks the Plaza del Obradeiro.

Now we descended to the level below the Treasury. This level contains the Cathedral's art collection. There are three sections: art from the 13th through the 15th century, art from the 16th through the 18th century and art related to St. James.

The lowest level of the Museum contains exhibits from the archaeological excavations under the Cathedral. The highlight of this level is the partial reconstruction of the elaborate stone choir, carved by Maestro Mateo in the 13th century and destroyed in 1603, replaced by a wooden choir that was removed in 1946. Although huge sections of the choir are missing, it displayed the kind of intricate designs and statues that we would see later in Maestro Mateo's Portico de la Gloria. This level also has an exhibit about Maestro Mateo.

From here we had to go back to the Treasury level of the Museum to cross over to the Gelmirez Palace and view the Portico de la Gloria. The Pilgrim's Mass had started and visitors are not allowed to view the Portico de la Gloria during the Mass. We toured the temporary exhibits in the Gelmiriz Palace and then prayed during the last part of the Mass. When the Mass ended, we were almost the only people around the Portico de la Gloria; we saw many people who wanted to see it turned away because they did not have a Museum ticket. Although scaffolding obscured sections of Maestro Mateo's triple doorway with its 200 Romanesque statues, we could see the famous central column with Jesus on top, St. James below Him and Hercules below St. James; Maestro Mateo is at the bottom on the opposite side of the column. It is traditional for pilgrims to place their fingertips in the five holes worn in the column above Hercules' head and to bump heads with Maestro Mateo. However, there is now a railing to prevent anyone from touching the column and causing further damage to it. We could also see many of the other statues including the only woman, Queen Esther. Legend has it that her stone breasts were originally much larger and local leaders had them filed down to a more respectable size. The townspeople retaliated by creating Galicia's iconic tetilla cheese (titty cheese) in Esther's honor. That's the story anyway!

Our final stop in the Cathedral was the crypt where we originally bought our tickets. The crypt, also built by Maestro Mateo, is dedicated to St. James Minor. The main features of interest are the huge columns supporting the weight of the Portico de la Gloria and the Obradoiro facade and the keystones of the vault that depict two angels bearing the sun and the moon. Today the crypt is the gathering spot for group tours but Museum ticket holders can be admitted on request.

By now we had spent about three hours in the Cathedral and Museum and the rain was much lighter than earlier in the day. We had some time to walk around the old town. We stopped in at the Galicia tourist office to obtain maps and information on the wine routes for our scheduled (but later canceled) visit to Vigo on the next leg of the cruise.

Next we walked over to the Paseo de la Herradura and up to the 12th century church of Santa Susana. The park has several viewpoints that provide classic views of the Cathedral. After that we walked around the Cathedral to see the other facades and met up with the rest of the group, huddled under the arcade of Pazo de Raxoi.

Once back at the Alberto Duran Nunes Cruise Terminal, it was too close to sailing time even to check out briefly the large shopping center right next to the terminal. We did not depart on time though because several of the tours were quite late returning to the ship. I later overheard a person saying that his bus had waited 45 minutes for a couple and finally left without them; maybe they got on the wrong bus. Another woman's name was called repeatedly to report to Passenger Services. I hope no one was left behind in Vigo!

Hint: Soaking wet walking/running shoes will dry overnight if you put them directly on top of the stateroom refrigerator (inside the cabinet).

25 OCT (FRI) CRUISE DAY 11: AT SEA

This morning we attended the Culinary Show, which is always fun; it was especially entertaining today The show was a cooking competition between the Executive Chef, Jeremy Snowden, and the Maitre d', Francesco Ciorfito. Francesco made his famous Neapolitan Strudel –- uncooked flour and water dough filled with penne all' arrabbiata and topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and slices of fresh fruit. Francesco was dissatisfied with the outcome of the first vote and reminded the audience that he is the one who opens the doors to all the dining venues and can keep them locked too. In the re-vote, Francesco won in a landslide!

This evening the show featured two acts. The first was a comedian (Johnnie Casson); he was evidently on board to cater to the predominately UK audience. Although we are learning some of the inside jokes (it always rains in Wales, people from Yorkshire are tightfisted with money etc.), what is it about people from Kent? Between the allusions and his slang, I guess we missed about half the jokes; the rest were real groaners. The second act was a singer (Spencer Robson), who did a Tom Jones tribute. He wasn't bad but wasn't Tom Jones by any stretch of the imagination. Both of these acts were well-received by the bulk of the audience though.

Tonight we set the clocks back one hour to agree with the time zone for Southampton (GMT+1).

26 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 12 SOUTHAMPTON AND BATH, UK (7:00AM – MIDNIGHT)

Our turnaround day dawned dark and rainy –- very, very rainy. We received our new cruise cards last night along with a letter stating that in-transit passengers (1) could leave the ship with the first group disembarking in the morning and (2) would not be required to attend the muster drill before sailing this afternoon. This was tremendously good news because we wanted to make an excursion to Bath. Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had warned us that, earlier this summer in Southampton, Princess was not allowing in-transit passengers to leave the ship until mid-morning and was requiring them to be back on board an hour before sailing to attend the muster drill. Bob knew that with such a short port day, there would not be enough time to enjoy Bath because off the long (1-1/2 hours each way) train ride. Nevertheless, Bob graciously took the time to provide us with the train schedules for a trip to Bath as well as for two alternative destinations (Salisbury and Winchester) that are closer to the Southampton.

We were allowed to leave the ship at 7:05 a.m. By then the rain had stopped, although it would continue on and off all day. We quickly made the short (0.5 mile) walk from the Ocean Terminal, where the “Crown Princess” was docked, to the stop for the free shuttle bus from Ferry Terminal 1 to the Southampton Central Station. We had to wait for the 7:45 a.m. bus but the trip to the train station took less than 10 minutes.

Now we were especially glad that we had acquired a PenFed credit card that has the chip-and-PIN technology used throughout Europe. The ticket office was closed and we needed to buy our tickets from a ticket machine. Our other credit cards would not have worked in this machine; however, the PenFed card worked just fine and we soon had return tickets for the 8:10 a.m. train to Bath Spa. There were some delays, so our train arrived late at Southampton Central and was about 20 minutes late arriving in Bath Spa. (Hint: Be sure that you purchase tickets with the “Via Salisbury” option; tickets for trains that go through London cost twice as much.)

Our first sight in Bath (visitbath.co.uk) was Bath Abbey (2.5 GBP donation requested, www.bathabbey.org). This is a small Gothic church with gorgeous stained glass windows and fan-vaulted ceilings. We took the Tower Tour (6 GBP pp); there were only three of us on the 10:00 a.m. tour. This 212-step tour climbs up to the ringing chamber (where various machines currently and in the past used to operate the bells are on display) and the bell chamber. It continues to a spot atop the vaulted ceiling (where you can look through a peephole to the nave below) and to another spot behind the clock face. You also go out on the roof of the Abbey for great views of the town and to the balcony in front for views of the Abbey Church Yard. Our young guide, Holly, was very informative and gave us lots of fun facts and anecdotes about the ringing machines, the bells, the clock and the Abbey.

We visited the Abbey first because we thought it would be hard to get tickets later for the Tower Tour. However, the primary sight we wanted to see in Bath was the Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk). Admission to the Roman Baths (12.75 GBP pp, senior price) includes an audioguide. There are also animated exhibits and live actors portraying Romans (think Williamsburg in togas). The Romans built these opulent baths over 2000 years ago and they were built upon and renovated over the following centuries. In the 18th century, Bath was THE place to be for the rich and famous and there were many bathhouses built to accommodate them; there were also “Assembly Rooms” for those who wanted to socialize without getting wet.

There are various rooms at each end of the largest pool, the Great Bath: changing rooms, smaller pools of various temperatures and steam rooms. However, this complex was not just for bathing and socializing; it had important religious significance. Adjacent to the baths was a temple dedicated to the healing goddess Sulis Minerva. The water from her Sacred Spring (the only hot spring in the UK) flowed into all of the other pools. Portions of the temple pediment, altar and courtyard have been uncovered. The most impressive find is undoubtedly the gilded head from a statue of Sulis Minerva, which was discovered during the construction of a sewer in 1727. At the end of the tour, there is a fountain where visitors can taste (not awful despite the minerals) and touch the 46C water from the spring. Excavation is ongoing to find more artifacts and reveal more ruins of the baths/temple complex beneath the streets of Bath, so this site will continue to expand and change over time.

Bath is also celebrated for its 18th-century Georgian architecture. The two most famous examples are the blocks of identical row houses, the Circus and the Royal Crescent, designed by the John Wood the Elder and the Younger, respectively. After walking past these buildings, we went to see the Pulteney Bridge. This is one of the few bridges in the world that is lined with shops. In fact, it is so completely lined with shops that, from the street, there is no indication at all that you are on a bridge. However, we crossed the bridge and descended to the Riverside Walk along the Avon River. From here it obvious that the Pulteney Bridge is a bridge and there are some nice views of Bath Abbey. We crossed back over the river at North Parade Road and enjoyed some views of the Parade Gardens.

From there it was back to the train station for the 1:00 p.m. train to Southampton Central, the free shuttle bus to the ferry terminal and the short walk back to the ship. At 3:00 p.m., there were still a large number of people checking in for the cruise. Fortunately, our in-transit cards let us skip to the head of the long security queue. When we got back to our cabin, we found a letter from the Captain explaining that, because of the impending storm, we would not be departing from Southampton; instead, we would be remaining in port for 1-3 more days. The letter also mentioned that we would be receiving some sort of unspecified compensation. Thus it was likely that our cruise would be changing from 5 port days and 8 sea days to 2 port days and 11 sea days. I emailed to cancel our car rental for Sunday in Le Havre and to alert the wineries in Spain (which we had planned to visit on Tuesday) that we would probably miss our appointments with them.

Later in the evening, there was an announcement from the Captain about the weather forecast. Apparently the wind would increase to hurricane force by Sunday night, accompanied by heavy rain; the storm would probably pass out of this area by Monday afternoon. In anticipation of the storm, the ship would be moved from the Ocean Terminal to a more favorable location at the Mayflower Terminal. That way the expected high winds would blow the ship towards the dock instead of away from it. The new terminal is much farther from the city center than the Ocean Terminal, so Princess would be providing a free shuttle bus. The “Independence of the Seas,” however, departed for parts unknown.

During the night British Summer Time would be ending, so tonight we set the clocks back an hour to GMT.

27 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 13: SOUTHAMPTON, UK

Today we were supposed to dock in Le Havre, France, from 7:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. John had rented a car and we had planned to drive to Mont St-Michel, with a possible side trip to Bayeux. Instead, we caught the Princess shuttle to the drop-off point on Harbour Parade, opposite the West Quay Shopping Centre. The shuttle was to run continuously from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. We intended to spend 3 or 4 hours in town, then return to the ship before the heavy rain started. As we left the port, we saw that the “Adventure of the Seas” was also docked at the Mayflower Terminal but closer to town.

We walked over to the East Park to see the memorial to the “Titanic” engineering officers and the nearby memorial to the “Titanic” musicians. Then we walked across West Park to the SeaCity Museum (www.seacitymuseum.co.uk; 7GBP pp, senior price for museum and special exhibition). The special exhibition showcased works made from cut paper. The paper was found paper or from old maps, books, currency, shopping bags, etc. John and I particularly liked the flock of birds cut from maps and “Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula” by Andrew Singleton, a large composition of black cut out patterns and suspended forms that was inspired by Hubble Telescope images of nebulae. I wondered whether another work, inspired by the 2012 tsunami in Japan, might be a good symbol for this leg of the cruise.

