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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman


Renaissance R2
Iberian Peninsula
March 23, 1999

by Pam and Jim Murphy

We were on the R Two sailing from Lisbon to Barcelona on March 23rd. Here I will try and give an honest evaluation of the cruise.  

We were on Lufthansa flights from Newark and were routed through Frankfurt going.  On the return trip we were routed through Munich.  Germany added several hours to our travel time but the flights were good, all of our luggage made it.  The flights were delayed about an hour going and were on time returning.

Internet friends
We met four couples on the AOL message boards, who were on our cruise. All were wonderful people and it was nice knowing people ahead of time. Two of the four couples became good friends and we spent a lot of time with them.

Dress during the day was casual.  There were shorts, jeans, sneakers, baseball hats, and then some dressed a bit more.  Evenings, most men wore sport jackets with no ties.  However, many also wore a nice pair of slacks and sport shirt.  The women looked very nice, most wearing nice slack outfits, skirts, or dresses.

We arrived in Lisbon at about 2:30. The Lisboa Sheraton was very nice and better than I expected.  We had an hour to kill before we could check in.  That night we went to a very nice Portuguese  restaurant, near the hotel,
which was recommended by the concierge (about a block walking distance). We ordered veal grilled on a skewer with pineapple, which was delicious and I had flan for dessert.  Fresh fish is the specialty here and they deboned the fish at your table before serving it.

Our second day in Portugal we took a tour to Sintra.  This is a lovely little village with cafes and small shops.  The scenery was beautiful.  In their wine shops you have the opportunities to taste the different types of port before purchase.  Jim had a ball trying the different ports.  He didn't like any, they were too sweet for his taste, but with perseverance he finally found a dry red wine which he did like.  He bought a bottle to sip on in our cabin on board.  We then went to the fishing village of Caiscais, which was also charming.  Also saw the outside of the Queluz Palace.  Friends took a cab to Sintra where they walked around and had lunch.  Believe they negotiated the cab for $30, less than the tour.  I loved Sintra and would have liked to have spent more time there.  There  were no tours of any of the palaces on the Renaissance tour.  After the tour we went into Lisbon and did some shopping and stopped for lunch at a cafeteria, which was nothing special.

That evening we went to a Lisbon restaurant where they had Fado singing.  We did this on our own and wound up getting a better meal and paying less than the tour would have cost.  Fado means fate and they are sad soulful tales of love.  We couldn't understand what they were singing but still enjoyed it.  One of the singers singled out Jim and sang one song to him, leaving lipstick marks on his forehead.  Needless to say we had a lot of fun teasing about his new love interest.  The food here was excellent. They served huge sardines and olives with drinks.  I ordered green cabbage soup (a specialty) and a dish which was similar to a seafood egg foo young. Once again, I ordered flan for dessert, my favorite.  We spent this evening with our new internet friends and had a ball. We were singing along (La La La) and clapping with the fado singers.

The next day we took a highlights tour of Lisbon and were then taken to the ship.  The tour was a bit drawn out because each bus had a different time to arrive at the port. We wish the highlights tour had been offered earlier because it gives you a good indication of the things you'd like to see in the city.  Embarkation was very well organized and we had no lines to deal with, once we were through customs.  However, customs was very slow.  Renaissance kept you on the bus so that there was no need to stand on a long line.  Once you board ship there is very little time before the lifeboat drill and sailing.  My suggestion would be to unpack after the sailing.

The ship was absolutely beautiful and kept wonderfully clean.  It was decorated just the way I love, warm, cozy and elegant.  Our room was lovely.  We were in a category D cabin.  The room wasn't huge but large enough to be extremely comfortable. The shower was large enough to be able to shower comfortably.  The storage space was great, we even had space left over.  The only problem we encountered was that there was only a narrow passageway at the foot of the bed and that the bathroom door and one closet couldn't be opened at the same time.  Jim and I quickly learned how to work around this.  I would definitely recommend the room with the balcony.  It gives you additional seating space and a wonderful view, fresh air, and total enjoyment.  It also allows you to open the door at night for fresh air and hearing the lapping of the waves.  Nothing could be more relaxing.

Our weather was wonderful.  Days were warm for the most part.  Several days were breezy but I was fine in short sleeves, others were complaining of being cold.  Evenings cooled off, similar to the weather in California.  I  would suggest packing a lightweight jacket.  We had ample opportunity to enjoy our balcony.

The food on board was very good.  There was a good selection of choices and the food was presented beautifully.  The majority of food was more of a gourmet type than plain meat and potatoes.  The fish was always excellent and plentiful.  The dining room service went from excellent to poor.  A couple of waiters could have used a bit of help with their attitudes and service.  Others were absolutely wonderful.  More of the staff was good rather than poor.  There were two alternative restaurants which were good but not quite as good as the main dining room.  The service in the Grille Restaurant was slow but since we were in no hurry it wasn't a major problem for us.  The pork I ordered in the Grille was on the dry side, my only complaint on the food.  In my opinion, the Club was the best restaurant for all meals.  I also preferred the breakfasts and lunches there.

