A day in Alicante!

Yes, here we are in Spain! We arrived at the Port of Alicante about 9 a.m. Sunday (today), and proceeded to our onshore, bus excursion for an “Alicante City Tour!”
We just left Gibraltar yesterday, which is British, so now we switch gears! We’re enjoying many cultures along the way on this cruise!
The Alicante city tour was great, especially seeing all the different architectural styles of many old buildings. Our first stop was to visit a museum – “Museu de Fogueres.” The main exhibit consisted of amazing papier-mâché art associated with the Alicante Fogueres de San Chuan Grandes Fiestas. Each piece was captivating, making one wonder how such art could be created with papier-mâché! Fiesta Princesses dressed in specific San Chuan Fiestas costumes are also part of the annual festivities. In many ways, this reminded me of the royalty associated with Mardi Gras in the U.S. (Making a mental note to do some research on that!)
The highlight of our day in Alicante was a grand tour of Castillo de Santa Barbara, which is a Moorish fortress perched atop Mount Benacantil. The views of the city and the harbor from the castle were breathtakingly amazing! This intriguing fortress is one of the first things visitors notice in the city, as it is huge, imposing and sits high above the city protecting the harbor.
We took a stroll along the Explanada de España, a palm-lined promenade with shops and cafes. Alfresco dining is the norm here, it seems! Every restaurant we saw included many outdoor tables, some with umbrellas or awnings and some in the open. Today is Sunday and the tables were beginning to fill up as we came through. Our tour guide told us that people revere their Sundays for dinning out, and will scrimp on weekday meals in order to partake in this cultural tradition.
I enjoyed the best pistachio ice cream ever at Kiosko Peret at Explanada De España! What a sweet memory.
Back at the ship, we are getting ready to end the first cruise and begin the second of our three, two-week consecutive cruises. Barcelona is the end and it’s the beginning! See you in Barcelona tomorrow!
Gracias por su visita! Come back soon…

Explanada de Espana

Explanada de Espana

Sights of Gibraltar!

After leaving the Portuguese Island of Madeira on May 2, the Mariner of the Seas navigated further across the Atlantic and through the Strait of Gibraltar, passing by many exotic places on the northernmost coast of Africa, such as Casablanca and Morocco. By 5:00 this morning, the Port of Gibraltar was nearing.

Our decision to take in Gibraltar’s sights via taxi/van turned out to be a very good idea!

Paul, a native of the area who spoke excellent English, was our driver and tour guide, and was extremely knowledgeable about the region. Unfortunately, ours was one of many taxis, vans and buses making their way around town and up the mountain. Some excursions included a ride on the cable car and others included attractions such as dolphin/whale spotting or WWII historical tours.

Most excursions included a ride through town and to the top of the mountain, encountering Barbary Apes, which are actually tailless monkeys, along the way. Gibraltar’s population is 30,000 people and 300 apes! The monkeys live on the “rock” and the city subsidizes their food intake by placing fresh fruits and vegetables in certain feeding stations. Visitor need to be aware that the apes will grab anything that is loose, hoping to find a yummy treat! They are not afraid of visitors and seem to by saying, “Come on in, we’ve been expecting you!”

Europa Point is fabulous! It is one of the southernmost points of Europe with breathtaking views, directly across from Morocco. Harding’s Battery is located here, as well as Trinity Lighthouse, Mosque of the Two Holy Custodians and the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.

The Moorish Castle, dating back to 1160 was a highlight of our tour, even if was only viewed from a distance.

It must be emphasized that vistas from high points on the mountain are spectacular, with views of the bay and marina, the Mediterranean and, on the other side of the airport/ airstrip, La Linea, Spain.

Only a few of the many interesting points at Gibraltar are included in this brief blog, so I hope you will Google it and explore more for yourself! You may want to see it in person!

More excursions are scheduled for us – Alicante, Spain on May 5 and Barcelona, Spain on May 6! (When the ship reaches Barcelona, the first two-week cruise comes to an end. Some voyagers will leave the ship and new travelers will come aboard. The next two-week cruise for us goes from Barcelona to Dubai. The last two weeks will take us from Dubai to Singapore.)