Because Southampton was the last port where she docked, the SeaCity Museum naturally has a large “Titanic” exhibit. There are a few artifacts from the passengers and crew but most of the artifacts are from the sister ships of the “Titanic.” An interesting graphic showed the amounts of various necessary provisions (coal, towels, shelled walnuts, oyster forks, celery glasses etc.) superimposed on an outline of the ship. Other good exhibits included a courtroom with audio dramatizations of testimony from the inquiry into the sinking and another that included reminiscences by survivors about the immediate aftermath of the sinking. The remainder of the museum deals with Southampton's history as a port city.

After the museum, we walked to the Bargate, the medieval entrance to the city, and climbed some sections and towers of the old city wall. Then we went to the Tesco in the West Quay Retail Park to pick up some inexpensive wine (Buy 3 get 15% off!) for those long sea days ahead. Back at the shuttle pick-up point, we had a short wait to board a bus back to the ship. At the Mayflower Terminal, we were confronted with an immense queue of passengers trying to pass through the security checkpoint. It turned out that only one metal detector and one parcel x-ray machine were available to screen the 900 passengers who had gone ashore. The Port Authority was not expecting to deal with cruise ship passengers on this day which was a Sunday to boot! They eventually found more staff and another x-ray machine and the line moved a little more quickly. Nevertheless, it was over an hour after we stepped off the bus until we stepped onto the ship.

At dinner, the Captain announced that the weather was not our only problem: we were supposed to refuel and take on 33 new crew members (23 would be getting off the ship) in Lisbon. Right now we did not have enough fuel to reach Florida and apparently there was not enough available in Southampton. It was still not clear whether we would be able to depart tomorrow afternoon or where our next port would be. I canceled the rental car in Vigo and emailed the wineries to cancel our appointments with them.

28 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 14: SOUTHAMPTON, UK (MIDNIGHT – 2:30PM)

Today was scheduled to be a sea day, on route to Vigo, Spain. The storm did not cause as much property damage as anticipated, although up to 607,500 homes lost electricity and most transportation services would not resume before 9:00 a.m. Thankfully, we only heard about four deaths. The Captain announced that the ship measured a gust of 60 knots at 1:00 a.m. and another of 80 knots at 5:30 a.m.; most of the time the wind registered 30-50 knots. Our cabin is on the starboard side, facing Southampton, so we did not really notice any of the high winds. John thought that he felt the ship list around 5:30 a.m., so maybe he felt that 80-knot gust. The port was still closed and it was possible that some fuel would be available by noon; however, it would not be enough fuel to get the ship to Florida. The Captain did reassure us that we have plenty of other provisions on board for the crossing. It was a beautiful, mostly sunny day in Southampton and the shuttles would again be running to the city center. Passengers were required back aboard at 2:30 p.m. in case a decision had been reached about when we would sail and where we would be going.

This morning the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was held in Skywalkers Nightclub. The roll call for the Transatlantic leg was huge –- almost 300 people –- but only about a third showed up. Roll call members had organized a large number of private tours for Le Havre, Vigo and Lisbon. The M&G was a madhouse as people were trying to find each other and discuss new options. We met one of the two couples who had signed up to join us for a private tour in the Azores; we were all still hoping that the ship would call there.

At 2:50 p.m. the Captain announced that we would finally be underway. The new itinerary called for us to sail directly to Lisbon and arrive there at 5:00 p.m. the day after tomorrow. We would spend 24 hours in Lisbon and then and sail directly to Bermuda, omitting the scheduled port call in the Azores. John and I would have preferred stopping in the Azores (we have never been there) and skipping Bermuda but we were not in charge. The “Adventure of the Seas” was still tied up at the Mayflower Terminal when we sailed out.

This evening the show was a pianist (Maria King) who also told a few jokes. She seemed quite talented and I really enjoyed her performance of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Unfortunately, the Crown Princess Orchestra could have done better on their parts of the piece. Earlier in the evening there was a party in the Princess Theater for the Gold and Ruby Captain's Circle members. There would be three parties for the Platinum and Elite members on the second formal night.

29 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 15: AT SEA

Today we were supposed to dock in Vigo, Spain, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. I had rented a car to drive to the O Salnes wine region and had made appointments for tours and tastings at two wineries (Pazo de Senorans and Martin Codax). Instead, we were enjoying a relaxing sea day on our way to Lisbon.

The seas were fairly rough last night but diminished somewhat once we exited the English Channel. The movement of the ship was difficult for many passengers and there were barf bags placed strategically around the ship. The Promenade was cordoned off and probably the upper outside decks (we did not check those) as well. As usual, John and I were fortunate not to have any problems with the motion, although we are not walking in a straight line (and no, it wasn't because of all the wine).

This morning we went to Lyndon Jolley's final port lecture; he is leaving the ship in Lisbon. Mr. Jolley spent an excessive amount of time talking about the ancient history of the Iberian Peninsula and barely mentioned more relevant topics like Prince Henry the Navigator and the Age of Discovery. He didn't give much information about sights in Lisbon either. Nevertheless, he did mention something that I had not turned up in my research on Lisbon: a series of two free elevators from the city center up to Castel de Sao Jorge. He wasn't very clear in his lecture exactly where the elevators were located so I visited him at his information desk later in the afternoon. Even with a map, he could only show me the general location but I think I can recognize the building; if not, we will just climb up the streets and stairways to the castle.

The entertainer this evening was a singer/guitarist (Berni Flint) who also told some jokes. He was the longest-running winner of the British TV show “Opportunity Knocks” and sang several songs that were obviously quite familiar to some of the audience but not to us.

Tonight was the first of three formal nights on this leg and the Captain's Welcome Champagne Waterfall. We stopped by after the show and all the champagne was gone. However, we got to hear the Captain explaining for the umpteenth time why we had to stay in Southampton instead of riding out the storm in another port (like Le Havre or Vigo or Lisbon) and why we were skipping the Azores instead of skipping Bermuda. I guess he'll never hear the end of it.

30 OCT (WED) CRUISE DAY 16: LISBON, PORTUGAL (5:00PM – MIDNIGHT)

Today followed our usual sea day pattern: wake up around 7:00 a.m., shower and get dressed, find a nice place in Skywalkers Night Club (preferably the forward port corner) to read while the steward makes up our cabin, eat lunch (salad/grilled vegetables and pizza with some wine) on our balcony, read on balcony, eat dinner, go to the show (maybe), read in cabin, go to sleep. Occasionally we will add a walk, lecture, movie or some other activity to our busy day.

Today John varied the standard routine by walking 3-1/2 miles on the Promenade. I planned to start walking again after our day in Lisbon. My ankle and knee were almost OK and I managed the seven flights up to Skywalkers pretty well; I vowed to take the stairs from then on.

Tonight the entertainer was an excellent violinist (Michael Bacala) who also told some jokes. He performed both popular (“Eye of the Tiger”) and classical (“Orpheus in the Underworld”) works as well one where he made the violin produce sounds of various birds and animals. John and I hoped he would perform again later in the cruise.

31 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 17: LISBON, PORTUGAL (MIDNIGHT - 5:00PM)

Today the “Crown Princess” was again docked at the Jardin do Tabaco pier. P&O's “Oceana” (formerly the “Ocean Princess”) was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; the Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Alcantara pier. There was small MSC ship docked upriver from “Oceana”.

Today we planned to make good use of the Lisboa Card that we bought 2 weeks ago. These cards can be purchased in advance online for a miniscule discount or at any tourist office. The cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator, funicular and even certain trains. The cards are not very useful to cruisers docking at the Alcantara pier because there is no place within walking distance to redeem the online voucher or purchase the card. Those docking at the Jardin do Tabaco or Santa Apolonia piers can purchase the cards at the Santa Apolonia train station. Our savings with the card were: 24hr travel card (6.5 euros), Jeronimos Monastery/Belem Tower (10 euros), Monument to the Discoveries (30% discount = 1 euro) and Castelo de Sao Jorge (20% discount = 1.5 euros). The 1-day card costs 18.5 euros, so we only saved 0.5 euro. On the other hand, the card was convenient to use as a transportation pass and it allowed us to bypass the long queues at a couple of the attractions.

Our first target was the Castelo de Sao Jorge because it opened at 9:00 a.m. We walked along Rua Alfandego and then up Rua da Madalena, looking up each cross street for the free elevators that the port lecturer had mentioned. We saw a sign for the Castelo, so we turned right on Largo do Chao do Loureiro. Continuing in that direction, we found the upper elevator (Elevador Castelo) just inside the entrance of a Pingo Doce supermarket (formerly the old Market Chao do Loureiro). That elevator takes you up to Rua da Costa do Castelo. [NOTE: After we returned home, we learned that entrance for the lower elevator is in a building at 170/178 Rua Fanqueiros, near Rua da Vitoria; the exit is at 147/155 Rua da Madalena in Largo Adelino Amaro da Costa (aka Largo Caldas).]

Before the Castelo opened, we had time to walk around the surrounding neighborhood and view the buildings covered with colorful Azulejos. Suddenly we were startled by what sounded like some loud strange car or scooter horn. We looked up and saw a peacock sitting atop a wall and two peahens on a wall across the street; the peacock was making that grating squawk. As we strolled, we saw several groups of children being escorted to school; a few children were dressed in Halloween costumes.

The hilltop that Castelo de Sao Jorge (www.castelodesaojorge.pt/?lang=2) commands was probably used as a fortress even before Roman times. The large grounds (which are well-populated with peafowl) include not only the Castelo but also a museum and an archeological site. Just past the entry, there is a large terrace with old cannons and great views of Lisbon. First we walked around the outside of the Castelo, then crossed the bridge over the dry moat and started climbing around on top of the walls and up the towers. Near the Tower of the Cistern, the route along the top of the walls leads to the Archeological Site; this area includes the remains of structures from the Iron Age (7th century BC), from the Moorish Quarter (11th – 12th centuries) and from a palace (15th – 18th centuries).

We clambered around for about an hour until the Tower of Ulysses (the legendary founder of Lisbon) opened. This tower formerly held the Royal Archives but now (since 1998) is home to the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura is a periscope that projects an image onto a large white table lower in the tower. That offers a 360-degree view of the entire Lisbon area (except where blocked by the other towers of the Castelo). The tour guide gave us a bird's eye view of Lisbon, pointing out all the major sights, cars moving on the streets and bridges and even people touring the Castelo. We finished our tour of the Castelo at the Museum, which contains items uncovered at the Archeological Site.

When we exited the Castelo, we caught the #737 minibus that runs back and forth from the Castelo to Praca de Figueira through the steep streets of the Alfama. From the Praca, we caught the #15E tram in the Alges direction to reach the Belem district of Lisbon. The #15E is a modern electric tram; it is supposed to run every 11 minutes and the ride to Belem is only supposed to take about 30 minutes. Something was wrong today and we waited over 20 minutes for the tram; we also stopped about 5 minutes for no apparent reason. In any case, it took almost an hour for the packed tram to reach the Jeronimos Monastery stop. We decided to follow the crowd and exit there too.