There has been a lot of discussion about liquor in the dining room.  The prices weren't any worse than in a nice restaurant at home.  One night the other couple brought a bottle of champagne from their room.  This was definitely not a problem.

Our cabin stewardess was excellent, very unobtrusive.  She had a room cleaned while we were at breakfast.  She never entered while we were in and always kept the room sparkling.

The entertainment on board was very enjoyable.  There were six young people who did the shows and they worked very hard.  The costumes were lovely and the band good.  The shows were small scale but good.  They also had a piano player, Bob Long, who did a couple of shows, who was very good.  However, there was a magician comedian, who left a bit to be desired, who did two shows.

The ship showed many good movies in your cabin, such as Jackie and Hillary, and Waking Ned Devine.

In the beginning of the cruise we had ship motion.  This was when we were in the Atlantic.  The movement through off my equilibrium but with the Dramamine and sea bands I had no sea sickness.  We also sailed only at night so we slept through most of it.  Once we hit the Mediterranean it was like cruising in a lake.

We arrived at Cadiz the day after sailing and spent two days in port.  The first day we went on a tour to Seville, which is a beautiful city. We saw the Cathedral which was magnificent. Columbus is buried in this Cathedral.  Also saw the Alcalzar which was a Moorish Palace, with lots of tiles and patios with gardens, built within the architecture of the palace.  Cadiz has many horse and carriages to take for seeing the city.  We had about an hour for browsing in the Jewish Quarter shops and to grab a quick bite to eat. There was an older woman in one of the shops who picked up the castanets and did the Flamenco for us.  This offered a lot of local color.

The second day in port Jim and I took a tour to Jerez where sherry is produced.  We toured the winery and got to taste the different wines they produce (sherries). We then toured another Moorish Palace.  The gardens on the patios are very fragrant and delightful to be in.  The aroma is intended to cleanse the mind.  All the patios also have fountains, which are for cleansing the body before praying.  The Arab influence in Spain is fascinating.

The next day we were in Tangier and all I can say about it is that it was an experience.  It's a dirty city and the people quite aggressive.  We took the tour and are glad we saw it.  We saw the caves, which were interesting, but everyone had his hand out for money.  Outside the caves they had camel rides and Jim got on the camel and we got photos.  He was scared to death.  The camels are very large and pitch forward as they get up and down.  I'm hoping I got Jim's expression of sheer fright on the way up on the camel.  The Casbah is the old walled city with lots of twisting narrow streets.  The day after we were there was a holy day for the Muslims and they each bought a sheep, which they were to sacrifice the next day.  The poor sheep all had a spray painted red X on them for the slaughter.  We saw snake charmers (a money making rip off), Berbers from the countryside and everyone had something to sell you.  A real zoo.  Most wore the Delacroix type robes with pointed hoods.  They don't like you taking their photos because feel that a photo takes their soul.  However, if you grease their palm they are just fine with it.  We were even accused of taking photos when we weren't - they were hoping to get money!

In the afternoon we shopped with the vendors outside of the ship.  Lots of bargaining which can be fun.  Nothing terribly expensive, mostly souvenir type things.  Their prices start very high so work at getting them way down.  The downside to the tour was that a whole group together is a magnet for the aggressive vendors who are constantly in your face.  At some points I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and threatened.  Also the tour guides tell you not to buy anything from the vendors or shops but to wait. They then take you for a carpet show and to a store where the prices were high.  Friends took a private tour and were not hassled as we were.

The next day we were in Casablanca which is a much cleaner and calmer port in Morocco.  We took the Renaissance ½ day tour.  We saw the  market place, there was one area where only olives were sold.  Here we also saw the Hassan II Mosque which was quite amazing.  It is built out over the ocean.  There were also vendors here but they were not as annoying and pushy as in Tangier. The shopping in Casablanca was more manageable and the prices seemed better.

We took a tour of Gibraltar which was really interesting.  We rode the cable car to the top of the rock and from here you had a magnificent view of Spain and Africa.  The Siege Tunnel was amazing and the sense of history pervasive.  The Barbary Apes are wild animals but not afraid of humans. They have names for them all and the tour guides recognize them and call them by name.  They told me to take off my sun glasses and hold them because the one ape loves sunglasses and will remove them from you and then will try to put them on. Once they get hold of your glasses you'll never see them again. I would definitely recommend the Renaissance tour here.  They used small van type buses, the guide was excellent, and they had drinks on the bus for you. We remained in town to shop after the tour and it is a short walk from town to the ship.  The shopping in Gibraltar was fantastic.  I got a Lladro of two Flamenco dancers for half of the US price. This included shipping but be sure to negotiate to get the insurance included also.  There is no tax and I was able to have it shipped an insured for the same price.

