Our Mediterranean Sea Adventure aboard the Seabourn Pride is one of our favorite cruises. Sailing from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rome on one of the original Seabourn Yachts in 2011 was incredibly memorable. It has been fun remembering our adventures for this post. This was our first time in Portugal and Spain, and we looked forward to visiting many new ports while creating new memories.
Visiting a Special Friend:
We had a unique experience a handful of days before the cruise as we flew to Madrid to visit Marta Sanchez. Marta was an exchange program nanny from Spain who took care of our children for a year nearly twenty years earlier. Her family lived in beautiful Segovia, an interesting and charming historic city a few hours north of Madrid. Segovia is home to Roman aqueducts constructed in the 100s AD and, The Alcazar Castle, built in the early 12th century. Segovia has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, and Marta was sure to show us all the wonderful historical areas of her hometown. We visited the main square and saw the Aqueducts, the castle, and the gothic cathedral, and she also took us through the beautiful Alcazar gardens. The ancient cobblestone streets, shops, and restaurants make this city one of the most charming and beautiful we have been to. The town sits on the foothills of the Sistema Range of mountains, reminding me of our Colorado Rockies.
We enjoyed reconnecting with Marta, her husband, Jose, an officer in the Spanish army, and their two primary school children. Besides the beautiful sights around historical Segovia, our memorable family dinner with them was wonderful.
The next day Jose drove us back to the Madrid airport. It was a short flight from Madrid to Lisbon on one of Europe’s inexpensive airlines. Our charming hotel was tucked into St George’s castle on one of Lisbon’s seven hills. The view was spectacular, and a picture of our view of Lisbon from our hotel has a special place on our wall at home.
Discovering Lisbon, Portugal
Our cruise sailed the next day, so we had a bit more than 24 hours to explore the city of Lisbon.
We walked and trolleyed up and down the steep hills, thoroughly enjoying the city and its people. The castle tour was excellent, and the waterfront’s eclectic blend of storefronts was fun. One of the highlights for me was an al fresco lunch at the harbor. I enjoyed a plateful of sardines that tasted fresh off the boat. After lunch, we bought a couple of the ceramic tiles Lisbon is famous for in one of the shops and eventually headed to the cruise terminal for our 6 PM departure.
Our time in Lisbon was brief. However, Marilyn and I rank it among the top five cities we’ve ever visited. We plan on returning to see the myriad of sites we didn’t get to visit.
Our first stop was at Portimao on the Algarve. The Algarve area is famous for its beaches and is a magnet for Holiday seekers from all over Europe. We opted for a tour that took us inland to see one of the cork forests that produces most of the corks for the world’s wine production.
Gibraltar – The Orignal Rock:
Our next stop was Gibraltar. Our tour took us to the cave network of WW1 and WW2 tunnels, complete with cannons and munitions. It was interesting learning what role these caves have played in many wars throughout history. Next, Marilyn had an up close and personal introduction to the famous monkeys of Gibraltar. Finally, we could view their airport from our high vantage point, which is notable for a highway crossing the middle of the runway. One of the last stops was a glass-blowing shop where we purchased crystal wine glasses and a jewelry necklace for Marilyn.
Many cruises pass Gibraltar but only a few stop there. Seabourn made it a memorable visit adding to the fabulous cruise itinerary.
Our first Spanish port was Cadiz. It is a beautiful city located on the southwest coastline of Spain. The picturesque beaches with colorful fishing boats moored offshore, and the winding, cobblestone streets give Cadiz its special charm. It was a relaxing and beautiful city we would love to return to for a week of sun, fun, food, and exploration.
From Cadiz, we headed up the Guadalquivir river to Seville. Because of their size, few cruise ships visit Seville, although many have excursions to Seville from Cadiz. Navigating the river aboard our ship to get there was a real treat, mooring less than a quarter of a mile from central Seville. It was strange seeing the cruise ship in the middle of the town. We arrived early, and our first stop was the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Sea. We slipped through a side door and, to our surprise, were able to experience a high mass with multiple priests and the organ playing. It gave me goosebumps to be part of the mass. After the mass, the cathedral emptied so they could collect a small fee to return to experience its beauty and architecture.