The Jeronimos Monastery (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belem. The Monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to India. Both the exterior of the building and the two-level Cloisters are covered with incredibly intricate carvings. The Cloisters alone make the Monastery worth the visit. Another interesting part of the Monastery is the Refectory (dining hall); its walls are lined with Biblical scenes rendered in beautiful painted tiles. There are several famous Portuguese poets entombed in the Monastery or in the adjacent church, Igreja de Santa Maria; Vasco da Gama is entombed in the church. The church is also filled with intricate stonework.

From the Monastery, we walked toward the riverfront, through the Praca do Imperial with its Fonte Luminosa in the middle. The fountain was not working but I read that sometimes it is illuminated for an hour-long water show. We found the pedestrian tunnel under the busy highway and train tracks and arrived at the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos)

The Monument to the Discoveries (padraodosdescobrimentos.egeac.pt) is designed to resemble the prow of a caravel, the sailing vessel used by the Portuguese explorers during the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. Along each side of the monument is a frieze depicting some of these explorers and other notables of the era. At the prow, where the two friezes meet, is a statue of Prince Henry (Henrique) the Navigator, who encouraged and financed much of this exploration. On the plaza in front of the monument is a compass rose with a map of the world; the routes of major voyages and the dates new lands were discovered are marked on the map. We took the elevator to the viewing platform on the top of the monument for great views of the area.

The Tower of Belem (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belem. The Tower stands near the spot where the caravels set off on their voyages of discovery. The lower level of the tower has gun ports and breech-loading cannons; the next level has a broad terrace from which other weapons could be fired. There is a very narrow, spiral, stone staircase to the top of the tower. The stairs are so narrow that there are electric signs directing the flow of visitors up and down. This system was only partially effective because some people evidently did not see the signs requesting them to wait their turn; those people wore confused/dismayed expressions when they encountered a long line of people moving in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, we eventually made it to the top of the Tower for more good views and back down again.

We left the Tower and took the pedestrian bridge over the highway and train tracks to the Largo da Princesa tram stop. This tactic allowed us to get seats on the #15E tram two stops before the crowded Mosteirio Jeronimos stop. We continued on the #15E tram back to Praca de Figueira; this time the ride took about 45 minutes. One benefit of riding the tram was the opportunity to see many buildings along the route that were covered with the multicolored Azulejos.

From Praca de Figueira, we walked to Rua da Santa Justa and the Elevador de Santa Justa. This elevator was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel. The two cars of this black metal tower whisk riders from the Baixa (downtown) to the Bairro Alto (upper town) in 30 seconds. There is a viewing gallery on top of the elevator tower; this gave us our best view of the Castelo de Sao Jorge and of the roofless church next to the elevator.

The walkway from the elevator passes alongside and under a buttress of the Igreja do Carmo that was devastated in the 1755 earthquake. This Gothic church has been left in ruins as a symbol and reminder of the quake; today it is part of the Museu Archeologico do Carmo. From here, we walked through the Bairro Alto to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. The views from this large terrace are good but not as good as those from the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Our final destination of the day was the Solar do Vinho do Porto (www.ivdp.pt/pagina.asp?idioma=1&codPag=169&), right across the street from the miradouro in the Ludovic Palace. This small tasting room offers comfortable lounge chairs to relax in a bottle-lined room while enjoying a wide variety (supposedly 300 types) of ports by the glass. We tasted five outstanding ports, including a rose, a ruby, two tawny (20 and 40 years old) and a late bottled vintage 1988 colheita. It was sad that we could only spend about 40 minutes here. John felt that we should have come here first and spent the entire day tasting ports.

To return to Baixa, we had planned to take the Calcada da Gloria, a funicular that runs between the Bairro Alto and the Praca dos Restauradores; it is just across the street from the Solar. However, the funicular was out of service and we walked down the sidewalk that runs alongside it. As we headed back to the riverfront, we decided to stop at the Pingo Doce on Rua 1 Dezembro to pick up a couple more bottles of wine. When we returned to the cruise terminal, there was a fairly long line but it moved quickly.

The entertainer tonight was Jim Maltman, whose forte is “unique physical comedy.” Among other feats, he contorted his body through the frame of a tennis racquet and balanced an 8-foot stepladder on his chin. He juggled, caught hats on his head and also told some jokes. As our DDIL might say, this was not our favorite type of performance.

01 NOV (FRI) CRUISE DAY 18: AT SEA

Today we were supposed to dock in Ponta Delgada, Azores Islands, Portugal, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. John had arranged a tour with Amazing Tours and we would have been joined by two other couples from our Cruise Critic roll call. Instead, we were enjoying the first of five relaxing sea days on our way to Bermuda.

This afternoon we received a letter from the president of Princess Cruises apologizing for the change in itinerary. It also specified the compensation we would receive for this inconvenience. Passengers who booked this cruise as a 26-day voyage would get a cruise credit of 27% (7/26) of the price we had paid for the cruise; those who had booked the 14-day separately would receive a 50% (7/14) credit. That would be a nice down payment on a future cruise!

Lyndon Jolley may be gone but the lecturers who replaced him are not very impressive. We saw part of one lecture on the stateroom TV; it was a review of crackpot stories about pre-Columbian voyages to the Western Hemisphere. Another lecture on offer was about investing.

The onboard entertainment redeemed itself with tonight's show by a West End performer, Paul Baker. He sang some show tunes (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”, “Music of the Night”) and other songs; Josh Groben's “You Raise Me Up” (our DGD and her bone marrow donor's theme song) was the finale. The performance was almost an hour long; it was hard to imagine that he would be repeating it in 20 minutes and again later in the evening. We are looking forward to another performance by Mr. Baker later in the cruise.

02 NOV (SAT) CRUISE DAY 19: AT SEA

This morning we awoke to a view of the main island of the Azores, which was about 5 nautical miles off the starboard side. The Captain tried to make us feel better about missing the port by pointing out the clouds and rain on the island. He also said that ships often cannot dock in Ponta Delgada because of the variable winds. None of that made me feel any better about skipping this port.

Today John walked about 4 miles on the Promenade; I joined him for the last 2 miles or so. During our entire walk, we had a view of the Azores and numerous rainbows. As we rounded the bow of the ship, we saw a complete double rainbow over the ocean. Now that we were past the Azores, the wind was forecast to die down and the air temperature to be higher. It would be great to be able to spend more time out on our balcony.

Tonight was the second of three formal nights on this leg and three Captain's Circle parties for Platinum and Elite members were held. The Most Traveled passenger had sailed 1078 days with Princess. Again, we did not make the cutoff for the Most Traveled (top 40) Passengers Luncheon, which was 461 days.

Between dinner and the Captain's Circle party, we went to see the production show “Motor City.” This show has been around a long, long time but we still enjoy the Motown sound. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-2.

03 NOV (SUN) CRUISE DAY 20: AT SEA

This morning, we interrupted our morning reading session to view the partial solar eclipse. At the ship's location, about 45% of the sun was covered. John had bought special eclipse glasses that worked very well; a few other people had similar glasses. We watched from the Sports Deck and played a round on the Princess Links once the moon had obviously started moving away from the sun.

Later we went to an enrichment lecture, “James Bond – the Ultimate Action Hero.” This was a little disappointing because the lecturer mentioned obscure TV and radio adaptations of Ian Fleming's Bond stories but did not seem aware that Sean Connery had stared in a Bond movie that was not part of the Broccoli-produced canon (“Never Say Never”). Also, she only mentioned a few of the “good” Bond girls and none of the “bad” ones. I gave this one a C+.

In the afternoon, the Princess Grapevine wine tasting was held in the Michelangelo dining room. This time the Asti Spumante was served in a flute instead of a souvenir cordial glass. Also, the cordial glasses had logos that we had not yet collected: a compass rose and a starfish.

After dinner, we caught the very end of the Saints vs. Jets game on MUTS (Movies Under the Stars); at least John didn't have to suffer too long before the Saints lost. We made it to the show just as it was about to start. This evening the performer was a “multi instrumentalist” (Oli Nez), who played the saxophone, clarinet, flute and EWI (electronic wind instrument). One of his numbers was “You Raise Me Up”. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-3.

04 NOV (MON) CRUISE DAY 21: AT SEA

Another relaxing day at sea. Tonight we had an all-new performance by the West End star, Paul Baker. He is one of the best singers we have ever heard on Princess. On one of the numbers, he was joined by one of the lead singers from the production shows, Josh Hamilton; on another, he was joined by Oli Nez, the saxophonist.

05 NOV (TUE) CRUISE DAY 22: AT SEA

Today was John's birthday but he wouldn't let me tell anyone on the ship; now we were the same age again. During the night the seas picked up and were still a bit rough; the forecast called for chance of showers and it looked like it would be a generally miserable day. In the morning, we went to a lecture on “From the Amazon to Bourneville – The History of Chocolate and Cadburys.”

The entertainment this evening was the Cole Porter production show, “What a Swell Party.” Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-5.

06 NOV(WED) CRUISE DAY 23: BERMUDA (WEST END) 8:30AM – 3:30PM

For our port call today, I had contacted a West End SCUBA operator in hopes of doing a 2-tank wreck dive. However, they emailed me a few days ago that not enough people were interested for the dive boat to go out. The “Crown Princess” was the only ship docked at West End; John and I were probably the only people who wanted to dive. However, none of the dive boats may have gone out today; the water was still very choppy with a strong wind and we did not see any small boats leaving the harbor. Princess canceled all their small-boat snorkeling and sightseeing excursions. It rained on-and-off all day long.

As soon as we could get off the ship, we bought an all-day transit pass ($15 pp) right on the dock; this pass is valid on both the buses and the ferries. Because it was now the winter season, the ferries did not run as frequently as in the summer. The ferry from the Dockyard to St. Georges does not usually run at all at this time of year but did today to accommodate the ship's passengers. We wanted the ferry to Hamilton but had to wait an extra half-hour for the first boat of the day.

Once in Hamilton, there is a bus stop at the end of the ferry dock. Remember this stop for your return to the ferry dock but do not make our mistake and try to catch an outbound bus here. To get an outbound bus, it is best to walk over to the bus terminal, which is about 3 blocks away. There is a tourist information office near the bus stop where you can get a map of the bus stops and routes in the downtown area.

We caught a #3 bus at the ferry dock but it went out of service at the bus terminal and we had to change to a #1 bus. Either #1 or #3 buses would stop right at our destination (the entrance to Crystal and Fantasy Caves) and take about the same time (45 minutes); the #10 and #11 buses are faster but require a short walk around a corner to the entrance.

We arrived at Crystal and Fantasy Caves (www.caves.bm) and bought a combo ticket ($30 pp) for both caves. We were told that the next tour of Crystal Cave would start in 10 minutes. Our group of about 10 people had been called for the tour and were waiting at the cave entrance for our guide when two Princess tour buses pulled up. The cave management apparently decided to delay our tour until one of the bus groups could get off the bus, go to the bathroom and finally stroll leisurely down to the tour meeting point. These are not very big caves and our small group could probably have finished our tour by the time the bus tour was ready to join us. Thankfully only one bus load went on the tour with us and the other was held for the next tour.