Come back soon! Photos by Estel D. Cook.Image

Look for the link to Trilla’s Travels at www.ourtribune.com.

Moorish Castle looking out over Gibraltar from the "rock."

Moorish Castle looking out over Gibraltar from the “rock.”

Day 12 – We made it!

Madeira is a beautiful mountain island of Portugal. City of Funchal in foreground.

Madeira is a beautiful mountain island of Portugal. City of Funchal in foreground.

A Taste of Madeira:
Today marked the end of our Mariner of the Seas Trans-Atlantic ocean voyage to Europe. We sailed out of Galveston on April 21 and left the port of Nassau on April 24. Eight nights and seven days later, we docked at Funchal, Madeira, before dawn – around 6-6:30 a.m. today.
Madeira is part of an archipelago, which belongs to Portugal. It is spectacular, to say the least!
Our only complaint of the day was an overcast sky! Otherwise, we were astonished by this little Portuguese Island!
I will never forget the sight that sparkled in front of my eyes as we were approaching the dock in Funchal. It was as if I were viewing a Christmas village, as every part of the island was aglow with thousands of lights that were the homes and businesses on the hillsides and mountainsides of the island – I was simply amazed!
As daylight approached, and as we paused at the first stop of our excursion, we could see the picturesque marina and the many terracotta-tiled roofs of all the homes and businesses.
Madeira means “wooded island” in Portuguese and it lives up to that name. However, we found that the island’s small fishing villages, crops of bananas and grapes to be most surprising.
Although there are no parcels of flat land anywhere in sight, the island is covered in thousands of patches of terraced gardens packed full of banana plants, grape vines or flowers, making this island an absolute wonderland!
Our tour guide told us that Madeira earned a prestigious title – something like, “Floating gardens of the Atlantic.” A pleasant, constant temperature that stays within a variation of merely 10 degrees is said to be the reason why.
We learned that the crops are grown on the island according to the altitude levels on the mountain. For example, different flowers are grown plentifully year around at different altitudes, depending on the species of plants. Near the coast, you find flowers and bananas in abundance. The next level is the vines – grapevines and floral vines. Higher up the mountain is European forest, and at the highest level only smaller shrubs. Not one inch of the island is idle.
Madeira claims the highest coast in all of Europe at the cliffs of Miradouro Do Cabo Girao! The view is truly breathtaking! They welcome cruise ship passengers into their world for the sake of tourism.
The people here learn to speak English as part of their curriculum, and at matriculation they are expected to know perfect Portuguese, speak English and their choice of French, German or Spanish.
Wine is produced and exported here in abundance, along with bananas, leather, flowers and textiles. They are respectfully known for delicately embroidered goods and lace. We sampled a couple of local brands of wine, while enjoying cheese and fresh-baked bread. Yum!
In a phrase – I fell in love with Madeira and the island’s beauty and resourcefulness!
See you Saturday, after we have toured Gibraltar. Remember, we are cruising all the way to Singapore so come back often!
You can also find my link at http://www.ourtribune.com.
Highest coast in Europe is found at Madeira!

Highest coast in Europe is found at Madeira!

Fun at sea!

