This cruise on Marella Dream was one to remember but not for the usual reasons.
Coronavirus had just arrived and it was decision time on whether go or cancel. Checking on the ports we would be visiting the decision was made to go. At Gatwick Airport we kept ourselves apart from other travellers until boarding the plane. Then followed a delay due to French Air Traffic Control imposing restrictions but once airborne under 3 hours later saw us landing in the warm air of Malaga and onto the coach taking us to Marella Dream. Before boarding everyone was subjected to a temperature check which was most reassuring. However, due to our late arrival it was almost straight to the show lounge for safety drill. Eventually we were able to go to our cabin and found the cases had already arrived which was impressive, none of that eternal waiting which is often the case excuse the pun.
6211, an inside cabin on deck 6 was well appointed and furnished with double bed, bedside cabinets and lamps, sufficient hanging and drawer space, vanity mirror with stool, 2 seater settee, occasional table, tea/coffee making facilities, fridge, flat screen tv, two electrical sockets, one US style the other 2 pin European. The bathroom, unusually, but most welcome boasted a large round wash basin above which a shelf extended the full width of the wash area, large enough to hold all toiletries, razors, after shaves etc. and have room left over. On the wall, a powerful hairdryer with sockets for electric razor etc. The curtained shower cubicle housed a powerful shower but be careful, separate hot and cold taps that need turning on/off and adjusting each time of use, not the modern control dial you only set once and then just use the on off control.
The Lido Buffet had been kept open offering a good choice of hot and cold dishes washed down with a much welcomed couple of glasses of Rosé. Lido Buffet is also home to the ice cream machine that varies its flavours as my wife joyfully discovered.
Next day, a sea day, and first stop, Sirens on deck 11 for breakfast. Similar to the Lido Buffet but more spacious, less crowded, comfortable chairs and tables more akin to a self-service restaurant than a buffet. Good selection of both hot and cold food and an endless supply of tea/coffee. Sun shining from an azure blue sky it’s lounger time and time to do what we came away to do, relax by one of the two pools, (one equipped with a magrodome roof) as we head through the Straits of Gibraltar before heading north to our first port of call, Leixöes. Mid morning the peace is broken when the Captain announces that Casablanca, one of our ports of call requires all passengers and crew to have their temperatures taken and recorded daily prior to arrival in 4 days’ time. Called by deck number we formed a queue to get this done in the Broadway Theatre. Once completed its back to relaxation in the sun, it’s lunch time, time to sample a glass of Rosé. It’s good to see at the entrance to eateries and to the ship from outdoor areas hand sanitisers and people using them. That night is Gala Night and a chance to meet Capt. Steve James and his senior officers. Dinner is taken in the Orion Restaurant and a chance to sample the extensive menu resulting in a starter of Trio of Smoked Fish - soup, Shellfish Bisque with Cognac Foam & Croutons - main, Gratinated Lobster Thermidor, Rice, Cauliflower, Broccoli & Grilled Asparagus and Baked Apple Trifle with Ice Cream and Calvados Syrup & Cheese Selection to finish, all offered with a choice of red, white, rosé or sparkling wine.
The following morning, we are into the beautiful old Portuguese port of Leixöes back dropped by expansive unspoiled sandy beaches, unknown to many including myself until recently but what a delightful town. A new cruise terminal, 5 floors high of intricate design housing an outdoor amphitheatre, exhibition centre, seating, shops, reception area and a cruise turnaround area capable of dealing with 2,500 passengers and their luggage. The new quay capable of handling ships up to 320 metres in length, ready to accept some of the largest in the world. Ride the shuttle to the port gate and stroll 50 yards to the magnificent golden sands of Praia de Matosinhos Beach, relax at table and chairs under a parasol of the solitary beach bar, sip a cool drink shaded from the hot sun and watch the Atlantic Rollers turn to foam as they break onto the golden sand. Time for lunch, stroll through the small park housing the National Monument of the Lantern Tower of Senhor de Padrāo into Rua dos Heróis de França to be greeted by the aroma so loved of restaurants cooking fresh sea food with just that hint of garlic and herbs, small pavement restaurants, tables covered in pristine white cloths, shining cutlery, glasses sparkling in the sun light, mouth watering menus of fish, meats and local dishes, a memorable finish to an area that’s easy to fall in love with.
