In early September I travelled to Spain and Portugal to experience small ship cruising, and I mean small!! Variety Cruises Panorama II
We flew to Malaga, Spain and stayed at Ibis Ciudad hotel, a friendly clean budget option, just a short walk from the old town. We visited a couple of museums, wandered the SoHo art district to see the huge graffiti on walls and shutters, visited the Malaga Cathedral, and had some great food. Malaga certainly has been rejuvenated. I also recommend a visit to the Alcazaba, a palatial fortification built in the early 11th century, the best-preserved alcazaba in Spain. The El Meson de Cervantes Restaurant served good tapas in three sizes and we also enjoyed a churros breakfast. An oddity to notice on your visit there is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen near the port. Evidently he was a great traveler, wrote travelogues and loved Malaga.
For the seven day trip from Malaga to Lisbon, our cruise was on a motor sailing ship (Variety Cruises Panorama II). This is a small Greek ship with a maximum of 49 passengers. Our sailing was comprised of a friendly group of about 35 guests plus crew, providing adequate room on board. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style with a good variety of choices of freshly prepared food. Dinner was table service, with a single appetizer and soup, 2 choices of main course and two desserts (one being a fruit plate). Cooks were able to accommodate a guest with mild gluten intolerance. While meals were good, they were generally middle-of-the road in culinary terms. Experienced cruisers might be disappointed by the lack of food choices, and the quality of the food would likely not be up to the standards of what a foodie would appreciate. Coffee/tea with cookies and a large bowl of whole fruit was on offer in the small lounge at all times. Alcoholic drinks, beer and wine were at extra cost, however during our two Captain's gala dinners, complimentary sangria and wine were served. Service on board the Panorama ll was friendly and helpful if not super polished.
Guests on board represented a broad international spectrum from Australia, Russia, Britain and the US as well as our little Canadian contingent. Given the size of the ship, there is no pool, but swimming off the back of the boat was enjoyed by some guests. While there is no entertainment per se on board, we had informal dancing on deck and lots of discussions and laughter. Optional excursions, including a sherry tour to Jerez, were on offer. On the only port where tendering (i.e. not docking) was required, we went by Zodiac. My one small disappointment was that due to location and winds, we only had the sails up once, just as a demo.
The trip highlights for me, were the excursion to Ronda to see the gorge, the town and the famous bullring , the cable car in Gibraltar (Tip: be sure to buy a ticket through our Algonquin website before you go to avoid the long lineup), a day trip to Seville on our own by train, and lovely Cadiz. Cadiz was an easygoing city with a great fish market and twisty back streets. I would be happy to visit again. We had bought tickets ahead of time for the Royal Palace in Seville and enjoyed the "Alhambra" styled palace. A tip - if you hope to eat before you go in, plan for a little later in the day. Most restaurants and cafes only served from 1pm. We were forced to go to Starbucks for a sandwich since they had continuous service.
We also enjoyed our Algarve stop - Portimao, Portugal. They have storks there! We took the public bus to Silves to see the cork trees and products, and the castle which dates from the 8th century. Weather was anticipated to be bad at sea, at least, for a small ship, so we were bussed a few hours from Portimao to Lisbon rather than an overnight sail. They do things differently on this small ship - the captain calls a meeting to tell us about weather conditions, to show charts and explain wave heights, etc. But bottom line, you have to rely on his expertise!
I would recommend this small vessel cruise to that select group of cruisers for whom luxury is secondary, those who do not want fancy on-board entertainment, but are interested in being immersed in the destination, and who would enjoy the experience of sailing on a private yacht.
Please get in touch with me if you would like any further information about this interesting cruise option.
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