We have toured many caves and know that the best strategy is to stay as close to the front of the group as possible; that enabled us to hear the guide and see all of the formations that he pointed out. Some of those on the bus tour had difficulty with the 88 steps down to the cave and ended up spread out all along the floating pontoon bridge; the poor guide had to keep walking back on the outside of the bridge and repeating himself so that people would know what he was talking about. The crowding and jostling definitely diminished our enjoyment of this cave.

Anyway, the interesting thing about the caves in Bermuda is that they are connected to the ocean and the water level in the caves fluctuates 2-3 meters with the tide (our visit was at high tide). Because the sea water is so warm, these caves are much warmer than other caves we have visited. Crystal Cave has an abundance of stalactites, including the delicate-looking soda straws. There are some stalagmites and columns, which indicate that the cave was dry at some time in the distant past.

After finally making our way out of Crystal Cave, we had a short wait until our tour of Fantasy Cave. The bus tours did not include this cave so it was a much better experience. Fantasy Cave has more draperies and “bacon strip” formations than Crystal Cave and also has some “popcorn” formations not found in the other cave at all. This cave only has 83 steps and has a paved walkway instead of a pontoon bridge.

With all the delay due to the bus tours, we were starting to get a little nervous about the time; the 2:00 p.m. ferry from Hamilton was the last that would get us back to the Dockyard before the all-aboard time. We decided to try to catch a #10 or #11 bus, which stops across from the Swizzle Inn (around the corner a short distance from the entrance to the caves); the #1 and #3 buses stop there too. A #3 bus was the first to arrive and we chose to take that rather than wait for a possibly faster #10 or #11. As we approached Hamilton, it seemed certain that we would miss the 1:00 p.m. ferry to the Dockyard. We thought that we would have a little time to explore Hamilton before taking the next ferry.

John had been studying the map of Hamilton and saw that the bus stop at the end of the ferry dock was much closer to the ferry than the immediately preceding stop (by a large flagpole). A number of people from the ship got off at the flagpole stop but we continued on. When we got off the bus, it was after 1 o'clock but there was a very large line of people still waiting to board the ferry; we joined the end of the line. As people filed on board the ferry, it was beginning to reach its passenger limit. We could see the people who had gotten off at the flagpole bus stop running up to the ferry ramp but they were not allowed to enter the boarding area. John and I were the last people allowed to board.

Because of our luck in catching the 1 o'clock ferry, we had an hour to stroll around the Dockyard. There are restaurants, pubs and shops as well as a Maritime Museum. We considered the museum but decided that we would be too rushed to enjoy it properly. Instead we dumped the remains of of our bent and tattered umbrellas in the nearest trash can and returned to the ship for a slice of pizza and a beer.

The show tonight was a comedian (Steve Caouette), who was pretty funny.

07 NOV (THU) CRUISE DAY 24: AT SEA

Today the temperature was warmer and it was quite pleasant to relax on the balcony until an afternoon shower sent us inside. None of the lectures promised anything interesting to us; one was about mind-body medicine and the other about royal scandals.

The show tonight was “Disco – Blame It on the Boogie.” The show was halted twice when the Bridge called a response team to the Lido Deck and later told the team to stand down. It must be difficult for the singers and dancers to stop suddenly in the middle of a number and then have to start it all over again.

08 NOV (FRI) CRUISE DAY 25: AT SEA

No interesting lectures were on tap for today; one was about yoga and the other about the Tudors. The Culinary Demonstration was also held but we did not feel like seeing that again. Besides, we needed to spend some time packing.

The final performance in the Princess Theater was a variety showtime featuring a vocalist, Jennifer Fair. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-5, better known as Eastern Standard Time, for our arrival in Florida tomorrow.

09 NOV (SAT) CRUISE DAY 26: ARRIVE FT. LAUDERDALE, FL

For some reason, the disembarkation process went very slowly. We made it off the ship around 9:30 a.m. and spent almost an hour in the customs and immigration line. There were plenty of taxis available, even with four other ships (including the huge “Oasis of the Seas”) disembarking. We arrived at FLL with plenty of time to check baggage and go through security for our 12:59 p.m. flight to RDU (with a connection in CLT). Later that evening we were safely home and ready to start planning our next adventure. Less


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Port and Shore Excursions


21 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 7: ARRECIFE, LANZAROTE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 3:30PM)

The next port was Lanzarote (www.turismolanzarote.com/en/) where the ship offered a free shuttle bus between the ship and the Calle Juan de Quesada (near Charco de San Gines). We again rented a car from Cicar (www.cicar.com/EN/lanzarote-car-hire), which has a kiosk in the information center right on the dock (Muelle de los Marmoles). Passengers were not cleared to disembark until 7:40 a.m., which was no problem because the Cicar office did not open until 8 o'clock. We were the third and fourth people off the ship; a British couple, who also were renting from Cicar, beat us. Again the car (a slightly larger Corsa) was 1/8 tank full; the Cicar agent told us that adding 12 liters would be enough to drive all around the island and return it with that same level of fuel. He also told us the car took diesel fuel.

This time we only had a little difficulty getting away from the pier. We were a bit confused about whether or not we were on the correct highway because there was a lot of road construction going on and the ramps that the Garmin and Google Maps were directing us to use were being replaced by roundabouts. However, we had to stop for fuel, so we got directions from the attendant. Between her little English and my little Spanish, it became clear that we were indeed on the correct road and even heading in the correct direction. We also learned that the car took unleaded, not diesel. It is a good thing there is a notice about the proper fuel near the gas cap (and that I know “sin plomo” means unleaded)!

John was anxious to be off as quickly as possible to our primary destination, Timanfaya National Park, to beat the crowds from the ship's tours. Visitors are not allowed to tour the park in their own vehicles; you must take the 40-minute bus tour that is included in the entrance fee. We arrived at the park entrance 10 minutes before the 9:00 a.m. opening time and were the second car in line. By the time the ticket booth was ready to begin selling tickets (9 euros pp, cash only), there was quite a line of cars behind us.

As we arrived at the visitor center for this section of the park, we were directed to a parking space and then to an area where we would be given some demonstrations of the volcanic nature of the area. First, we entered an area that had a hole in the middle that was about 6 feet deep. As we entered, the guide scooped up pebbles from the ground and filled our hands with them so we could feel how hot they were. Next we all gathered around the hole and the guide pushed a dry bush to the bottom. The bush quickly began smoking, then glowing in a few spots and finally it burst into flames. The next demonstration area featured several 6-inch pipes stuck in the ground. When the guide poured a bucket of water into one of the pipes, the water turned to steam in 2 seconds and erupted from the pipe in a geyser-like spout. The guide repeated this several times so we could all get a photo. The last demonstration was outside the restaurant (there is also a gift shop), where you can order food cooked by the heat of the volcano. There is a pit 5 or 6 feet wide and maybe 20 or 30 feet deep. There is a grill over the top of the pit and you can feel the heat coming out. Some potatoes in a pan were set out to bake on the grill but watching potatoes bake is not that exciting.

By now, all of us who had arrived on our own were getting impatient to start the bus tour. Six buses from the ship and a number of other tour buses and vans had arrived. Fortunately, those people could tour the park in those vehicles but they all had to get out in order to see the demonstrations. Finally the independent tourists were allowed to board one of the park's tour buses and the tour began about 9:45 a.m.

John had read that it is best to sit on the right-hand side of the bus (and we did) but that is not absolutely essential. The bus stops at numerous points of interest along the route, so it is possible to stand up and take photos; no one is allowed off the bus at the photo stops. The tour has taped narration in Spanish, English and German. The specific route through the park was laid out by Cesar Manrique, a famous local artist whose works pepper the island and who designed several other tourist attractions.

Timanfaya National Park is a desolate yet beautiful place. Lanzarote is the newest volcanic piece of the Canaries and looks amazingly like the moon. Actually it looks like Hawaii and Iceland in some areas: all lava flows and cinder cones.

As we left the park, the entire entry drive was packed with cars and there were even cars parked on the highway waiting to turn into the entrance. We left the park by an alternate route so that we could enjoy different views of the volcanic landscape.

Our next destination was the wine area around Geria. This is an amazing place! Each grapevine is planted in a pit and surrounded by a low, semicircular stone wall; both the pit and the wall are to protect the vine from the wind. There are acres and acres of black fields studded with these pits and lighter-colored walls.

John had selected the Bodega Stratvs (www.stratvs.com/index.php?lang=en) for a tasting but he did not reserve a tour because he was not sure when we would finish the tour at Timanfaya. When we arrived at the tasting room, however, we learned that we could have a private tour and tasting (12 euros pp) in English if we were willing to wait a short while. We decided to do this even though we knew we might have to omit a site or two later in the afternoon. While we waited, we looked around the tasting and sales room and grounds. There are also two restaurants on site.

Our guide, Katja, turned out to be the person John had corresponded with about a tour. She took us to the vineyard, where there was a cross-section of the ground so that we could see the layers of lava ash, soil and rock. The soil is so shallow and the rock so hard that the grapevine roots can only grow sideways, not down. The volcanic ash collects dew and channels it to the plant; there is little rain and no artificial irrigation.

The winery building is dug into the hillside and vines are planted on the roof. Inside, the winery is small but uses all the latest wine making technology. Down the center of the winery is a series of huge oaken casks, where some wine is being produced by the solera method, the way sherry is made. In this method, some wine is removed from the cask holding the oldest vintage and bottled, that wine is replaced with wine from cask holding the next oldest vintage and so on. Thus each wine that is bottled contains a fraction from all the previous vintages.

After a thorough tour of the winery, we tasted three of the Stratvs wines (accompanied by cheese, bread and cold cuts) and they were terrific. We spent about 1-1/2 hours at Stratvs and decided to buy a bottle of the white Malvasia Seco to bring home with us.

Several of the Princess bus tours were going to Mirador del Rio (entry fee), known for its beautiful view of the ocean and nearby islands. Our destination was the nearby Mirador Guinate (free), which has an equally beautiful view but was deserted when we were there. The easiest way to find this viewpoint is to follow the signs to the Parque Tropical in Guinate and continue on that road to the end.

We had originally planned to visit Cueva de los Verdes, a 6 km-long lava tube. However tours are not offered on a regular schedule; visitors must wait until a group of 30 accumulates. It was getting late and we thought we might have to wait so long for a group to form that there would not be enough time for the tour. It was now that the Garmin gave out; the cigarette lighter hadn't charged it! Fortunately we could follow the signs to Cueva de los Verdes until we intersected the main highway and we arrived back at the dock with no problems. The Cicar agent was accurate about the amount of gas we would need but it felt odd following his instructions to leave the car unlocked with the key under the seat.


09 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 5: LAS PALMAS, GRAN CANARIA, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (8:00AM – 10:30PM)

Today we had a nice, long port day in Gran Canaria (www.grancanaria.com/patronato_turismo/EN.283.0.html). Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had recommended renting a car from Cicar (www.cicar.com/EN/gran-canaria-car-hire) to explore the island. This was an excellent choice because the rental office was right outside the fence from the ship on the Muelle de Santa Catalina Poniente. The office was not open when we arrived shortly before 8 a.m. but an agent arrived about 8:10. Apparently we and a Canadian couple were the only people who had reserved a car in advance. Even with a reservation, all the paperwork had to be written out by hand. It was not clear where the cars were located, so we had to wait until the Canadians finished their paperwork for the agent to show all of us where the cars were parked; that was in a parking garage further down the pier.