After our cathedral visit, we jumped on a horse and carriage and took an hour-and-a-half tour around the city. The plaza pictured in the gallery below and the Alcazar Palace of Seville were extraordinary. After lunch, we paid for a tour of the Alcazar, the bullfighting arena, and its museum.
Staying overnight in Seville, Marilyn signed up for a bike tour the following day, and I decided to explore more of the city on foot. Navigation became more complicated when I left the historic area, but I always knew the boat was nearby if I could get back to the cathedral. We had lunch onboard and walked several more miles in the afternoon. We made reservations for an authentic dinner with flamenco dancers and thoroughly enjoyed the food, music, and merriment.
We boarded the ship an hour or so before a midnight departure and watched as the ship headed down the river very slowly in the night. Then, as we slept, the ship returned to the Mediterranean Sea.
Beaches of Malaga:
Our next stop was Malaga, a bustling Suncoast city of about a half million people. It’s a tourist mecca for northern Europeans, and, in large part, it’s all about the beaches. We enjoyed a warm sunny day strolling along the miles of waterfront replete with shops and street vendors. But in hindsight, we should have brought our bathing suits and spent time on the beaches.
Over the next couple of days, we visited Almeria and Cartagena. The highlight tour out of Almeria was an all-day Seabourn excursion inland to the Alhambra Palace. Reservations were scarce as they limited the number of daily visitors. It was spectacular with its beauty, history, architecture, and vistas. It is a don’t-miss experience.
Following the tour of the palace, our bus took us to a fabulous lunch in a historic old restaurant before heading south back to the ship.,
As we headed up the east coast of Spain, we visited Cartagena, Spain, known for its ancient coliseum buried under centuries of civilizations in the center city. For centuries, no one knew it existed.
We traveled up the east coast of Spain to Valencia, our last stop on the Spanish mainland. Valencia is a fabulous mix of old and new. The city embraces its roots as the Romans settled it in 138 bc. But the city has also dedicated resources and funds to a science and history museum district along the harbor catering to all ages. There was an open-air and enclosed market with every meat and vegetable imaginable. Lunch featured Marilyn’s first authentic seafood paella, and she loved it.
Our next stop was the Island of Mallorca, but we didn’t head for the tourist mecca of Ibiza; we docked in Palma de Mallorca. The city’s centerpiece is the Cathedral of Palma Mallorca, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. It’s different and breathtaking. After seeing so many cathedrals throughout Europe, Gaudi’s cathedrals are spectacular.
Rough Seas in the Mediterranean:
From the Balearic Islands, we sailed toward Livorno, the port city for Florence, Italy. We left around 6 PM and headed east into a Mediterranean storm. Dinner and early evening weren’t too bad, and I was very impressed that the pianist in the husband/wife duo could play. Dancing was a challenge. Overnight the seas grew to almost 15 feet. The captain warned everyone to be careful and suggested we stay in our cabin during the rough morning journey. He promised much calmer seas by lunch and delivered on that promise.
Livorno is the gateway to Florence. However, only a few passengers stay in the port area as most head to Florence or other excursions to the Tuscany area.
Florence is one of my favorite cities. For the most part, it is pedestrian friendly and easy to navigate. The three biggest attractions are the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi art museum, and The Duomo. It’s known for its food, handmade leather goods, gold, and beautiful vistas.
Our tour guide informed us that our first stop would be one of the well-known leather shops; she explained that they had bathrooms we could use for free. But, we discovered, the real reason we were brought there was to meet the salespeople. One of them asked another female passenger and me if we would wear one of their jackets for the mini-presentation they’d like to make for the tour. The leather jacket was beautiful, elegant, and fit like a glove. It was and still is the most expensive “souvenir” I’ve ever owned. “BTW,” Marilyn came home with a jacket, too!
Marilyn and I had visited Florence on another cruise about four years earlier, so we navigated around the city pretty well. However, most of our time was spent in The Duomo plaza and the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The Duomo is extraordinary to see in person as everyone extends their necks to look up and take it all in. It is almost 150 feet across, and it was unfathomable how they created such a fantastic work of art so high without the perspective of looking up at it.
