Cruising the Mediterranean and Coastal Spain

Visiting the Mediterranean in style

Published in Fifty Plus, August 2000 (newspaper clipping)

Being plus fifty, we like to take vacations that are enjoyable, but also hassle free. And that's exactly what we experienced on our recent trip to the Mediterranean and coastal Spain on the Renaissance R2 cruise ship.

Also, we don't smoke and the ship is smoke free. The flight to Barcelona from New York, included in the price of the cruise, was a charter, which was also smoke free, another plus because many flights to Europe are not smoke-free in coach class.

The R2 cruise we selected included a 2-day hotel stay in Barcelona at the beginning of the trip and a 2-day hotel experience in Lisbon at the end of the trip. When we arrived in Barcelona the cruise line took our baggage and transported it to the hotel for us. Like clockwork, a motor coach was waiting for us at the airport and took us to our hotel. We checked in and our luggage arrived shortly after. It was such a pleasure not to have to lug our heavy luggage around, look for a porter, hire a taxi, change currencies to pay for it and upon arrival at the hotel not to have to deal with the luggage again.

Barcelona rests against the backdrop of steep colorful mountains. There are many exciting places to visit including the Pablo Picasso Art Museum, Gothic Quarters of medieval buildings and Las Ramblas, one of the world's most exciting promenades.

But with only two days in the city and so much to explore, a plus fifty couple traveling on their own could get easily get lost in the maze of language and currency differences, but Renaissance R2 made it easy for us to see the sights in our short stay. The cruise line had an excursion desk set up in the hotel with a representative that spoke perfect English. They had a wide variety of tours from the highlights of Barcelona to visits to Sitges, a beautiful city by the sea, to a Montserrat Monastery and a Flamenco Rhythms Show and Dinner.

What fun it was to see the Flamenco show, an optional tour, with its rhythmic clapping, traditional guitar flourishes, clicking heels and castanets, whirling skirts and voices of singers combine into a totally unique art form that is electrifying and hypnotic. And the best part was that the cruise arranged the evening for the passengers. They rented the restaurant, catered the delicious buffet dinner with traditional Spanish cuisine, made sure there was plenty of wine and drinks for everyone and took care of transportation, tips and taxes. Passengers simply boarded an air-conditioned motor coach and were escorted to the show and back to the hotel. Again hassle free.

When our two days in Barcelona came to an end, we felt we had seen the sights, not everything of course, but as much as we could possibly see because of the organized tours that the R2 offered. We also enjoyed time to shop at the beautiful stores with exquisite leather goods and beautiful gold jewelry.

The time to leave a hotel is usually another ordeal if no one is making the arrangements for luggage, transportation and tips. Not on the R2. We were simply told to leave our baggage outside our room and it was picked up and delivered to the ship. We took a tour arranged by the cruise line and the tour bus dropped us off at the ship in time for departure and our bags were delivered to our stateroom. We felt we had an opportunity to see the sights of the city to the very last moment and then left beautiful Barcelona vowing to return again someday.

It was smooth sailing on the beautiful R2, a 684-passenger vessel. You won't find all that glitz and glitter on the R2 that you often see on many of the mega cruise lines with ships that accommodate 1,500 plus passengers. In the absence of neon signs and splashy watercolors, you will find the look of a Ritz Carlton Hotel with comfy armchairs and Oriental rugs. The R-Class fleet has a gracious, old world feeling with cozy public spaces, old English d├ęcor and an air of refined elegance and sophistication.

Our room was a Category D, 216 square feet, with an ocean view and balcony. We had a comfortable sofa and mirrored dressing table in the room with an outlet in American voltage by the dressing table so appliances could be plugged in without an adapter. There was also a hair dryer in the bathroom. We noticed these extra touches and appreciated them on the ship.

We especially enjoyed the dress code on board. It was country club casual every evening with no formal nights and no tuxedo to carry to Europe.

Dining was a pleasure because the ship offered so many options. There were four completely different restaurants. Each night we chose between the continental Club restaurant, The Grill, an American steakhouse, an elegant Italian restaurant and the indoor and outdoor Panorama Buffet. There was no additional charge to dine in any of the restaurants. The best part of all was that you could dine whenever you wanted, with whom you wanted (tables were arranged for 2 to 10 persons with plenty of tables for 2), at what time you wanted. There was no early seating and late seating as is the custom on many cruise lines.

