Cruising’s new wave

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

With amazing new ships and itineraries plus greater affordability, cruising is really going places.  

Story by Paul Edwards.
April 2018.


If you’re considering taking a cruise this year, you’re not alone. Close to 1.3 million Australians chose a cruising holiday in the 2016-17 financial year, with that number set to grow to two million by 2020.  

With cruise lines in the middle of a building boom – more than 80 new ships will launch in the next eight years – the options for travellers thinking about getting on board the holiday trend are set to expand.

From budget beds through to high-end luxury suites complete with your own butler, cruising now comes in all shapes and sizes.

No longer just the domain of retirees and honeymooning couples, interest in inter-generational, group and family travel is also growing, with cruise ships offering entertainment for all ages, including kids’ clubs, ice rinks, theatres, outdoor cinemas, waterslides and wave riders.

For an insight into the cruising experience, Paul Edwards reports from the decks of a ship sailing Spain’s Canary Islands and the coastline of Portugal, while Jason Dowling has the lowdown on surviving and thriving on a cruising holiday with kids.   


Ship to shore

No matter how good the ship, any cruise is improved by a great destination, and this itinerary exploring Spain and Portugal’s Atlantic islands has some of the most beautiful on earth.

You know your life is pretty good when you think you’ve covered most of the big cruise regions. Mediterranean, tick. Baltic, tick. More ticks for Alaska, the Caribbean, Antarctica ...

But there’s a booming ocean destination few Australians have visited, although the Brits and North Americans are embracing it big-time. I ticked the box with a blue-water voyage to the Canary Islands and Madeira, off the Atlantic coast of Africa.

From embarkation port Southampton it was smooth sailing through the Bay of Biscay to Lisbon, down the coast of Morocco and on to some of the most beautiful islands on earth. 

Once you reach these latitudes, fine weather is almost guaranteed, which is why sun-starved northern Europeans pack the pools, sun-decks and genuine grass lawn from dawn to dusk.

Australians might find other ways to relax. I was drawn to a fascinating display of Faberge jewellery with an expert explanation. Another well-attended lecture explained the surreal art movement, while travel veterans spotlighted upcoming shore excursions.

The baroque church Igreja de Sao Vicente in Madeira's north. PHOTO: Visit Madeira/Francisco Correia.

But for most of the nearly 3000 passengers it was eyes down for bingo, head-scratching for trivia and seat-claiming for almost non-stop entertainment.

Celebrity Eclipse.

‘Cruise show sophistication has arrived, with an ensemble of around 15 dancers and singers putting on mini-musicals.’

Shipboard shows have come of age and there’s a global network of hundreds of entertainers who spend their working lives either on ships or flying between them for the next show. 

Cruise shows used to be confined to buxom ladies kicking up their legs and comics slagging off their mothers-in-law. Sophistication has now arrived, with an ensemble of around 15 dancers and singers putting on mini-musicals complete with original scores, lavish costumes and impressive sets. 

And then, of course, there’s the food. It’s there for the taking, 24 hours a day. All you can eat, all you can carry. Choice starts with burgers and pizza and peaks on my ship, the Celebrity Eclipse, with the Murano restaurant’s six-course degustation menu with matching wines.

Of course, cruising is not all about the sea. My itinerary had four exciting ports to be explored, each with a choice of several organised excursions. These come at a price and many passengers opt for a leg-stretch along the wharf for a sample of local cuisine or do a little research and hire their own transport. 

‘You can cheat your way to some of the world’s great destinations by cruising.’

I can report that I finished the 800-kilometre-plus pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Only thing is, I skipped the beginning. And the middle. In fact, all except the last kilometre. I finished it simply by exiting my cruise ship at La Coruna in north-west Spain and taking an excursion to the famed city of Santiago. Is that cheating? 

If so, you can cheat your way to some of the world’s great destinations by cruising, visiting places that would take hours or days by road, rail or air, with constant packing and unpacking. 

The brief onshore trip to hug a gilded statue of St James was one of many highlights of the 11-day cruise on the luxurious Celebrity Eclipse, which at 122,000 tonnes is almost three times bigger than the Titanic.   

Las Teresitas Beach on Tenerife, the biggest of Spain's Canary Islands. PHOTO: Getty.


The Ports

Lisbon

First port of call is Portugal’s capital, where an overnight stay allows time for city exploration and visits to the mountaintop town and royal palace of Sintra and the beach resort of Cascais. 

Lisbon is a fascinating city, where the attractions start right in front of the wharf. The Alfama old quarter is where you’re likely to catch a late-night fado concert; the Bairro Alto is where you’ll find bars, restaurants and boutiques. A tiny yellow tram runs through it, taking the city’s steep, narrow streets with ease. 

Dinner tip: The exceptional Aura Restaurant in Praca de Comercio, the city’s main square. The duck pie is strongly recommended. 
Lunch tip: 5 Oceanos, fronting the marina near the bridge across the Tagus. Try the bacalhau – smoked cod with cream.
Snack tip: The only things you’ll get at the Manteigaria bakery are a powerful bica (espresso coffee) and the famed Portuguese custard tart, pasteis de nata.

Tenerife 

The largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife has eco-farming, excellent game fishing, a fast-growing wine industry, the highest mountain in Spain (snow-capped Teide at 3718 metres) and La Laguna, a World Heritage-listed town just minutes from Santa Cruz.

Lunch tip: Get up into the hills. The Casa Del Vino La Baranda is a brilliant winery/restaurant/museum with views over much of the island. The hacienda-style complex also displays honey and the products of biodiverse farming. 

Madeira islands 

North of the Canaries but part of Portugal, for many travellers these four islands are less frenetic than Tenerife or Lanzarote. The mountains attract hikers and rock climbers, with villages scattered along the valleys and ridges. 

The sweet wines of Madeira are making a comeback and are an important part of the islands’ economy. A tangle of ancient aqueducts uses tiny channels drilled into the mountain to get at the groundwater, and there are easy footpaths along all of them.

Lunch tip: The Quinta do Furao restaurant on a cliff near Santana. They serve rabbit stuffed with goat cheese and basil. 

La Coruna 

This is the last port of call, almost hidden up an inlet in north-west Spain. Do as I did and gain bragging rights with the Santiago de Compostela excursion, or stroll the harbour and old town. 

Snack tip: You’ll find any number of bars that will sell you a plate of octopus backed up by a tortilla espagnol.

Save

Celebrity Cruises visit the Canary Islands each October, with 10, 11 and 13-night itineraries from Southampton. Celebrity Silhouette’s 13-night cruise (from $3221pp twinshare including RACV member savings) departs 21 October 2018. Members save 5 per cent on Celebrity Cruises through RACV Cruises & Tours.
VISIT: racv.com.au/cruisesandtours or call 1300 850 884.