Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Our Excursion in Portimao, Portugal

The first leg of our B2B Windstar cruise ended/began in Lisbon, Portugal. Having spent several days there before, we decided to stay on board ship. For a few hours we were the only passengers on board and we felt like we had our own private yacht.  :)

Our next stop was Portimao, a small town on the southern coast of Portugal. We had several options here. The ship was running a circuit bus that went into town, the beach and back to the ship. Here was another place I had hoped to go to the beach, but again, the weather wasn't cooperating. 

So we took the excursion that went to Cape St. Vincent, the southwesternmost point in Europe. We had a beautiful ride through the Algarve region of southwest Portugal and lucked out by being on the bus during the worst of the rain.

Our next stop was Ponta de Piedade, another spot with beautiful sea vistas and golden yellow formations. 

Our final stop was the charming town of Portimao where we had a chance to stroll, shop and enjoy some gelato.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Visiting Agadir, Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco

Two of our stops on the Windstar cruise were Agadir and Casablanca, Morocco. As a Jew, I had mixed feelings about visiting a Muslim country. We decided to stay on board ship in Agadir except for the included Windstar private excursion being held that evening. During our stop in Casablanca, we decided to take the ship's excursion to Rabat, the capitol.

The private excursion in Agadir was fantastic. We were taken to a beach by bus where tents and tables were set up. The walking area was covered by multiple carpets so we didn't have to step on the sand. We had a delicious multicourse dinner, with as much beer and wine we wanted (remember this is a Muslim country ....), entertainment and a beautiful sunset.  Food was beautiful presented and we had a lovely evening.

And as beautiful and amazing as everything was, even more jaw-dropping was the bathroom area!

Next day we were off to Rabat. I'm glad we took this excursion because we learned a lot about the country. If the tour guides can be believed (and we heard the same from others who took tours), the people absolutely love their king. He is working very hard to improve the financial status of the people, building new apartment complexes to be rented at very low cost to those now living in slums. (Which we saw lots of on our way to Rabat, and surprisingly, each slum complex had an amazing number of satellite dishes!) The country is very ecumenical and Sultan Mohammad V defied the Nazis during WWII in regards to the Jews. Currently there are about 3,000 Jews in Casablanca with three active temples. We even passed one on our way back to the port.

 Rabat is the country capital and we saw a few government buildings. Disappointed that we couldn't go inside. But we also visited the tomb of Mohammad V which was quite beautiful.
Our next stop was the old walled part of the city, where we had a chance to wander around some gardens, browse in shops and have some refreshment while sitting at a river overlook.

Our ride back was along the seashore, with many beautiful vistas and where we could also see the construction of more public works projects ... like playgrounds, parks, and even a skateboard park.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Visiting The Canary Islands: La Gomera, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote

The Canary Islands have been high on my bucket list for a long time. With our Windstar cruise, we finally made it to four of them. I've already reported on our days on Tenerife. The visits to La Gomera, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote were short cruise stops.

We elected to take ship excursions on La Gomera and Lanzarote. On La Gomera, our excursion took us to the forest of Garjonay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With parts of the forest reaching 4,000 feet above sea level, we had some fantastic views of the island. As we rode higher and higher into the forest, it got windier and colder. We drove through fog and along narrow roads twisting through the forest. Not what I expected from a tropical island.

From there we headed to a small village, down on the southwest coast. There it was warm with brilliant sunshine and I had a chance to shop in a local market, sit along the seawall and even rolled up my pants at the opportunity to put my feet in the water. We enjoyed the excursion and seeing an island that was very different from what we experienced on Tenerife.

Several excursions were offered for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria but it was the one stop where we had easy access to a Blue Flag beach. A 15 minute easy walk brought us from the ship's docking area to Las Canteras, a beautiful city beach. The weather wasn't optimal for the beach but as long as it wasn't raining, I was determined to go. We got two lounge chairs and an umbrella for 7,50 Euros. The young man setting it up for us knew what he was doing and the umbrella protected us from the wind and what there was of the sun. Jerry took advantage of the time to relax while I walked the whole beach and even got myself into the water ... I was determined!