In Malaga we originally planned to tour the Alhambra in Granada.  This was a full day tour with a two and a half hour ride to Granada.  At the last minute we changed our minds (we had the feeling that the Alhambra would be a similar Moorish Palace to the ones we had already seen, only on a grander scale) and decided to take the half day tour to the little village of Mijas.  Absolutely loved Mijas - it was breathtaking.  All the houses are built on the mountain and are all white.  We saw the chapel of Our Lady which was wonderful, here the women pray to find a love and when they do, they cut off their hair and leave it at the chapel.  Many braids and ponytails hanging on the walls.  This chapel is built into the rocks.  Mijas has donkey taxis - the donkeys are all decorated and add wonderful local color.  We saw the bullring and then had time to wander and browse in all the great little shops.  We were then taken to the Mijas hotel for drinks.  This was a very enjoyable and relaxing day.  Friends took the Granada tour and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here we didn't take a tour, which was a mistake, since Almeria is a city and the shops gave the feeling of shopping at home.  We did walk through their open air food market and the pigs head was a nice touch.  We returned to the ship after a couple of hours and spent the afternoon relaxing, which at this point was desperately needed.  There is a village which I believe is called Ninjas, which is a short cab ride.  People who took a cab there loved it.  We left port and sailed for two and a half hours when there was an announcement that we were returning to Almeria for a medical evacuation. A woman had had a heart attack.

Palma de Mallorca
This port was beautiful - the streets were lined with palm trees.  This is one of the Balearic Islands.  We took a tour to Valdemosa and Cartuja.  Valdemosa is where many Hollywood stars have homes (Michael Douglas).  This was another picturesque, quaint village with cafes and lovely shops. There is a monastery here, which was made into a condo and Chopin and George Sand rented rooms here.  There was a short recital of Chopin's music at the monastery.  In this port we had another medical evacuation of one of the passengers.

Mahon, Menorca
In the morning we climbed the 126 steps to get into the town.  This was Holy Thursday and many of the shops and banks were closed.  Some shops were open so I got a bit of shopping in.  They had some beautiful linens at a vendors and a great ceramics shop both places right across from the ship.  In the afternoon we took the highlights of Menorca tour.  This is a beautiful island, another of  the Balearic Islands.  Everywhere you looked low stone walls had been built to separate property boundaries.  We saw their Monastery, some prehistoric ruins, visited the village of Fornalls, a small fishing village with a harbor, which was gorgeous.  We also stopped at the village of Bini Beca which is a white village (white houses, roofs, windows). They have very narrow twisting streets. This tour arrives back just as the ship is ready to sail, leaving no time for purchases.  Check out the linens and ceramics shop before you leave for the afternoon tour (the afternoon tour is the better choice because the shops in town are closed in the afternoon.)  Here we lost another passenger for medical reasons.  I've never experienced this before.

We disembarked in Barcelona and this process was well organized but we did need to wait in line for a short time, believe for the third medical evacuation.  Before we checked into our hotel we took a highlights of Barcelona tour.  We went to the old town and stopped at the Cathedral.  It was Good Friday and a holiday in Spain.  The crowds were overwhelming in this area.  They were selling candles (to be lighted by the faithful) and flowers which would be left at the chapel of a favorite saint.  The gypsies were out in force.  They carry pieces of cardboard, which they shove in your face, as you reach up to remove it, another gypsy has moved in to empty your pockets.  Two men on our tour were approached.  They got the one's wallet but someone got it back for him.  As soon as you realize what is going on you can spot the gypsies a mile away.  They are on the look out for those who are oblivious.  At the cathedral there was a gypsy panhandling and helping the elderly to step over a high threshold in the doorway.  As she helped them she was rubbing her hands all over them looking for some goodies. Truly, unbelievable!  You are walking down the street and can hear people screaming at them as they ply their trade.  We also saw the Sagrada Familia, a church begun by Antonio Gaudi.  He died before the completion and architecture students have been donating their time and talents towards its completion for years.  It is not expected to be completed until 2050.  It is an absolutely amazing structure. Gaudi was an architect with some very revolutionary designs, which caused a big stir when he was building and designing.  This tour also stops at a shop offering you the opportunity to support their economy.  After the tour we checked into the hotel, the Princess Sophia, which was also lovely.  It is a cab ride to most of the sights but is in a nice residential neighborhood.  We grabbed a sandwich and then headed for Parc Guell, taking a cab.  This is a sculpture garden by Antonio Gaudi. This was similar to a Central Park in the middle of NYC.  The landscaping is beautiful and the work of Gaudi something to see.  I loved his designs.  That evening we went to a wonderful seafood restaurant, Botefumerio and I ordered , a mixed salad (delicious), seafood Paella and sangria.  Also ordered another flan for dessert.  

The second day in Barcelona we did on our own.  We visited the Picasso museum, walked the Ramblas (a pedestrian boulevard) with entertainment, gypsies, a flower market, a bird market, and an artists area.  A definite
experience!  We then went to the Casa Milla, another home built by Gaudi, which contained a museum of models of his work.  By that evening we were beat.  Being the Saturday before Easter most restaurants in Barcelona were closed and the ones that were opened were already booked.  We had the hotel's buffet. I wouldn't recommend it unless you are very tired and don't have the energy to go out. Easter we left the hotel at six AM and began our journey home, which went smoothly.

All in all this was a wonderful vacation and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  As with any trip there are always positives and negatives.  In my opinion, for the price paid, this was well worth the money.  We are sailing on the R3 to French Polynesia on September 30 and are really looking forward to it.

Read the Murphy's R3 review here.

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