Once we found the car (a Corsa), we headed off but had a little difficulty finding our way out of the port. We had both our Garmin (with a European highways chip) and written directions from Google Maps. However, it was early in the morning and we were excited. We ended up going down a bus-only lane past a police station but no one noticed. We had to stop for gas (the car had about 1/8 tank and we were supposed to return it with the same amount) and my limited Spanish was able to extract directions to the highway we wanted. Once we were on the correct highway, the combined intellectual power of two PhDs was eventually able to determine that we were heading in exactly the wrong direction (the ocean was on our left when it should have been on our right). A quick U-turn at the next interchange had us on our way to our first destination, the Pico Bandama.

Pico Bandama is a volcanic cone over 1800 feet high. It is not too far from the port and thus is included in some of the cruise ship excursions. Despite our false start leaving the port, we arrived there well before any of the buses from the ship and, more importantly, were on our way to the next site before we had to share the narrow road with them.

The next stop was the town of Aguimes, where the Parroquia de San Sebastian is a Historical Cultural Monument. The church is considered one of the best examples of the Canary Islands' neoclassical architecture; it's worth a quick visit. Aguimes is a pretty little town with narrow streets, many of which are one-way and look like someone's patio. We had to circle the town center twice before we managed to find a parking spot in the plaza in front of the church.

North of Aguimes lies the Barranco de Guayadeque. The steep walls of this ravine are over 400 meters high in places. In the Canary Islands, gases released during the volcanic eruptions formed large bubbles in the lava. As the lava eroded to form the canyon, these bubbles were revealed as “caves” in the walls of the ravine. The Guanches, the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, excavated the soft lava rock to connect and enlarge those bubbles to create homes, storage facilities and burial chambers. Even today, people living in the canyon may have a home with a modern facade and an interior that is carved into the side of the ravine. The Centro de Interpretacion de Guayadeque (2.5 euros pp) is built this way. The Centro is small but has numerous interesting exhibits that explain the geology and ecology of the ravine as well as the lifestyle and customs of the Guanches.

Our little Corsa struggled as it climbed up one side of the ravine on the way to Pico del Pozo de las Nieves, the highest point on Gran Canaria (1949 meters). Near the top, the road forks and there is a reconstructed pozo or “snow fountain.” A pozo is a deep pit where snow and ice were once collected in the winter for use during the summer months. The left fork took us to the viewpoint at Pico de la Gorra; the right fork went to Pico de las Nieves. There were a number of other tourists and a food truck/souvenir stand at the Pico de las Nieves viewpoint. From here we could see two noteworthy rock formations, Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga, and Mount Teide on Tenerife.

Roque Nublo is a finger of rock that is a symbol of Gran Canaria. It is also extremely popular. Even though there are one large and two small parking areas, cars still lined the road. We had to drive past the trail head three times before we managed to find a spot to squeeze the Corsa into that was safely off the roadway. From the road, it is a short (about 2 km round trip) hike to the base of the rock at 1590 meters. From here there are good views back to Pico de las Nieves and of Roque Bentayga. Topping out at 1800 meters, Roque Nublo is the second highest point on Gran Canaria.

The next high point on our tour was Roque Bentayga; this fairly flat-topped monolith is the third highest point (1412 meters) on Gran Canaria. There were only a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived; this site is clearly not as popular as Roque Nublo. There is a small archeological museum (free) that was closed; there are good views of Roque Nublo. There is a short (1 km round trip) trail to the base of Roque Bentayga. The trail passes several caves, ceremonial sites used by ancient Canarians and the remains of a defensive wall.

Although all of the sites we had visited so far do not appear far apart on a map, we had already been touring almost 7 hours. John had prepared four options from Roque Bentayga ranging from one hour (return directly to the port) to four hours (drive along west coast for more viewpoints). We chose one of the middle options: a visit to the Cenobio de Valeron, the largest pre-Hispanic granary on Gran Canaria.

Up until now, the Garmin had been agreeing more or less with the routes recommended by Google Maps. Now however, the Garmin kept insisting that we should take a “shortcut” off the main road. We turned down a street that seemed reasonable at first but quickly turned into tiny streets that ended at a car parked in front of a cinder bock wall. The Garmin kept repeating that we should continue on; apparently it wanted us to push the car aside, smash through the wall and drive down the side of a ravine. We may be stupid but we are not THAT stupid. We went back to the main road and followed it until we started to see signs that directed us to the Cenobio.

We finally made it to the Cenobio de Valeron (1.5 euros pp, senior price) about 25 minutes before closing time. The time was adequate because only part of the archeological site is open to the public. Nevertheless, this was an outstanding site and we were pleased that we chose this particular route despite the complaints of the Garmin. The granary was carved from the lava rock over 500 years ago and consists of more than 200 caves arranged in a series of large galleries. These caves were used to store food (mainly cereals and seeds) and to protect it from theft. The site is very well done, with ladders and catwalks that allow a visitor to view the site without disturbing it. There are also some displays that give information about the caves and the lifestyle of the ancient Canarians.

From here, it was about a half hour back to the dock. We only had one other heart-stopping moment, when the steering wheel locked and the car would not start. John figured out that the wheels were turned too sharply to the side. After putting the car in neutral and letting it roll forward a bit, the car started up again and we were off back to the pier. It was easier simply to follow the highway signs to the Muelle de Santa Catalina instead of the complicated instructions of the Garmin or Google Maps.


17 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 3: LISBON, PORTUGAL (8:00AM – 4:30PM)

Today was Lisbon (www.visitlisboa.com/Home_UK.aspx?lang=en-GB), a new port for us. Although Princess often docks at the Alcantara Pier (near the Ponte 25 de Abril, which is described as looking somewhat like the Golden Gate Bridge), the “Independence of the Seas” was docked there today. The Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; we docked at the Jardin do Tabaco. This pier is located midway between the Praca do Comercio and the Santa Apolonia train station, so it is much more convenient than the other two piers for passengers who want to explore the city on their own on foot. The small terminal building appeared to have no services except a rack of city maps and a few brochures. However, the main tourist office (Ask Me Lisboa) is on Praca do Comercio, only about 0.5 mile from the dock. There is also a tourist office in the Santa Apolonia train station.

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to visit Sintra (www.cm-sintra.pt/default.aspx), a favorite summer retreat of Portuguese royalty and aristocrats, and save Lisbon proper for the port stop on the next cruise. We walked from the dock to the Praca do Comercio and through the triumphal arch, which commemorates the reconstruction of the city after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 1755 that killed over 60,000 Lisboans. This arch marks one end of the main shopping street, Rua Augusta. We followed this pedestrianized street, stopping at a bank ATM to add to our cache of euros, to the Rossio train station. We walked right past the station at first because it is cleverly disguised as a palace; the Starbucks should have been a giveaway. Once inside the station, we bought return tickets (4.3 euros pp plus 0.5 euro pp for the required rechargeable travel card) to Sintra and caught the train, which runs every 15 minutes; the ride takes only 40 minutes. (www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g189158-c146578/Lisbon:Portugal:Getting.To.Sintra.html)

The Sintra Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape, consists of seven sites plus associated parks, gardens and forests (www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/). There are hiking trails that link all of the sites but our time was limited today. Instead, we took the #434 tourist bus that circles Sintra every 15-20 minutes; a full-day ticket costs 5 euros pp (pay in cash on the bus). We exited the bus at the Moorish Castle, built around the 10th century. Here we could purchase a combination ticket (25 euros pp) to the three sites that we planned to visit: Moorish Castle, Pena Palace and National Palace of Sintra.

At the Moorish Castle, it was great fun to scramble along the walls and up the towers for panoramic views of the Sintra Hills, the coastline and the Pena Palace higher up the hill. There are also remains of the medieval inhabitants of the area, such as graves, dwellings and granaries carved into the lava rock. After touring the castle, one can wait for the #434 bus or make the short (about 10 minutes) walk to the entrance to Pena Park. From there, it is an additional 10-minute walk to the Pena Palace itself; for less keen walkers, there is a shuttle from the entrance up to the palace for 2 euros pp. Pena Park is 500 acres filled with plants from all over the world and crisscrossed with paths and trails. We would have liked to wander the park at length but had to keep an eye on the clock to obey the all-aboard deadline.

The Pena Palace was built by Don Fernando II, the consort of Queen Maria II, in the middle of the 19th century. The last royal inhabitant was the mother of the last king of Portugal, whose reign ended with the founding of the Republic in 1910. The exterior of the palace is brightly colored in brick red and ocher. The various rooms are lavishly decorated with the painted ceramic tiles (Azulejos) typical of Portugal. Some of the rooms have intricate carvings that cover the walls and ceilings; other rooms are painted in trompe l'oeil to give the same effect. The furnishings were richly carved. Although this was obviously the residence of wealthy people, it did not display the sheer opulence of Windsor Castle. After we finished touring the palace, we were hurrying to catch the #434 when I stepped awkwardly on a cobblestone and twisted my right ankle. There was nothing else to do but soldier on to the last site on the schedule.

The National Palace of Sintra is in the historical center of Sintra and is easily recognized by its two white, cone-shaped chimneys. Like the Pena Palace, its use as a royal residence ended in 1910. The original palace was a summer residence of the Moorish sultans and was rebuilt again and again until now the structure is a conglomeration of styles. The rooms feature the gorgeous multicolored Azulejos. A number of the rooms are named for the paintings on the wooden ceilings: swans, magpies, mermaids, galleons. The Stag Room ceiling also features over 70 coats of arms of aristocratic Portuguese families. After touring the palace, we checked out a few of the souvenir shops and I was able to find a Portuguese flag for my collection.

We returned to Lisbon on the train with no problems except for a swollen and bruised ankle. We stopped at a Pingo Doce (local food store chain) near the station on Rua 1 Dezembro to check out the Portuguese wine selection. There were a number of wines in the 1-2 euro price range (maybe good, maybe swill);John picked a brand he recognized (9 euros). Then we walked down Rua Augusta to Praca do Comercio, where we stopped at the tourist office on the square to purchase a 1-day Lisboa Card. These cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator etc. (See the journal entry below for October 31 for more details.) We planned to use the card during our second Lisbon port call, on the next leg of the cruise.

We still had a little time before we had to return to the ship, so we followed part of a walking tour of the Alfama (www.frommers.com/destinations/lisbon/749263), a section of the city that was not destroyed by the earthquake. The Alfama is a warren of narrow streets and stairways that covers the hillside below the Castelo de Sao Jorge. We walked past a couple of old churches, one of which is built over the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua. We made a brief visit to the Se Catedral, which is quite plain for a European cathedral; its claim to fame is the font where St. Anthony was baptized. We continued further uphill to two miradouros (viewpoints) where we could see the white, red tile roofed houses spilling down the hillside to the water. One miradouro was outside the Santa Luzia church, whose exterior featured a blue and white, ceramic tile mural of St. Lucy holding a palm branch in one hand and pair of eyeballs on a plate in the other. Her eyes were plucked out during her martyrdom; thus she is the patron saint of those of us with poor eyesight and those suffering from diseases or disorders of the eyes. The other miradouro, Largas das Portas do Sol, also had nice views. From here, we simply followed the winding streets and stairways in a generally downhill direction until we reached the waterfront.

