The past nine days of our RTW trip were spent cruising on the Norwegian Jade. We know that cruising isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of budget backpacking, but while researching destinations in Spain during the planning phase of our adventure, we came across an incredible deal on this cruise.
The Canary Islands were of particular interest, not only for their relative obscurity and year round temperate weather, but also because much of Mike’s family lineage prior to arrival in the Americas comes from this small group of islands.
We set sail from Barcelona just after sunset on Sunday, January 22 and headed out to sea for two days before making our first port. It was a real treat to sail through the Straight of Gibraltar and catch our first glimpse of Africa, lit up on the midnight horizon.
Funchal, Madeira – Madeira Islands (Portugal)
Our first stop was in Funchal, the capital city of Portugal’s Madeira Islands. Despite being located in the North Atlantic, the island felt very tropical with an amazing variety of flowers and birds. We caught city bus #21 first thing in the morning which took us up a narrow and curvy (to say the least) road leading to the mountain top village of Monte. From here, the famous Funchal toboggan drivers set up shop. The toboggan rides, which originated as a way to rapidly transport ice to the shore from the mountain top ice houses, have turned into a major tourist skeptical. While we did not indulge in a ride, we had a blast watching shrieking passengers skid down the mountainside.
While most tourists take the toboggans down, we took the scenic walking route, which allowed for some incredible views of the Atlantic with Funchal in the foreground. If you’re interested in the particular route that we took, Google search “walking monte to funchal” and you’ll find step by step directions.
The steep scenic route did a number on our legs but also allowed us to check out the local architecture. We were inspired by the walled courtyards with beautiful tile work, all perfectly framed by pink and orange tropical flowers.
By the time we reached the city center, we were ready to relax. The islands of Madeira are known for producing their own variety of Port wine, so naturally, we had to try some. We picked up a bottle and headed for a nearby park to enjoy our last few hours in this island paradise.
Santa Cruz, Tenerife – Canary Islands (Spain)
On our second day at port we were blessed with particularly great weather, so headed for one of Tenerife’s few sandy beaches, La Playa de Las Teresitas. We heard that the beach was only a 20 minute bus ride from town and ambitiously attempted to walk instead. While walking, we discovered the Canary’s ubiquitous outdoor public gyms, but after over an hour, the sidewalk became an onramp to the interstate, and we were forced to take the bus.
When we finally made it to la playa, we were stoked to say the least! We think the picture says it all.
After Amy’s pale skin couldn’t handle the sun any longer, we hoped the bus back to the city center to check out the city’s music hall, El Auditorio de Tenerife.
Arrecife, Lanzarote – Canary Islands (Spain)
The island of Lanzarote is best known for its picturesque and rugged volcanic landscapes, but we were drained of energy from our previous day in the sun and chose to stay in the small town of Arrecife. While this city is noticeably smaller and less energetic than our first two ports of call, we did enjoy its captivating blue waters and small fishing town feel.
Our final stop on the way back to Barcelona was the port city of Málaga, situated on Spain’s southern coast near Granada. Prior to our arrival, we knew very little about Málaga, but were pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and well kept, but is still host to some amazing ancient structures. To get a better view, we headed to an old roman theater known as el Alcazaba and hiked up a fantastic nearby trail. From the top we were able to view many of the city’s main attractions including the Plaza de Toros and Catedral del Obispo.
On the Ship
Most of our days at sea were spent relaxing by the pool, reading, playing cards, and enjoying the Jade’s fantastic live music and entertainment. Because of Mike’s background in the hospitality industry, we were both interested in the operational aspects of running a floating hotel. After speaking with the Hotel Director, we had the opportunity to take a behind the scenes tour of the ship, including the kitchen, galley and provisions areas, bridge control room, laundry facilities, waste disposal center, and theater. We were amazed at what goes into making a cruise happen smoothly and seamlessly.
We had a fantastic time at sea and it was a great opportunity to rest up, eat three (or more) good meals per day, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming month of hostel living and a relatively unknown itinerary. We are now in Valencia and looking forward to exploring the home of paella!