Our final stop in the Canary Islands was the island of Lanzarote. We took another excursion here, this one taking us to the Fire Mountains, the wine district of La Geria, the salt pans along the coast at Salinas and views of the coastline of Los Hervideros. On Lanzarote, there is still a lot of geothermal activity and we saw examples of the heat reaching the earth's surface with an interesting 3-step demonstration near the visitor's center. First, soil from about 12 inches below the surface is placed in the palm of your hand. And it is QUITE warm. At the next step, brush is thrown into a pit about 2 feet deep, which smolders and then bursts into flame. At the third step, water is poured into a hole, with the result a man-made geyser. At the café in the visitor's center, you can get a baked potato that is cooked over an open thermal pit.

We then reboarded our bus for a drive through the park. A very interesting fact about this road was pointed out to us. The gentleman who laid out the roadway wanted it to have the least impact on the landscape as possible. And it does, with almost no other part of the road visible from the part you were on. And while this island is volcanic like the other islands, it was very different from its neighbors.

Next stop was the beautiful coastline at Los Hervideros, created by the lava flowing into the sea. Love the color the water!

Our final stop on this excursion was the wine country. We have never seen wine grown this way, with the semi circular walls keeping out the wind and keeping in the moisture. Within each semi-circle is one grape vine, planted in a depression in the center of the stone wall. After a chance to sample some wine, it was time to head back to the ship.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings

Just wanted to remind readers of this blog that I have another travel blog which can be accessed through this link. While I keep Travel Snippets very personal, Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings. is more general.

For instance, I'm posting here about the trip we just returned from .... cruising the Canary Islands to Barcelona, via Morocco and Portugal. But some tips and warnings about Barcelona City Tours HOHO bus and using ATMs in Europe are posted to Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings.

So if you want to cover all the bases, please also Subscribe to Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings. Thanks.  :)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Visiting Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

The Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa, have been on my bucket list for a long time. Also on my Spain bucket list was the Alhambra in Granada and Barcelona. There are many cruises that do each of these but then I found two back to back segments on Windstar that let us do all three so we booked it.

Our ship departed from Santa Cruz, Tenerife so we flew into Tenerife a few days early to recuperate from the long flights and the change in time zones. The first decision was where to stay. The ship departed from Santa Cruz de Tenerife so that was an option. Also La Laguna, a UNESCO down. Working with Patsy Little (, we settled on La Laguna, with hotel and transfers (from the airport in the southern part of the island) arranged.

La Laguna is a UNESCO site, an old town in the northern part of the island. We stayed at Hotel Laguna Nivaria in their historic building. We had a lovely huge room and thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. The location was perfect, right on the edge of the historic old city and across from a lovely park. Our first day was just for R & R and we spent it sleeping and eating and strolling around the old town. Weather was a bit cooler than we expected but still enjoyed our meal at an outdoor café. Especially finishing it off meal with hot chocolate and churros.

For our next day I had arranged a guided tour of the island. The tallest mountain in Spain is here, Mt Teide, and the area is a national park. Our guide, Patsy, is an ex pat American from Connecticut. She was a high school teacher of French and Spanish and during the spring semester of her first year of teaching she led a school trip to Tenerife. She went back to the states, quit teaching, moved to Tenerife, married  a Canarian and has been guiding for over 35 yrs.

Pick up was at 9;45, so we were out of the hotel at 9:30 and Patsy showed up shortly after. We got back to the hotel at 5:45 so it really was a full day tour. The national park is amazing.  We have been to many volcanic areas and yet somehow, Jerry and I agreed, this one was different. Very beautiful. At 3,718 meters high, Mt Teide is really all that is left of the northern rim of the crater of the volcano that created Tenerife. The caldera, that we drove across, is 17 kilometers wide! Many beautiful and interesting formations and we were lucky with great weather.


