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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman

Iberian Treasures Cruise
On Board
R2 (now Regatta)
April 1-11, 2000

By Linda Coffman

This was my third cruise on the now defunct Renaissance Cruise Line, having sailed the Greek Isles on R1 in June 1999 and Tahiti on R3 in December 1999. Fortunately, while Renaissance is no longer in business, R2 still sails the Mediterranean. Renamed Regatta, she was the first ship to fly Oceania Cruises' flag.

Getting There
I bid farewell to Mel on April 1st and headed for New York City’s JFK Airport to meet the charter arranged by the cruise line. My Delta flights were on time and uneventful (for a change). Arriving at JFK, I gathered my luggage at baggage claim and set off on foot from Terminal 3 to Terminal 4. Well, they looked close together on the airport map I copied online. Unfortunately, construction on a new terminal made the walk slightly precarious, but the sun was shining and a considerate young man from Delta ground services showed me the way. He must have thought I was slightly mad when I refused his suggestion that I take the shuttle… I had three bags and didn’t want to lift them in and out of the van. I piled my things on a “smart cart” and by this time he realized I was serious about walking so he accompanied me the entire way—pushing my cart and telling me all about his last cruise! 

It was a bit early for check-in but a queue was already forming when I saw friends arriving. We headed for the line and were soon joined by other members of our group. Check in was swift and smooth. Relieved of our luggage, it was time to find a comfortable spot to spend a few hours… I had planned to return to Delta’s Crown Room in Terminal 3, but was re-thinking that idea when I was invited to join members in the World Club. With soft drinks, juices, spirits, and wine and fruits, cheeses, and cookies, we spent the hours relaxing until time to head for the gate and boarding. My friend Susan Breslow Sardone was already there and made our little group complete. 

The overseas flight was uneventful, with complimentary wine and drinks accompanying our meal and unexpected legroom in coach. With a blow-up pillow around my neck, I settled in and slept nearly all the way to Barcelona.

Gaudi's Casa Batlló Barcelona

Arrival—Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona boasts one of Europe’s finest and most modern airports. After completing our arrival paperwork and clearing the passport checkpoint, we headed for the Hotel Majestic in vans. Mel and I spent two post-cruise nights at this lovely hotel in 1998 and I was pleased to see the renovations that were underway then have been completed. Our junior suites were quite beautiful and it was at this point that I realized how much ROOM I had traveling alone. After naps and a bit of unpacking, Susan and I set out to window shop along the Passeig de Gracia with a stop at a tapas bar for cappuccino. Back at the Hotel Majestic we retired to our suites for room service and the luxury of our personal whirlpool baths! 

I love Barcelona and enjoyed pointing out some of my favorite sights to Susan the next day. Instead of an organized tour, we puttered about—shopping and sightseeing at our leisure and ended the day with a dinner and flamenco show. 

A courtesy desk at the hotel with cruise line reps available to answer questions, arrange tours, and keep us informed about scheduled departures to the ship and/or airport was most welcome.

Embarkation Day
Opting for a transfer tour to pass the time between hotel check out and embarkation, Susan and I chose to visit Sitges—the seaside resort of choice for well-to-do residents of Barcelona (and coincidentally, one of the premier gay resorts in Europe). Our tour set out on foot through the cobblestone streets and through the Museu Romantic, a house museum from the 19th century romantic period. After lunch we returned to Barcelona and the pier where our ship awaited us.

Checking in was simply a matter of trading our passports for stateroom key cards and boarding. I had my tote bag strapped to the side of my rolling carry-on and stopped to detach them at the foot of the gangway. Within moments a steward was at my side to carry them up the steps for me. Once inside, another steward took over and Susan and I were shown to our verandah rooms where we would be next-door neighbors for our five days on board. 