Next day is Lisbon and who doesn’t enjoy the early morning transit from the ocean along the River Tegus passing the “Belem Tower” with its history dating back to 1519 and in 1983 together with the Jerónimos Monastery which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on past the “Monument to the Discoveries” standing 171ft high, shaped as a ships bow built in memory of Henry the Navigator and built in an area that was a starting point for many of Portugal’s explorers, The memorial exhibits over thirty statues of people who were important in the discoveries headed by Henry before passing under the 7,740ft April 25th Suspension Bridge connecting Lisbon to Almada and overseen by the 360ft “Cristo Rei” (Christ the King) statue inspired by Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Ships now berth at the new and very modern designed cruise terminal situated a little further up river so now it is some distance from the city centre and, in many instances, it is wise to take a taxi. The city is a mix of old and new but all parts are readily accessible by one of the famous Lisbon Trams. For me, it’s home to my favourite shoe shop where shoes of good quality leather are at affordable prices and home to my favourite Pina Colada at the Hard Rock Café.
That evening on Marella Dream was an evening that will become an everlasting memory. The Dream show team delivered their rendition of The Best of Broadway, From Fosse to Saigon & Evita to The Lion King. An excellent show but The Lion King segment deserves a special mention, it was without any doubt up there in my top 5 of any show seen at sea over the last 20+ years. The music, singing, costumes, stage sets, absolutely brilliant, no surprise it received a long standing ovation.
The following day, Cadiz, and comes the bad news that the Moroccan Government has refused us entry to Casablanca so, disappointment, tomorrow is to be another sea day but the good news, we were still Ok for Gibraltar the day after. Cadiz boasts a history going back over 3,000 years. One of my regular haunts is Plaza de la Catedral home to the Baroque styled Cadiz Cathedral completed after 116 years in 1838. Its large entrance flanked by two beautifully sculptured bell towers, the main altar, choir stalls, side areas and wall paintings topped by the domed roof never fail to make an impression. In the same square sits the Santiago Church, the Church of St. James dating back to 1638 a starting point for pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. The church is recognisable by its coloured striped exterior standing out in the bright sunshine, the interior with its ornate altar wall of statues and carvings, definitely worth a visit before relaxing with a coffee at the pavement café.
We sail late that night and the next day begin our day at sea. The bad news comes later in the day when Capt. Steve announces that we have now been refused permission to dock in Gibraltar so we will be heading back towards Malaga where we will arrive the following evening but we will not be allowed off the ship due to restrictions brought in by the Spanish Government whom we were told had already refused permission to 10 ships to dock there, and so we start a slow journey back to Malaga.
Our last day on board was one of sadness, the passengers had become somewhat subdued and now just wanting to get back to the UK. The crew however remained outwardly happy, attentive, polite and nothing was too much trouble for them yet underneath all that could be detected a fear in their eyes as they did not know their future and in most cases with families on the other side of the world. During the last nights meal, the passengers rose giving a rousing round of applause to the crew, some of whom were seen to be overwhelmed by the gesture.
The following afternoon the coaches arrived to transport us to Malaga Airport through deserted streets, it was a ghost town devoid of traffic and people.
I started by saying this was a cruise to remember and it was. The crew from the Captain down were in a position they had never been before and never envisaged being. They were truly magnificent. Passengers were kept fully informed at all times, never was there a need to ask a question so informative were the briefings from Capt. Steve. As we left the ship the looks on the crews faces said it all and I detected some tears, even Capt. Steve was at the gangway to say goodbye. This is a crew I would sail with again anytime.
More information on a TUI cruise at: https://www.tui.co.uk/cruise/
Alan Fairfax -
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for
Atlantic Print Media with regional papers across Kent with high circulations and regular holiday & travel sections
in all editions
and is Assistant Editor for
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Published April 2020