The sun is shining, the sea is calm and the Mariner of the Seas is bustling with activity. At 1:30 p.m. today, “The Hobbit” was showing on the giant screen poolside – what better way to relax and enjoy the show?
Speaking of shows, during the first two weeks of this cruise, the headliners have certainly been some of the best! Today we were given a unique opportunity to meet four of the entertainers in an informal setting, followed by a Q&A session.
What do an Olympic gymnast, a singer/impersonator, a world-class violinist/personality and a magician/comedian have in common? They are headliners on cruise ships around the world!
I was curious about their backgrounds and how they found their way into the cruise entertainment world.
Gold medal Olympian and world champion gymnast Lance Ringnald amazed the crowd with his athletic abilities at age 42. Although the ship has no uneven bars or pummel horses, Lance has managed to put together an exciting routine that includes silks, juggling, piano and singing, all woven together with his easy-going manner and a lot of humor that wraps the audience around his little finger. He was once asked to sub for a fellow gymnast on a cruise ship and has never looked back! Lance was born in 1970 in Des Moines, Iowa, and trained in gymnastics since age 10. Not knowing what to expect before his show, I came away simply amazed!
Hannah Starosta is a personality that lights up the stage! She is a world-class violinist who can keep the audience laughing with an ease that rivals the best of comedians, while performing the world’s most loved music! She is of Polish and French ancestry, with dual citizenship in Great Britain and Poland. Hannah has been playing violin since age four, and is amazing. Her charismatic energy and talent is incomparable!
Paul Tanner is a talented singer/impersonator who impressed everyone with voices that included Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Elvis, Johnny Cash and many others. He’s a fellow Texan from Killeen who now lives with his family in Florida. He has been a voice impersonator all his life. Paul’s ability to impersonate voices is unrivaled…Great job, Paul!
Nick Lewin gave the audience good laughs and remarkable talent! Without giving away his secrets, he amazed one and all with mesmerizing magic. Nick, who is from England, said all he ever wanted to do was perform magic, which he has been doing since age seven. His performance left us wanting more!
On the night of Day 10, John Bressler took the stage – piano and all! John’s musicality and comedic presence was astounding! His performance made me wonder why his name is not one we hear more often…this is talent, including his piano performance, singing and comic relief! Loved it!
Rumor has it that these talented headliners will leave the ship in Funchal/Madeira on Thursday, May 2. We assume this means that more talented artists will join the Mariner of the Seas at that time.
Headlining on cruise ships is the best kept secret in the entertainment world!
Yesterday was our 10th day at sea on this 41-day journey on The Mariner of the Seas from Galveston to Singapore. Our journey has taken us more than 3,900 nautical miles from the Port of Galveston. Tomorrow, May 2nd, we will see land again for the first time in eight nights and seven days – that’s how long it takes to cross the Atlantic Ocean!
Hope you’ll come back soon for another update! Find my link on http://www.ourtribune.com.

Entertainers on the first leg of our 6-week cruise: Paul Tanner, Hannah Starosta, Nick Lewin and Lance Ringnald

Entertainers on the first leg of our 6-week cruise: Paul Tanner, Hannah Starosta, Nick Lewin and Lance Ringnald

Day 10 – Another exciting day at sea

This day started out like all the others, in addition, there was unexpected excitement in the air.
Captain Flemming came on the intercom to announce that there had been a chemical spill in the laundry area of the ship. He said he would keep everyone informed and that the crew was handling it.
I was thinking it could be serious, but chances were, it was not. So we didn’t know for a time just how bad it was; was anyone injured; could it be contained?
A while later the captain announced that it was a minor spill, and that the spill was cleaned up and the crew was healthy. Disaster averted!
This afternoon we heard another intriguing announcement from the captain. This time he said what looked like an orange life raft had been spotted floating nearby on the port side of the ship. He said the ship was slowing down to investigate. Sure enough we slowed down to seven knots, give or take, and made a wide swing in the direction of the orange object.
Soon we saw a small boat with the rescue team onboard speeding toward the floating orange object. We watched as the small boat approached, then circled, the orange object. We were anticipating a rescue about to happen. The small boat then immediately headed back toward the ship…no one needed rescued this day! Thankfully!
Very quickly, the captain reported that the object was not a life raft, but a containment buoy like those used to contain oil spills. Excitement over!
Ten days down and 31 more to go before we get to Singapore! There will be many stops and excursions along the way, so stay tuned…

I’m posting this on the 11th because we didn’t have Wi-Fi last night!

Not a life raft -- just a floating containment buoy!

Rescue excitement! Not a life raft — just a floating containment buoy!