The ship also had an excellent spa and fitness center offering holistic and relaxing treatments like body massage, seaweed wraps and Thalassotherapy whirlpool massage. Personal trainers were on board to help guests design a program just for them.

A no-children policy on the R2 added to our enjoyment of the trip. The relaxed atmosphere, with excellent music in the lounge turned out to be our favorite spot. We sat and listened to a talented singer playing our favorite requests and no one hassled us for drinks.

There was no midnight buffet on the ship and we were happy about that. We felt we had plenty to eat, but didn't want to go home 10 pounds heavier.

Ports of call were interesting. We enjoyed visiting Gibralter. Once again the ship arranged fabulous tours of the island taking us by cable car to the top of the Rock of Gibralter where we saw splendid views of Spain and Coastal Africa. We also saw the Barbary apes who make their home on the Rock. Long considered a strategically important link between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Gibralter has been ruled by the Moors, the Spanish, and since 1704, the British. We visited a Moorish Castle, a Gun Museum and shopped at the myriad of stores on Main Street which featured everything from jewelry and cameras to linens and liquor.

Malaga, Spain, another interesting port of call is one of the oldest seaport cities in the world. The ship arranged for a visit to the Alhambra, the legendary palace and the zenith of Moorish culture in Spain. There was plenty to see in Malaga from the Royal Palace, the Harem and the Hall of Ambassadors, where King Fernando and Christopher Columbus discussed the route to India that later became the voyage where America was discovered.

We also stopped at Cadiz and enjoyed tours to Seville, where the Moorish influence included the famous Cathedral whose Giralda Tower was once a minaret of the Great Mosque. We saw the masterful carved High Altar, the tomb of Christopher Columbus and the Royal Chapel. And at the Alcazar, we entered the Salon de los Embajadores where Fernando and Isabel welcomed Columbus upon his return from America.

On our arrival at Lisbon, Portugal we had to say goodbye to the R2, but our vacation was not over. The R2 once again had our luggage sent to our hotel, but check-in was in the afternoon, so passengers had the option of taking an optional half-day city tour in the morning, concluding just in time for check-in.

We opted to take the tour and we were glad we did. The tour visited points of interest including the Maritime Museum which contained a vast history of navigation including many ships, among them the Royal Barges used for transportation for royalty seen in recent years only in the movies. The tour, led by an expert guide, also took us on a walking tour down the cobblestone sidewalks of Lisbon through twenty centuries of history in the Alfama, (the old city) where we sampled fine Port wine and shopped at stores featuring native handicraft items. We also visited historic Rossio Square, the center of Old Lisbon, surrounded by sidewalk cafes, flower shops and stores.

Lisbon is very colorful with its tiled residences and office buildings. Tours were offered to the parish of Fatima, one of the most important Roman Catholic sanctuaries in the world as well as to the Serra de Sintra, an exploration of Portugal's most opulent Royal Palaces. But we couldn't leave Portugal without listening to some Fado Portuguese Soul Music. Once again the R2 passengers had the opportunity to take an evening tour to a Fado club and we joined them for a fond farewell to this interesting city as we dined and listened to the Fado music of the country.

The R2 once again handled our luggage as we left on motor coaches for the airport. We were sorry the trip was over, but happy we chose this carefree, luxurious way to travel to Europe. It was the first time we had ever traveled in Europe by cruise ship, but we are sure it will not be our last.

In fact, we are already busy visiting Renaissance Cruise Lines website, seeking out other ports and excursions. The website not only lists the destinations available but also has a complete list and itinerary of excursions available at each port and prices, so you can plan ahead what you would like to visit when you reach each port.

Renaissance Cruises also offers year-round itineraries to The Greek Isles, Tahiti and the South Pacific, Northern Europe and Scandinavia. The prices for their 7-day cruise vacations start at $1,499 per person and includes air-fare from New York city and deluxe hotel stays (when applicable) with early bird discounts and special savings when you buy online. Call toll-free at 1-800-525-5350 or visit your nearest travel agent.