Cruising: Never Say Never

“I will never go on a cruise,” I vowed. Let me explain: I am an introvert-bordering-on-hermit with mild claustrophobia who throws up on the kiddie roller-coaster. Seasickness. Ships the size of cities. Cabins the size of closets. Excruciating small talk at dinner tables of ten. Everything I had heard about cruises made me convinced that I would be miserable on one. We went on a cruise. And we loved it. Let me explain:

A meeting about another trip with Grant Morris, a travel agent who happens to also be a cruise specialist, got me thinking about a cruise. He had cruise pictures on a monitor by his desk. It’s amazing how suggestible I am, sometimes . (Excuse me, I just saw a commercial for Doritos. I’ll be right back. ) So Steve and I set up a meeting to talk with him about cruises.

It was just supposed to be an information session. Really.

Grant told us about a small, luxury cruise line called Windstar Cruises. They have a fleet of only six ships, which are actually sailing yachts. The biggest one (the Windsurf)holds 310 passengers, a far cry from the 3,000 passenger mega-ships. The emphasis is on active, small group excursions–often to places that the big ships can’t get into. There are no formal dinners to dress up for. You can often get a table for two if you want it.  And they have a partnership with the James Beard Foundation, so the food is excellent. In short, it sounded like just our cup of tea.

And there just happened to be a sale on a Windstar cruise  on the Windsurf leaving in a few weeks from Barcelona and going around the south coast of Spain up to Lisbon, Portugal.  The itinerary featured a new port every day except for one day at sea, and otherwise sailing mostly at night, so it seemed the likelihood of seasickness would be low. It was  just supposed to be an information session. Really. We booked the cruise.  (See Doritos, above.) We spent a few days getting over jet lag and exploring beautiful Barcelona.

Then it was time to set sail.

Waiting to board!

Getting Acquainted with the Ship:

..Even more ridiculous

We had absolutely no seasickness, even on our at sea day. And I didn’t feel claustrophobic in the cabin–it was surprisingly spacious and a model of efficient design.  At 188 square feet it was wide enough to hold a queen size bed with room to get around on either side. We could even store suitcases under the bed. An abundance of shelves kept things from becoming haphazardly strewn around the room, which appealed to my ‘everything in its place’ personality.  I admit to a little frisson of excitement every time I discovered a new cubby-hole. The ship was as promised, a beautiful sailing yacht, and blissfully easy to avoid people on. The views were stunning:

We were asked each night at dinner if we wanted to share a table, but when we declined, we had no problem getting a table for two. Attire was smart casual.   And the food was fantastic:

Shore Excursions:


The Alhambra

The Alhambra palace and adjoining structure the Alcazaba date from the 9th century.  The complex  served as fortress and royal residence in its day.  This was my first opportunity to see Islamic art and architecture,  and it was fascinating! The Alhambra is beautifully intricate and ornate, without any pictorial artwork .   (Depictions of the human form are considered idolatry.) Geometric designs and water features are repeated throughout the complex to great effect. Poetry, and verses from the Qur’an had been painstakingly carved into stunning designs on the walls.  Soaring stalactite ceilings still hold onto ancient blue hues.  In spite of the crowds, there was incredible calm in the expansive gardens and reflecting pools.  An absolutely gorgeous place, and definitely a must-see.


“I got a rock”

What a fantastic day this was!  Gilbraltar is unique, a little bit of Britain off the coast of Spain. There are red telephone boxes, and pubs on almost every corner and prices in pounds Sterling, and British accents everywhere.  And apes, let’s not forget the apes:

Our walking tour took us past areas where wild Barbary apes, or macaques, live. They’re small, but they’re not monkeys – no tails!  As you can see from the above photographs, the apes are amazing to see in their natural element. But I noticed many people trying to engage with or touch them, as though they were pets. It was disturbing, because we could see a variety of stress behaviours in the animals, including over-grooming and giving “the look,” which is exactly like the one your mother gave you before she counted to three: I encourage those who are lucky enough to see them, to take pictures from a respectful distance.  And don’t make them count to three. We also visited St. Michael’s Cave.  Frankly, I was awestruck.  The cavern was…well, cavernous. It was floodlit with lights alternating from green to blue to pink that picked up the details on the stalactites and stalagmites . There was a sound system, too, and the acoustics were amazing . Coldplay is not normally one of my favourites, but I will forever associate their song Viva la Vida with that place. I worry sometimes, that as I travel more, I’ll become jaded and blasé.   But clearly, it hasn’t happened yet.  As the orchestral swells of  the chorus reverberated around the floodlit chamber, I got all choked up by the majesty of the cave and the effort taken in its presentation.  It was really something.

Our final stop of the day was a very interesting tour of the Great Siege Tunnels. The tunnels were dug into the heart of the Rock itself, by hand, during the American War of Independence , and armed, to protect  Gibraltar from invasion by the French and Spanish.  The tunnels were further expanded during the Second World War.

The tours in Gibraltar and to the Alhambra were outstanding, and I would highly recommend both, if you ever happen to be in the vicinity.  We took some other shore excursions during our cruise, but these were definitely the highlights. On some of our other shore days, we just got off the boat and wandered aimlessly–notably in Malaga, which was so lovely we are hoping to go back there some time for a longer visit.  When we weren’t exploring, the Windsurf was a great place to just relax.

As you can see from our smiling faces, we loved our cruise aboard the Windsurf and we hope to go on another one. We are now confirmed fans of Windstar Cruises.  Which just goes to show you–never say never to cruising!

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