Back at the ship, I iced down my knee, took some aspirin and kept my foot elevated until after the sail away; that helped a little. There were great views of Lisbon as the ship sailed down the Tagus River. After passing under the Ponte 25 Abril, there were views of the Belem section of the city and its major attractions: the Jeronimos Monastery, Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower; we planned to visit those sites on the next leg of the cruise.

31 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 17: LISBON, PORTUGAL (MIDNIGHT - 5:00PM)

Today the “Crown Princess” was again docked at the Jardin do Tabaco pier. P&O's “Oceana” (formerly the “Ocean Princess”) was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; the Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Alcantara pier. There was small MSC ship docked upriver from “Oceana”.

Today we planned to make good use of the Lisboa Card (www.lisbonlux.com/lisbon/lisboa-card.html) that we bought 2 weeks ago. These cards can be purchased in advance online for a miniscule discount or at any tourist office. The cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator, funicular and even certain trains. The cards are not very useful to cruisers docking at the Alcantara pier because there is no place within walking distance to redeem the online voucher or purchase the card. Those docking at the Jardin do Tabaco or Santa Apolonia piers can purchase the cards at the Santa Apolonia train station. Our savings with the card were: 24hr travel card (6.5 euros), Jeronimos Monastery/Belem Tower (10 euros), Monument to the Discoveries (30% discount = 1 euro) and Castelo de Sao Jorge (20% discount = 1.5 euros). The 1-day card costs 18.5 euros, so we only saved 0.5 euro. On the other hand, the card was convenient to use as a transportation pass and it allowed us to bypass the long queues at a couple of the attractions.

Our first target was the Castelo de Sao Jorge because it opened at 9:00 a.m. We walked along Rua Alfandego and then up Rua da Madalena, looking up each cross street for the free elevators that the port lecturer had mentioned. We saw a sign for the Castelo, so we turned right on Largo do Chao do Loureiro. Continuing in that direction, we found the upper elevator (Elevador Castelo) just inside the entrance of a Pingo Doce supermarket (formerly the old Market Chao do Loureiro). That elevator takes you up to Rua da Costa do Castelo. [NOTE: After we returned home, we learned that entrance for the lower elevator is in a building at 170/178 Rua Fanqueiros, near Rua da Vitoria; the exit is at 147/155 Rua da Madalena in Largo Adelino Amaro da Costa (aka Largo Caldas).]

Before the Castelo opened, we had time to walk around the surrounding neighborhood and view the buildings covered with colorful Azulejos. Suddenly we were startled by what sounded like some loud strange car or scooter horn. We looked up and saw a peacock sitting atop a wall and two peahens on a wall across the street; the peacock was making that grating squawk. As we strolled, we saw several groups of children being escorted to school; a few children were dressed in Halloween costumes.

The hilltop that Castelo de Sao Jorge (www.castelodesaojorge.pt/?lang=2) commands was probably used as a fortress even before Roman times. The large grounds (which are well-populated with peafowl) include not only the Castelo but also a museum and an archeological site. Just past the entry, there is a large terrace with old cannons and great views of Lisbon. First we walked around the outside of the Castelo, then crossed the bridge over the dry moat and started climbing around on top of the walls and up the towers. Near the Tower of the Cistern, the route along the top of the walls leads to the Archeological Site; this area includes the remains of structures from the Iron Age (7th century BC), from the Moorish Quarter (11th – 12th centuries) and from a palace (15th – 18th centuries).

We clambered around for about an hour until the Tower of Ulysses (the legendary founder of Lisbon) opened. This tower formerly held the Royal Archives but now (since 1998) is home to the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura is a periscope that projects an image onto a large white table lower in the tower. That offers a 360-degree view of the entire Lisbon area (except where blocked by the other towers of the Castelo). The tour guide gave us a bird's eye view of Lisbon, pointing out all the major sights, cars moving on the streets and bridges and even people touring the Castelo. We finished our tour of the Castelo at the Museum, which contains items uncovered at the Archeological Site.

When we exited the Castelo, we caught the #737 minibus that runs back and forth from the Castelo to Praca de Figueira through the steep streets of the Alfama. From the Praca, we caught the #15E tram in the Alges direction to reach the Belem district of Lisbon. The #15E is a modern electric tram; it is supposed to run every 11 minutes and the ride to Belem is only supposed to take about 30 minutes. Something was wrong today and we waited over 20 minutes for the tram; we also stopped about 5 minutes for no apparent reason. In any case, it took almost an hour for the packed tram to reach the Jeronimos Monastery stop. We decided to follow the crowd and exit there too.

The Jeronimos Monastery (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belem. The Monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to India. Both the exterior of the building and the two-level Cloisters are covered with incredibly intricate carvings. The Cloisters alone make the Monastery worth the visit. Another interesting part of the Monastery is the Refectory (dining hall); its walls are lined with Biblical scenes rendered in beautiful painted tiles. There are several famous Portuguese poets entombed in the Monastery or in the adjacent church, Igreja de Santa Maria; Vasco da Gama is entombed in the church. The church is also filled with intricate stonework.

From the Monastery, we walked toward the riverfront, through the Praca do Imperial with its Fonte Luminosa in the middle. The fountain was not working but I read that sometimes it is illuminated for an hour-long water show. We found the pedestrian tunnel under the busy highway and train tracks and arrived at the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos)

The Monument to the Discoveries (padraodosdescobrimentos.egeac.pt) is designed to resemble the prow of a caravel, the sailing vessel used by the Portuguese explorers during the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. Along each side of the monument is a frieze depicting some of these explorers and other notables of the era. At the prow, where the two friezes meet, is a statue of Prince Henry (Henrique) the Navigator, who encouraged and financed much of this exploration. On the plaza in front of the monument is a compass rose with a map of the world; the routes of major voyages and the dates new lands were discovered are marked on the map. We took the elevator to the viewing platform on the top of the monument for great views of the area.

The Tower of Belem (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belem. The Tower stands near the spot where the caravels set off on their voyages of discovery. The lower level of the tower has gun ports and breech-loading cannons; the next level has a broad terrace from which other weapons could be fired. There is a very narrow, spiral, stone staircase to the top of the tower. The stairs are so narrow that there are electric signs directing the flow of visitors up and down. This system was only partially effective because some people evidently did not see the signs requesting them to wait their turn; those people wore confused/dismayed expressions when they encountered a long line of people moving in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, we eventually made it to the top of the Tower for more good views and back down again.

We left the Tower and took the pedestrian bridge over the highway and train tracks to the Largo da Princesa tram stop. This tactic allowed us to get seats on the #15E tram two stops before the crowded Mosteirio Jeronimos stop. We continued on the #15E tram back to Praca de Figueira; this time the ride took about 45 minutes. One benefit of riding the tram was the opportunity to see many buildings along the route that were covered with the multicolored Azulejos.

From Praca de Figueira, we walked to Rua da Santa Justa and the Elevador de Santa Justa. This elevator was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel. The two cars of this black metal tower whisk riders from the Baixa (downtown) to the Bairro Alto (upper town) in 30 seconds. There is a viewing gallery on top of the elevator tower; this gave us our best view of the Castelo de Sao Jorge and of the roofless church next to the elevator.

The walkway from the elevator passes alongside and under a buttress of the Igreja do Carmo that was devastated in the 1755 earthquake. This Gothic church has been left in ruins as a symbol and reminder of the quake; today it is part of the Museu Archeologico do Carmo. From here, we walked through the Bairro Alto to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. The views from this large terrace are good but not as good as those from the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Our final destination of the day was the Solar do Vinho do Porto (www.ivdp.pt/pagina.asp?idioma=1&codPag=169&), right across the street from the miradouro in the Ludovic Palace. This small tasting room offers comfortable lounge chairs to relax in a bottle-lined room while enjoying a wide variety (supposedly 300 types) of ports by the glass. We tasted five outstanding ports, including a rose, a ruby, two tawny (20 and 40 years old) and a late bottled vintage 1988 colheita. It was sad that we could only spend about 40 minutes here. John felt that we should have come here first and spent the entire day tasting ports.

To return to Baixa, we had planned to take the Calcada da Gloria, a funicular that runs between the Bairro Alto and the Praca dos Restauradores; it is just across the street from the Solar. However, the funicular was out of service and we walked down the sidewalk that runs alongside it. As we headed back to the riverfront, we decided to stop at the Pingo Doce on Rua 1 Dezembro to pick up a couple more bottles of wine. When we returned to the cruise terminal, there was a fairly long line but it moved quickly.

Read 281 Lisbon Reviews

22 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 8: FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL (9:00AM – 4:30 PM)

Although the weather had been sunny and mild in the Canary Islands, it was raining when the ship arrived in Madeira (www.visitmadeira.pt/?language=c81e728d9d4c2f636f067f89cc14862c) and the forecast was for worsening weather as the day went on. In actuality, the weather got better during the day, although the clouds stayed with us. The ship offered a shuttle to the Marina Shopping Mall for $5 pp each way for those who wanted to explore Funchal on their own. The “Independence of the Seas” was also in port.

John had prearranged a custom tour with Daniel Madeira Taxi (www.danielmadeirataxis.com/cruise-ship-excursions.shtml, 140 euros for a 4-person taxi). We were joined by another couple from the Cruise Critic roll call, John and Janie (boomerone). The ship had docked early due to a medical emergency, so passengers were allowed to disembark a few minutes ahead of schedule. We were hopeful that our driver/guide would arrive earlier than the appointed time of 9:30 a.m., so we scurried down to the pier. Alas, Marcelino (Daniel's cousin) was early but only by 10 minutes. Nevertheless, we were on our way well before the Princess tour buses.

Madeira is a fascinating place! There is basically no level spot on the island. Our first stop was Cabo Girao, a high sea cliff. When we arrived, it was clouded over, so Marcelino suggested that we go directly to the Barbeito (www.vinhosbarbeito.com/en.html) winery for our tour and tasting; we could return to the cliff later when the weather might be better. Along the way, Marcelino stopped several times so we could view the terraced fields that seem to take up every square inch of the hillsides.

The tour at Barbeito was very different from tours at other wineries. Most wineries are trying to limit oxidation, so the wines are aged under cool conditions. However, the characteristic taste of Madeira wines is due to oxidation, so the wines are fermented in heated tanks and aged under warm conditions; they are also barrel-aged much longer than other wines. The tasting was among the top tastings we have ever done. The shop manager, Leandro, pulled out all the stops; we lost count of the wines he brought out. The ultimate wine we tasted was vintage 1885 (not a typo!); the 1910 vintage was only a baby in comparison. All the wines were fantastic. We bought (could afford) a 10-year old Madeira to bring home.

Then it was back to Cabo Girao, where the view was intermittently obscured by clouds. The miradouro is 560 meters above sea level. There is a glass-bottomed viewing platform where you can look straight down to the rocky shoreline. The next stop was Pico dos Barcelos (335 meters) for great views of Funchal.

Marcelino stopped at several unofficial overlooks for great views on the way to Eira do Serrado. Eira do Serrado (1000 meters) offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and of Curral das Freiras (Nun's Valley). In the 16th century, the nuns would take refuge in this secluded valley to avoid the pirates who frequently attacked Madeira.