The other area we visited was the famous covered bridge, Ponte Vecchio. Lined with many shops, including jewelry and other artisan goods, we did a little shopping to bring gifts back to our family.
That afternoon we had pizza on the street, washed down with beer and wine. Not long after, we sought out one of the many premier gelato stands before we jumped back onto our bus for the 90-minute ride back to the ship.
Special Seabourn Service:
When we got back to the pier, Seabourn was out to impress. About 30 officers and crew members were in dress whites at the head of the gangway to welcome us back with a glass of Asti Spumante. Seabourn’s service is exceptional at every turn, but they also like to add some special touches that were truly memorable. Another special moment occurred that evening. The staff had set up buffet and dinner tables on the main deck for a fantastic open-air dinner.
Seabourn’s buffet is legendary for me. Imagine five-star cuisine with all the seafood and land favorites you could think of because that’s the evening fare. The captain welcomed us, and the music played. Following dinner, the captain called up all the available officers and crew so we could give them the ovation they deserved.
Next, the ship sailed south along the coast to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. Once again, we were bused to the city and dropped off at the foot of The Spanish Steps.
Rome is a fantastic city; its vibrancy is palpable, and there’s something to see or do everywhere you wander. Since we would stay two full days after disembarking, we took it easy that day. We strolled, had gelato, and took in the macro sites like the Spanish Steps and the many churches. The weather was warm and sunny. The plazas with all of their fountains were bustling with locals and tourists.
Our Last Night Aboard:
Our last night on board was bittersweet. We looked forward to getting home to kids and puppies but knew we’d miss new friends and the Seabourn staff. So, as is usually the routine on cruise lines, we packed our bags and put them outside the room that evening so the crew could efficiently handle disembarkation starting at 8 AM the following day. We spent our last night in the forward lounge enjoying the performing duo. We danced a bit before turning in at about 11:30.
The following day, we had breakfast in the main dining room, constantly interrupted by goodbyes to staff and friends. Then, we headed to our hotel for a couple of days before heading home.
Rome on our own:
The first day/afternoon was spent sightseeing. We had a lot planned for the next two days, so we checked in at our hotel, The Cavalieri, located on a hill overlooking the city about 15 minutes north of the main tourist areas.
Our second day there was dedicated to antiquities. The two must-sees were the Coliseum and the Forum. There were big lines at the Coliseum, so we were happy and fortunate we had purchased tickets online. It’s a fantastic place. I was awed at the thought of all the history which unfolded in and around the landmark. It is a must-see.
The Forum was fascinating, but it takes a bit of work to enjoy it properly. Unfortunately, we didn’t hire a guide which might have been a mistake as we were a bit lazy as we strolled.
St Peters and Vatican City:
Since we had been to Rome on an earlier cruise and had spent much of the time in Vatican City, I wasn’t expecting to visit that area on this trip; It’s also about a mile and a half walk across the city. But Marilyn surprised me by asking if we could head that way. Her memories of St. Peter’s Basilica were strong, and she wanted to experience the beauty of Vatican City and the cathedral. As it turns out, that walk was a great way to see more of the city. Our route took us through smaller piazzas and a great “off the beaten path” restaurant.
St. Peters Square wasn’t too busy mid-afternoon, nor was the basilica. The Swiss Army Guards greeted us at the doors. As we entered, we were amazed again at the size and beauty of the setting and the artwork. I was again taken with The Pieta on our right shortly after entering. We also took time to visit the papal crypts.
When we finished our self-guided tour, we hailed a taxi to take us back to The Cavalieri Hotel. Although pricy, it was everything promised in the promotional materials. Marilyn still says it is her favorite and most memorable hotel in the world we have stayed in.
Romantic Dinner in Rome:
That night, we ate at a tiny restaurant called Michaels, close to the Spanish Steps. It was wonderful. Nona was our server, and she was warm and personable. I remember having branzino, which was the best I’ve ever had. Marilyn had a veal dish that was also amazing.
The following day, we headed to the airport for our trip home. Rome airport was busy on a Monday morning, but all went well. The time change was kind to us, and we made it home for a late supper.
Click to Expand the Pictures below to view the gallery.