Last week I found myself in the middle of the Mediterranean sea on a huge, mobile hotel undertaking a voyage to three different countries. Or four if you count Monaco as a country.
I’m a cruiser now. That’s the term I’ve misappropriated. Not a cruisaneer, a pirate, nor a cruisetacian, just a bonafide cruiser. I’ve seen things and done things.
This is my account of what occurred and why, strap in because it might be long, it might be rambling. Just look at the pictures if you get bored, maybe take a wee break in the middle.
The ship 🚢
It was big, really big, like bigly big, and it moves at quite a fair clip. There’s something quite unsettling waking up early, looking out your window and seeing a vast expanse of water rippling by, with no land on the horizon and two miles of saltwater below to comfort you.
Something to think about during your eggs in the morning.
As a fairweather cruiser I wasn’t sure what to expect, so no expectations were there to be met really. Everything seemed familiar, but there was a few surprises along the way. My cabin (3016 for all you cabin number fans) was nice, clean, good towel art and curtain fabric.
My housekeeper Agnes kept on bursting in and shaking my hand whilst I was in my underwear, and she insisted on giving me chocolates, but it’s a small price to pay for that crisp, made bed and fresh towels.
I still have the chocolates.
The ship interior was set out logically, good maps and navigation stations, and exciting lifts to entertain you and provide adequate deck to deck traversal.
Along with a pool, jogging track, mini golf, sunbeds, bars and climbing wall on the outside decks. Four laps around the jogging track was enough for one mile.
In total, there were seven restaurants on board, and I lost count of the bars, but enough to keep you fed and watered, along with a pleasing level of provisions to maintain a robust snacking regime between meals.
My cruise companions were my beloved parents who stayed in the deluxe cabins up on the seventh deck, they got a balcony and a fridge. It’s luxuries like these that us simple folk on deck three could only ever dream of.
At least I had the privilege of being able to pay an extraordinary amount for a tin of pringles.
The voyage 🚢 →🇪🇸 🇫🇷 🇲🇨 🇮🇹→✈️→👍
Alas, the TUI Discovery set sail at 11pm from the port Palma, Mallorca. Well actually it ended up being around 12:30am, I’d already retired to my cabin by that point (Agnes had left a chocolate), but at one point my window revealed that the boat was moving. It’s an odd sensation that you got used to it after a day or two, and nothing was expelled from my stomach.
Anyway, the voyage. The itinerary was a hop around the western mediterranean, so Spain, France and Italy were the ports of call, with three stops in the latter.
I’m not sure how to structure this well, so I’ll just separate this into bits for each day, like a diary but not a diary. I’ll throw in some pictures as well and maybe describe them. Remember when I said this might be rambling?
🇪🇸 Day 1: Palamós, mainland Spain
The day started with a picturesque snap by the Official Cruise Photographer™ of us backed by the cranes and construction yard of the port at Palamós.
It goes without saying we didn’t buy the photo.
Getting into the main town though was just a short walk, and was very pretty. Small alcoves and side streets, cats in the windows, cats on the street, cats on the roof. Good churches, cats, and a mean cannon to protect the town from Cruise ships.
The tourist map talked about a windmill at the top of the town, but we didn’t read it properly and got confused when we eventually reached the location to find what looked like a military bunker. Turns out the windmill used to be there but got converted to a bunker quite a number of years ago.
There was good views at the top though and it was a nice day.
🇫🇷 🇲🇨 Day 2: Villefranche-sur-Mer, France & Monaco
The port here was too small for the ship to moor up, so you had to get a boat to the shore which was fun, but legroom was limited. The people here like to build their houses on the sides of hills.
We took an excursion to the Principality of Monaco, a place that exudes money to the point where you wonder where the money tap is. Estate agents were advertising apartments for €25 million.
It was good seeing the famous corners and features of the F1 track, and getting a quick snap of the casino.
That sweet 0% income tax rate as well, must be pretty good living in Galt’s Gulch.
The Prince has a palace in the older part of the town, which had a changing of the guards ceremony, and I enjoyed the coach trip that drove past Nice, Èze and a small slice of the coastal roads of the riviera.
🇮🇹 Day 3: Marina di Carrara, Italy
The day started with the most ferocious storm, to the point where we thought our trip to Pisa would be cancelled, but it relented. Most of the morning was cloudy, like being in the UK but hot and Italian.
This area is predominantly known for its production of marble, and from the ship you could see the marble mountains. I don’t know what they do to create the marble, presumably they just scrape it off the side into a mould to make toilets.
Our trip for the day was a two parter, a small excursion to see Puccini’s house and his lake, which wasn’t much to write home about, and a trip to Pisa.
The leaning tower, basilica and surrounding buildings was good to see, but we could only stomach 45 minutes of the relentless stream of tourists, peddlers selling tat, pickpockets and people trying to take cliched shots of them pushing/pulling/holding the tower.
Good to see though, one for the memories.
🇮🇹 Day 4: Naples, Italy
It was my birthday on this day. We had breakfast in the waiter service restaurant, and it was novel to see the city slowly come into view as the ship came into port.
Instead of doing a trip, we headed out on our own. The streets of Naples are hectic, along with the traffic, and we were disappointed to find the funicular was closed for whatever reason, but it was a nice day out.
A fair amount of walking, dodging the scooters and weaving through the side streets. Found a nice cathedral which was a nice reprieve from the relentless heat.
You could see Mt. Vesuvius from the ship too, the one that caused problems for Pompeii and the like. According to Wikipedia:
It is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world
People still build around it though and live there ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
🇮🇹 Day 5: Messina, Italy (Sicily)
This was my favourite day of all of the days, Sicily is amazing, beautiful. The roads were beautiful, scenic, with tunnels through the mountains, flowers on the motorways, hot, bright, lovely.
Sordid history, interesting crime syndicates, but still, everyone looks past that right?
I didn’t even realise that Sicily had passed through so many cultures and civilisations over the years, so has an eclectic clash of influences, but with an Italian flavour.
Our trip for the day was to visit a winery, a short hop up Mt. Etna, another angry mountain that was smoking and smouldering from its crater. Our coach driver somehow managed to weave up the tiny winding roads, and the vineyard was incredible. Incredible foods, wine and bread, my god the breads. I want the breads. Give me the breads.
🌊 Day 6: Day at Sea
This was the point where you disconnect from the grid, 36 hours at sea, expensive ship satellite cellular phone network. Nothing but plain sailing across the ocean with no visible land mass. I had to get news of the U.K. election by text message.
We spent a good amount of time doing our mile around the jogging track, lounging around on sunbeds listening to podcasts, having a drink or two, eating a lot and enjoying a spot of mini golf.
This was a good holiday, I was a little skeptical at first of whether I would enjoy it or not, but I was open to it. Agnes cleaned my room well, and I had a great time with my parents.
The itinerary means you only get a little vertical slice of each place you visit, but it’s nice to get a flavour of multiple countries in such a short amount of time, with the comfort of a nice bed and not stuck on a depressing overnight coach or train next to a snoring business man and his briefcase full of business papers.
This post has been long but I enjoyed writing it, I find these a good way of looking back on things rather than a bunch of contextless photos. To close, I’ll leave you with my favourite moments of the cruise, the sunsets. You can’t beat the wind on your back, the hum of the engines, the waves lapping against the hull of the ship, drink in your hand with the sun making its spectacular good night on the horizon.