Our last stop in the mountains was at Pico do Arieiro (1810 meters), the third highest peak on the island. This is a popular site because it is possible to drive almost to the top of the peak. Today however, it was almost deserted because of the heavy cloud cover; we could only see a little of the storied views. Nevertheless, we climbed the short flight of stairs to the stone marker at the very top of the peak. John had hoped that we could take a short hike here but the trail was closed. We were also starting to run a little short on time because we had spent more time at the winery (with good reason!) than planned.

We headed out of the mountains back to Funchal. Marcelino stopped at Terreiro de Luta, where there is a small church dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. There were good views over the port and we could see the “Independence of the Seas” leaving. Further down the slope, Marcelino suggested that we climb to the roof of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira, for more great views. Then we had time for a very short visit to the Monte Municipal Gardens.

Just below the terrace of the church is the starting point for Monte's famous toboggan rides. At one time, wine casks were transported in wicker baskets attached to two wooden runners. These days tourists can ride 2 km down the hill in those toboggans, which are steered by two guides dressed in traditional white flannels and straw boaters (20 euros for one person, 30 euros for a couple). BTW the ride goes down regular city streets, so the toboggans share the road with other vehicles; supposedly the toboggans have the ROW when they come to an intersection. John and I were not really interested in doing this but John and Janie were. We got some photos of them in the basket, then took more as we followed them down the hill in the taxi. This ride looked like something that was more fun in theory than in practice.

Once we had John and Janie safely back in the taxi, Marcelino gave us a short tour of Funchal on the way back to the ship. At one point, he stopped by a market where I could hop out and buy a Madeira flag. This was a great tour and left us wanting to spend more time in Madeira.


26 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 12 SOUTHAMPTON AND BATH, UK (7:00AM – MIDNIGHT)

Our turnaround day dawned dark and rainy –- very, very rainy. We received our new cruise cards last night along with a letter stating that in-transit passengers (1) could leave the ship with the first group disembarking in the morning and (2) would not be required to attend the muster drill before sailing this afternoon. This was tremendously good news because we wanted to make an excursion to Bath. Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had warned us that, earlier this summer in Southampton, Princess was not allowing in-transit passengers to leave the ship until mid-morning and was requiring them to be back on board an hour before sailing to attend the muster drill. Bob knew that with such a short port day, there would not be enough time to enjoy Bath because off the long (1-1/2 hours each way) train ride. Nevertheless, Bob graciously took the time to provide us with the train schedules for a trip to Bath as well as for two alternative destinations (Salisbury and Winchester) that are closer to the Southampton.

We were allowed to leave the ship at 7:05 a.m. By then the rain had stopped, although it would continue on and off all day. We quickly made the short (0.5 mile) walk from the Ocean Terminal, where the “Crown Princess” was docked, to the stop for the free shuttle bus from Ferry Terminal 1 to the Southampton Central Station. We had to wait for the 7:45 a.m. bus but the trip to the train station took less than 10 minutes.

Now we were especially glad that we had acquired a PenFed credit card that has the chip-and-PIN technology used throughout Europe. The ticket office was closed and we needed to buy our tickets from a ticket machine. Our other credit cards would not have worked in this machine; however, the PenFed card worked just fine and we soon had return tickets for the 8:10 a.m. train to Bath Spa. There were some delays, so our train arrived late at Southampton Central and was about 20 minutes late arriving in Bath Spa. (Hint: Be sure that you purchase tickets with the “Via Salisbury” option; tickets for trains that go through London cost twice as much.)

Our first sight in Bath (visitbath.co.uk) was Bath Abbey (2.5 GBP donation requested, www.bathabbey.org). This is a small Gothic church with gorgeous stained glass windows and fan-vaulted ceilings. We took the Tower Tour (6 GBP pp); there were only three of us on the 10:00 a.m. tour. This 212-step tour climbs up to the ringing chamber (where various machines currently and in the past used to operate the bells are on display) and the bell chamber. It continues to a spot atop the vaulted ceiling (where you can look through a peephole to the nave below) and to another spot behind the clock face. You also go out on the roof of the Abbey for great views of the town and to the balcony in front for views of the Abbey Church Yard. Our young guide, Holly, was very informative and gave us lots of fun facts and anecdotes about the ringing machines, the bells, the clock and the Abbey.

We visited the Abbey first because we thought it would be hard to get tickets later for the Tower Tour. However, the primary sight we wanted to see in Bath was the Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk). Admission to the Roman Baths (12.75 GBP pp, senior price) includes an audioguide. There are also animated exhibits and live actors portraying Romans (think Williamsburg in togas). The Romans built these opulent baths over 2000 years ago and they were built upon and renovated over the following centuries. In the 18th century, Bath was THE place to be for the rich and famous and there were many bathhouses built to accommodate them; there were also “Assembly Rooms” for those who wanted to socialize without getting wet.

There are various rooms at each end of the largest pool, the Great Bath: changing rooms, smaller pools of various temperatures and steam rooms. However, this complex was not just for bathing and socializing; it had important religious significance. Adjacent to the baths was a temple dedicated to the healing goddess Sulis Minerva. The water from her Sacred Spring (the only hot spring in the UK) flowed into all of the other pools. Portions of the temple pediment, altar and courtyard have been uncovered. The most impressive find is undoubtedly the gilded head from a statue of Sulis Minerva, which was discovered during the construction of a sewer in 1727. At the end of the tour, there is a fountain where visitors can taste (not awful despite the minerals) and touch the 46C water from the spring. Excavation is ongoing to find more artifacts and reveal more ruins of the baths/temple complex beneath the streets of Bath, so this site will continue to expand and change over time.

Bath is also celebrated for its 18th-century Georgian architecture. The two most famous examples are the blocks of identical row houses, the Circus and the Royal Crescent, designed by the John Wood the Elder and the Younger, respectively. After walking past these buildings, we went to see the Pulteney Bridge. This is one of the few bridges in the world that is lined with shops. In fact, it is so completely lined with shops that, from the street, there is no indication at all that you are on a bridge. However, we crossed the bridge and descended to the Riverside Walk along the Avon River. From here it obvious that the Pulteney Bridge is a bridge and there are some nice views of Bath Abbey. We crossed back over the river at North Parade Road and enjoyed some views of the Parade Gardens.

From there it was back to the train station for the 1:00 p.m. train to Southampton Central, the free shuttle bus to the ferry terminal and the short walk back to the ship. At 3:00 p.m., there were still a large number of people checking in for the cruise. Fortunately, our in-transit cards let us skip to the head of the long security queue. When we got back to our cabin, we found a letter from the Captain explaining that, because of the impending storm, we would not be departing from Southampton; instead, we would be remaining in port for 1-3 more days. The letter also mentioned that we would be receiving some sort of unspecified compensation. Thus it was likely that our cruise would be changing from 5 port days and 8 sea days to 2 port days and 11 sea days. I emailed to cancel our car rental for Sunday in Le Havre and to alert the wineries in Spain (which we had planned to visit on Tuesday) that we would probably miss our appointments with them.

Later in the evening, there was an announcement from the Captain about the weather forecast. Apparently the wind would increase to hurricane force by Sunday night, accompanied by heavy rain; the storm would probably pass out of this area by Monday afternoon. In anticipation of the storm, the ship would be moved from the Ocean Terminal to a more favorable location at the Mayflower Terminal. That way the expected high winds would blow the ship towards the dock instead of away from it. The new terminal is much farther from the city center than the Ocean Terminal, so Princess would be providing a free shuttle bus. The “Independence of the Seas,” however, departed for parts unknown.

During the night British Summer Time would be ending, so tonight we set the clocks back an hour to GMT.

27 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 13: SOUTHAMPTON, UK

Today we were supposed to dock in Le Havre, France, from 7:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. John had rented a car and we had planned to drive to Mont St-Michel, with a possible side trip to Bayeux. Instead, we caught the Princess shuttle to the drop-off point on Harbour Parade, opposite the West Quay Shopping Centre. The shuttle was to run continuously from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. We intended to spend 3 or 4 hours in town, then return to the ship before the heavy rain started. As we left the port, we saw that the “Adventure of the Seas” was also docked at the Mayflower Terminal but closer to town.

We walked over to the East Park to see the memorial to the “Titanic” engineering officers and the nearby memorial to the “Titanic” musicians. Then we walked across West Park to the SeaCity Museum (www.seacitymuseum.co.uk; 7GBP pp, senior price for museum and special exhibition). The special exhibition showcased works made from cut paper. The paper was found paper or from old maps, books, currency, shopping bags, etc. John and I particularly liked the flock of birds cut from maps and “Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula” by Andrew Singleton, a large composition of black cut out patterns and suspended forms that was inspired by Hubble Telescope images of nebulae. I wondered whether another work, inspired by the 2012 tsunami in Japan, might be a good symbol for this leg of the cruise.

Because Southampton was the last port where she docked, the SeaCity Museum naturally has a large “Titanic” exhibit. There are a few artifacts from the passengers and crew but most of the artifacts are from the sister ships of the “Titanic.” An interesting graphic showed the amounts of various necessary provisions (coal, towels, shelled walnuts, oyster forks, celery glasses etc.) superimposed on an outline of the ship. Other good exhibits included a courtroom with audio dramatizations of testimony from the inquiry into the sinking and another that included reminiscences by survivors about the immediate aftermath of the sinking. The remainder of the museum deals with Southampton's history as a port city.

After the museum, we walked to the Bargate, the medieval entrance to the city, and climbed some sections and towers of the old city wall. Then we went to the Tesco in the West Quay Retail Park to pick up some inexpensive wine (Buy 3 get 15% off!) for those long sea days ahead. Back at the shuttle pick-up point, we had a short wait to board a bus back to the ship. At the Mayflower Terminal, we were confronted with an immense queue of passengers trying to pass through the security checkpoint. It turned out that only one metal detector and one parcel x-ray machine were available to screen the 900 passengers who had gone ashore. The Port Authority was not expecting to deal with cruise ship passengers on this day which was a Sunday to boot! They eventually found more staff and another x-ray machine and the line moved a little more quickly. Nevertheless, it was over an hour after we stepped off the bus until we stepped onto the ship.


20 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 6: SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 5:30PM)

Today John and I, along with 21 other people from the Cruise Critic roll call, joined a tour organized by Pat (2Canucks). The guide was Patsy Little (patricialittle@hotmail.com), who has excellent reviews on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, there was some kind of communication gap between Pat and Patsy; Patsy was waiting with her tour bus right next to the ship but Pat hustled all of us onto the port shuttle bus and all the way out to the main street along the waterfront. By the time this got straightened out, we were more than a half hour behind schedule.

Our first activity was a walking tour of San Cristobal de La Laguna. We started in the Plaza del Adelantado with a huge dragon tree in the middle. Dragon trees look a little like a palm tree but are not really trees; they are a type of dracaena. Once a flower forms and dies, the plant grows a triple branch from the scar, so the shape is very distinctive. Also, the sap is dark red and looks like blood. Patsy pointed out a number of other plants growing in the square. Next to the square was a building that was formerly the convent of an order of cloistered nuns. The roof of the convent featured an Arab-style latticed patio where the nuns could enjoy some fresh air without being seen.