We had driven south along the spine of the island to read the park. We returned via the west and north roads with spectacular vistas including the one we had from the restaurant we stopped at around 2 for a leisurely and delicious lunch, Mirador de Garachico. Great having a local with us who helped us pick our lunch items such as recommending we try the grilled cheese appetizer which is literally a grilled 1/2 inch 4 x  4 block of fresh goat cheese. Delicious. Presentation of my main course was stunning. Excellent meal.
We returned to the hotel exhausted but very satisfied with our beautiful day. Tomorrow, time to board our ship.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Home From the Windstar Star Breeze and Spain (With a Little Bit of Morocco and Portugal Thrown In)

We sailed two 8-day b2b segments on the Windstar Star Breeze. This is the smallest cruise ship we have ever sailed on (and I specify cruise ship versus boat because our Galapagos trip was the smallest boat), at about 9,500 gr tons and a passenger capacity of about 200 people. And being so small, we did feel motion when we hit some iffy weather in the Atlantic.

On our first segment there were 140 people. On the second segment there were 207. And those extra people were felt when it came to dining but more on that later.

This ship is all-suite. The only difference between most of the cabins is that some have a French balcony, a floor to ceiling window that opens with a railing outside to lean on ... can't sit out there. We had a regular suite with just a large picture window and the cabin was probably the largest we've ever had (except one .... the upgrade Ellen from Sea4Sail kindly perked us on our Holy Land cruise.)

We had a bathroom with a double sink and a full tub/shower. To all intensive purposes, everything looked great.  But ....

Windstar purchased the Star Breeze, along with two sister ships, now the Star Pride and Star Legend, from Seabourn. Word is that when Windstar got the ships, they were in pretty lousy shape and while Windstar refurbished the ships, they weren't stripped down to the hull. We had hoped we'd be lucky and avoid some of the issues that we heard about on the Cruise Critic forum but it didn't turn out that way.

When I turned on the water at the sink, it ran rusty. After a deep breath I decided to just let it run for a while and it finally ran clear and stayed clear. (In spite of that, I did not drink water from the sink and only drank bottled water.)

A couple of days into the trip, the pipe under one of the sinks sprung a BIG leak. Reported that and it was taken care of quickly. Then our toilet stopped flushing. That too got taken care of quickly but the replacement plastic piece just 'hung' off the wall. Looked like it would fall off at any minute but it worked and we didn't want to make any more waves.

Then we heard a gurgling sound in the bathroom. Trying to figure it out I looked into the tub. The picture shows the sediment left in the tub after the water that backed up ran out again. Again, back to reception (now on a first name basis) and that was also taken care of.

Which brings me to a very positive thing about this ship and that is the crew. Service was superlative. I don't think we have ever had better service anywhere. The staff was excellent!

Next in line is the food which ranged from very good to excellent ... except for the breads which disappointed me. The head chef is from India so several nights there would be a special Indian addition to the menu. One of the additions was so good that Jerry had it again on the second segment of our trip.

And of course the cabin .... which was very comfortable. The a/c worked perfectly and quietly, there was tons of room within the cabin and plenty of storage space for clothing.

So ... the dining. Breakfast and lunch is served buffet style in the Veranda Café, a small area on the back of the ship. There is space for inside seating for only about 50 people. Other choices are the open air tables right at the stern, or an outside sheltered area more to the middle of the ship. In nice weather these are great options but on the second segment we had some lousy weather ... chilly a lot of the time, and pouring rain other times. There is no way 200 people could make their way through the Veranda Café or find a comfortable place to sit and eat. Finally, a couple of days into the cruise the main dining room was opened for breakfast and lunch ... it should have been opened sooner. Still buffet style but now lots of tables for passengers to sit at.

And we noticed a definite slowdown in dinner service between the segment that had 140 passengers and the one that had 200.

So were things perfect? Obviously no. But did we enjoy the ship? Basically yes. Would we sail on her again? No and the reason has more to do with the motion of the ship at sea than anything else. (I didn't have any problem but my husband has some balance issues.) I can't say enough about the fantastic crew and it was great the special things this ship can do, like sail up the Guadalquivir River into Seville, which the big ships can't do. I don't know .... maybe if we find the right itinerary that sails in the calm Caribbean ..... :)