Grand opening of Casino Royale on Day nine

Today was an exciting and much anticipated day for those passengers awaiting the grand opening of the newly refurbished Casino Royale! A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on the Promenade at 6 p.m. and free champagne was served! (I’ll post photos later when they are downloaded from my iPhone. The ship’s Wi-Fi works best when I use my laptop, so photos from my iPhone will have to wait.)
As with any grand opening, there were a few hiccups in the new casino. Machines didn’t seem to want to print out tickets, so at one point every machine in our row was blinking “call attendant!” However, things are sure to smooth out nicely along the way, we hope! Everyone was very excited and one slot player had already hit a $7,000-plus jackpot!
I don’t think I’ve mentioned that about 80-90% of the passengers on board are what you would call “Senior Citizens,” or retirees. Of course, there are a few young folks, and some even have small children.
At our dinner table, all are retirees! One couple is from Illinois and they are traveling with their 18-year-old granddaughter. They found out about the cruise when their Texas cousin sent a gift that was wrapped up in The Tribune newspaper with an ad by Kingwood Travel. Funny how fate works sometimes!
The rest of the diners at our table are either from Kingwood, Texas, or they used to live there. The table next to us is also filled with retirees from Kingwood. These two tables make up most of the group that booked this cruise through Kingwood Travel. A very nice bunch of people!
Since my last update, we’ve enjoyed excellent stage presentations in the evenings in the Savoy Theatre, with acts such as Hannah Starosta performing world class music on her violin on Saturday. Sunday night we were entertained by two-time gold medal gymnast, Lance Ringnald. I had a chat and took a photo of Lance, and I hope to talk with Hannah soon. Look for more talk and information about some of our entertainers in upcoming posts.
Today we decided to spend the afternoon enjoying the movie “Jack Reacher” on the big screen in the Savoy Theatre. Our friends Janet and Steve decided to take in “The Hobbit” poolside tonight. Of course, we had to check out the casino for a while – sadly, with no big jackpot to report!
It’s always our choice to make as to whether to stay busy with ship activities or just relax, read a book by the pool, take a class or take in a lecture, go to the spa, walk on the jogging track, play golf, climb a rock wall, play basketball or in-line skate. There is no end to the activities – the hard part is making up your mind. However, this morning was my time to catch up on lost sleep, after setting our watches up one hour each day, including today! Does anybody really know what time it is?
Until next time…

Golf in the middle of the Atlantic anyone?

Golf in the middle of the Atlantic anyone?

Day nine at sea on The Mariner of the Seas – we’re half way across the Atlantic!

Ahoy, there! As Day 9 comes to an end, it seems we are at the half-way mark in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, as we continue on this journey to the other side of the world. We will see land again in four more days, when we dock in Funchal, Madeira near Portugal. An excursion called “A Taste of Madeira” is planned for us, and we hope to see some awesome sights and sample a few local wines that are made there.
I last updated my blog on Friday, April 26. Since that time, we’ve been making our way to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. On the map, we can see the Azores in the far distance. Other than that, we are pretty much in the middle of nowhere! The captain said we are as far away from anywhere as we can possible get! It’s a really weird feeling…but nice!
Let’s talk about getting our bearings. As I write this blog the time is 8:50 p.m., and the sun is shining so bright it looks like mid-afternoon. Sunset today will be at 10:07 p.m. We are traveling at a speed of 17.9-18.2 kts. Sea depth is 11,150 ft., and we have now cruised a distance of 3,283 nautical miles from Galveston. Sunrise tomorrow, Tuesday, will be at 8:39 a.m. We are loving this cruise and all the good servers and attendants who try to make our journey as enjoyable as possible.
Mariner of the Seas Captain Flemming has assured us that the worst of the wave action is behind us. Truthfully, we expected to endure a lot worse turbulence than this, so we have no complaints!
We haven’t seen anyone experiencing seasickness, thankfully.
Come back soon for another update!

A gorgeous sunset on day 9 at 10:05 p.m.

A gorgeous sunset on day 9 at 10:05 p.m.