Much of La Laguna is a pedestrianized area with many Spanish Colonial mansions and palaces. We were able to view the patios in the Bishop's Palace and the History Museum. All the rooms open onto the patio or onto the covered balcony that runs around the second floor. That arrangement kept the house cool in summer and provided a private outside area for the residents. The museum patio had rings in the mouths of carved figures under the balcony eaves; the rings could support a canopy to provide shade for the patio. Our final stop in the town was the market, where all sorts of vegetables, meats, seafood, baked goods and cheeses were on display. A few of us had the time for a short visit to a nearby church, which boasted a beautiful silver altarpiece and silver pulpit.

We were supposed to tour the Teide National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) before lunch, so we headed there, stopping at several viewpoints along the way. From some of the viewpoints we could even see the island of Gran Canaria. Because we had started late, we interrupted the tour at this point for a tapas-style lunch at Restaurant Bamby, which has a fine view of the volcano. The lunch (13 euros pp) was served family style. It included bottled water and both white (made from listan blanco grapes) and red (made from listan negro and negramol grapes) wine. We were first served small loaves of bread with a red and a green mojo (spicy sauce). The first dish was an island specialty –- papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes); these are potatoes boiled in heavily-salted water and served in the skin. Next we had a plate of cheese and cold cuts served with a salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and carrots. That was followed by chunks of fried fish, a garbanzo bean stew and a flan-type dessert. Because the group was so large, lunch took much longer than anticipated and we were now over an hour behind schedule. However, the original timetable called for us to be back at the ship two hours before the all aboard time, so there was no reason for concern.

Finally we were off to see what John and I most wanted to see: the stark landscape around Mount Teide (3718 meters). Measured from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world (after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in Hawaii) and it is still active. We stopped to view the Roques de Garcia, 1000 meter spires that have eroded to show varicolored layers of volcanic deposits. Although the tour could only allow 15 minutes at this site, John and I had time to hike the short trail to the base of the rocks for some great views.

The tour continued on to the interior of Teide's caldera at about 2300 meters altitude. There is a cable car to 3500 meters but reservations must be made far in advance. This tour did not include enough time to take the cable car and, because of the wind conditions, it was not operating today anyway. We drove around and stopped at a number of viewpoints. Before we left the park, we made another pit stop at Restaurant Bamby. Now that the lunch crowd had diminished, the feeders placed around the restaurant's outside deck were attracting a number of the birds now known as canaries. Factoid: The Romans called the islands “Insula Canaria” because of the wild dogs found there and the birds were named after the islands.

The route back to the ship passed through the Orotava Valley agricultural region. There were huge banana plantations, divided into sections by stone walls to protect the plants from the wind. Grapevines were trained along a wire only a foot or so above the ground; the vines in a row are braided along the wire to keep them from being whipped about in the wind.

Our final stop was to see the black sand beach at Puerto de la Cruz. This is part of the resort area of the island and the waterfront is lined with souvenir shops, eateries and hotels. Apparently no one there thinks of flags as a souvenir; I was told they are given away free at soccer games or I could buy fabric to make one myself. We tried some banana liquor at one of the shops. Pat seemed very anxious about the time but we returned to the ship with 45 minutes to spare.

The original size for this group had been set at 12 and I did not know it had grown to 23 until almost the last minute. With such a large group, the price was very reasonable (25 euros pp, not including lunch) but the lunch took a long time to serve and it took extra time to get everyone on and off the bus at photo stops. That, along with the late start, forced Patsy to eliminate the scheduled wine tasting (extra fee) at the Wine Museum. Although this was a disappointment for John and me, about half the group was not interested in tasting any more wine. Nevertheless, Pasty was an excellent tour guide. She is full of interesting information and is very enthusiastic about showing off her island to visitors.

Read 209 Tenerife Reviews

Santiago de Compostela

(5)

24 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 10: VIGO, SPAIN (8:00AM – 3:30PM)

Most people who visit Vigo (www.turismodevigo.org/en) for the first time use it as the gateway to Santiago De Compostela (www.santiagoturismo.com), a destination for pilgrims since the Middle Ages. These pilgrims (pelegrinos) walk or ride bicycles or horses for hundreds of miles and many weeks (or even years) in order to visit the cathedral that houses the remains of St. James Major (Santiago). We had watched a movie about the pilgrimage (“The Walk,” staring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez) before the trip.

Despite Liza Doolittle's assertion that “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” the Galicia region is the rainiest part of Spain. Today was no exception as it rained steadily the entire day with only a few breaks –- another challenge for our poor umbrellas. Because of the short port time and the inconvenient train/bus schedules, it was not feasible to take public transportation to Santiago. Renting a car (with gas, parking and tolls) was slightly cheaper than a Princess tour for two. However, we would have had to allow time to pick the car up in downtown Vigo, return it to the rental point and return ourselves to the ship before the all aboard time. We finally decided that a Princess tour would give us the most time in Santiago with the least hassle.

The tour we chose was “Santiago on Your Own,” which is simply transportation to and from Santiago with a little commentary along the way. We left the ship well before sunrise for the 75-minute drive to Santiago. Although it was too dark to see much, our guide, Laura, tried to point out interesting features of the area such as the oyster farms in the estuaries and the old stone storage buildings raised up on stone pillars.

The bus dropped us off in the Juan XXIII parking lot. We followed Laura down Avenida Juan XXIII and Rua de San Francisco into Plaza Obradoiro (~10 min walk). As we walked along, storekeepers were touting their local specialty, almond cookies. Our meeting spot was under the arcade of the Pazo de Raxoi. We would have 3:40 h to explore Santiago on our own before reuniting there to return to the bus.

John and I headed straight across the plaza to the ticket office for the Cathedral Museum, which is in the crypt under the double staircase leading to the main entrance. Admission to the Cathedral itself is free. However, we got the General Individual Ticket (4 euros pp, senior price) that gives admission to the Museum and the temporary exhibitions in the Gelmirez Palace. There is an audioguide available at additional cost that we did not rent.

Laura had told us that if Mass was going on, we would have to enter through the Puerta de las Platerias on the south side of the Cathedral. Otherwise, we would be able to enter through the Obradoiro facade (the main entrance on the west side) and the famous Portico de la Gloria. However, the Portico de la Gloria is currently under renovation and no one is being allowed in through the main entrance; the Portico de la Gloria cannot be viewed without a museum ticket.

John and I sloshed over to the Puerta de las Platerias and started our counterclockwise tour of the Cathedral. We walked past several chapels to the stairs leading to the statue of St. James that is above the high altar. Pilgrims traditionally embrace the statue at the end of their journey. Coming down the other side, we found the stairs down to the crypt where a silver casket contains the saint's remains; climbing up the other side brought us back up to where we started. We continued along the ambulatory behind the high altar, passing chapel after chapel and the Puerta Santa (Holy Door), which is only opened during designated Holy Years. The oldest existing chapel is Santa Maria de la Corticela, which was originally a separate church and is now attached to the transept; it is still a separate parish from the Cathedral.

Under the Cathedral dome is the device for swinging the huge censer or Botafumeiro. The censer is more than 1-1/2 meters high and weighs about 100 kg when it is full of coal and incense. It takes a team of eight men to set the censer swinging until it is almost parallel to the floor at the height of its swing. The Botafumeiro is only used on certain feast days or when a substantial donation is made. Our port lecturer had shown a video of the Botafumeiro swinging and it is indeed an impressive sight (hwww.youtube.com/watch?v=mtxuvtZqOog).

We continued around the Cathedral to the Museum entrance. The Museum has four levels; this level houses the Treasury in the Chapel of San Fernando, with an assortment of precious liturgical items. Across the hall is the Chapel of Relics, with hundreds of reliquaries including a bust containing the skull of St. James Minor. This chapel also contains the tombs of some kings of Leon and Galicia from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Exiting out into the cloister, we found the Sala Capitular (Chapterhouse) with some tapestries and the Biblioteca (Library). The Library contains two Botafumeiros and a Museum worker showed two girls the padded wooden bar that is used to carry it (two men are needed) into the Cathedral. The Library is lined with ancient books and display cases of illuminated manuscripts and hymnals.

From the Treasury level we climbed up to the top level, the Tapestry Museum. It houses a large collection of tapestries including some designed by Rubens and Goya. This level also provides access to a balcony that overlooks the Plaza del Obradeiro.

Now we descended to the level below the Treasury. This level contains the Cathedral's art collection. There are three sections: art from the 13th through the 15th century, art from the 16th through the 18th century and art related to St. James.

The lowest level of the Museum contains exhibits from the archaeological excavations under the Cathedral. The highlight of this level is the partial reconstruction of the elaborate stone choir, carved by Maestro Mateo in the 13th century and destroyed in 1603, replaced by a wooden choir that was removed in 1946. Although huge sections of the choir are missing, it displayed the kind of intricate designs and statues that we would see later in Maestro Mateo's Portico de la Gloria. This level also has an exhibit about Maestro Mateo.

From here we had to go back to the Treasury level of the Museum to cross over to the Gelmirez Palace and view the Portico de la Gloria. The Pilgrim's Mass had started and visitors are not allowed to view the Portico de la Gloria during the Mass. We toured the temporary exhibits in the Gelmiriz Palace and then prayed during the last part of the Mass. When the Mass ended, we were almost the only people around the Portico de la Gloria; we saw many people who wanted to see it turned away because they did not have a Museum ticket. Although scaffolding obscured sections of Maestro Mateo's triple doorway with its 200 Romanesque statues, we could see the famous central column with Jesus on top, St. James below Him and Hercules below St. James; Maestro Mateo is at the bottom on the opposite side of the column. It is traditional for pilgrims to place their fingertips in the five holes worn in the column above Hercules' head and to bump heads with Maestro Mateo. However, there is now a railing to prevent anyone from touching the column and causing further damage to it. We could also see many of the other statues including the only woman, Queen Esther. Legend has it that her stone breasts were originally much larger and local leaders had them filed down to a more respectable size. The townspeople retaliated by creating Galicia's iconic tetilla cheese (titty cheese) in Esther's honor. That's the story anyway!

Our final stop in the Cathedral was the crypt where we originally bought our tickets. The crypt, also built by Maestro Mateo, is dedicated to St. James Minor. The main features of interest are the huge columns supporting the weight of the Portico de la Gloria and the Obradoiro facade and the keystones of the vault that depict two angels bearing the sun and the moon. Today the crypt is the gathering spot for group tours but Museum ticket holders can be admitted on request.

By now we had spent about three hours in the Cathedral and Museum and the rain was much lighter than earlier in the day. We had some time to walk around the old town. We stopped in at the Galicia tourist office to obtain maps and information on the wine routes for our scheduled (but later canceled) visit to Vigo on the next leg of the cruise.

Next we walked over to the Paseo de la Herradura and up to the 12th century church of Santa Susana. The park has several viewpoints that provide classic views of the Cathedral. After that we walked around the Cathedral to see the other facades and met up with the rest of the group, huddled under the arcade of Pazo de Raxoi.

Once back at the Alberto Duran Nunes Cruise Terminal, it was too close to sailing time even to check out briefly the large shopping center right next to the terminal. We did not depart on time though because several of the tours were quite late returning to the ship. I later overheard a person saying that his bus had waited 45 minutes for a couple and finally left without them; maybe they got on the wrong bus. Another woman's name was called repeatedly to report to Passenger Services. I hope no one was left behind in Vigo!

Hint: Soaking wet walking/running shoes will dry overnight if you put them directly on top of the stateroom refrigerator (inside the cabinet).

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