At Sea
This is what cruising’s all about… a lazy day at sea, getting settled into our shipboard routine. The R-Class ships are identical and I felt quite at home in the elegant relaxed atmosphere reminiscent of an English country estate. After touring the ship, a trip to the bridge, and lunch, Susan and I headed for the spa and our respective appointments—the Steiner hairstyling salon for her and a reflexology (foot) massage for me. Nothing like a little pampering to end the day.

Malaga, Spain
Susan chose to explore Malaga while I joined the tour to Granada and the legendary Alhambra. The tour to the Alhambra isn’t for the faint of heart—or the physically challenged. Half of the day is taken up just getting there and back and the tour through the fantastic gardens and palaces includes a lot of walking up and down hills over uneven surfaces. Some 8,000 visitors pour into the Alhambra daily, making it one of the most toured sites in Europe. It was very crowded and strenuous, but well worth seeing.

Gibraltar: Monkey Business
Linda & Friend

Gibraltar, UK
As it grew light, the Rock of Gibraltar loomed out of the early morning haze. My first impression was that “the Rock” doesn’t look quite like the outline we’re so accustomed to seeing; my second impression was surprise at how green it is. A British colony since 1830, this tiny nation’s history has depended on fortifications designed to defend its strategic location. Needless to say, many of the sights are heavily military-oriented. 

My tour began with a heart-stopping cable car ride to the top of “the Rock”—unfortunately it was misty and gray and we couldn’t see much beyond the harbor. Then another cable car ride halfway down delivered us to the Apes’ Den where we encountered the first of many of Gibraltar’s most famous residents, the Barbary Apes (actually not apes at all, but tailless Macaque monkeys). The monkeys are adorable and posed for photos—some even jumped on passengers’ shoulders when coaxed by the tour guides. It was difficult to remember that they are wild creatures. A fellow passenger tried to pet one of them and was rewarded with a slap on the hand and a scolding by the tiny creature. We moved on to the Great Siege Tunnel and more monkey business, followed by stops at the lighthouse where Africa would be visible on a clear day and Nelson’s Anchorage, site of “The Rock Buster” or 100-ton gun. 

Susan teamed up with five other women and hired a taxi to tour and shop. Not interested in the cable car ride, they went to St. Michael’s Cave instead. From their descriptions, we really missed a wondrous sight. 

Linda & Susan prepare to explore Seville

Cadiz, Spain
This was our jumping-off port for a tour to Seville. Again, it’s a long ride—nearly two hours—but Seville is breathtaking in its romantic beauty. After a stop at Plaza de Espana we walked through the Alcazar, the oldest palace in Europe still in use by royalty and then down the narrow cobblestone streets of Seville’s Jewish Quarter to the Gothic Cathedral where Christopher Columbus is reportedly entombed.  (Columbus’ final resting spot is claimed by a number of different places.) 

During our free time, Susan and I headed back into the maze of narrow streets to shop and have a snack at a tapas bar. Refreshed, but hopelessly lost, we hailed a taxi to take us back to meet the bus and arrived with time to spare. Not everyone did… one couple on our bus never showed up. We waited an hour and finally left a sign on the building for them—they left a package, jackets, and their MAP on the bus! Turns out they ditched the tour early to look for artwork and then couldn’t remember where the meeting place was so they hired a taxi to take them all the way to Cadiz. On our way back to the ship, the guide got a call that they were already there—20 minutes before us. They’d have missed the ship had it sailed on time. Incidentally, the ship was fined for not vacating her berth on schedule. Those of us on Bus 3 felt the fine should have been added to the tardy couple’s onboard account. Maybe we were just testy because it was our last night onboard and time to pack up and prepare to leave our vessel. We felt they'd cheated us out of an hour! 

Lisbon, Portugal
After breakfast we vacated our staterooms and waited in the casino for our hotel group to be called for disembarkation. A bit behind schedule, we made our way to buses for a Highlights of Lisbon transfer tour. After visiting the monument dedicated to Portugal’s navigators, the Maritime Museum, St. Jerome Cathedral and Cloister, Belem Tower, and driving past numerous monuments, we walked through the streets of the ancient Alfama quarter before driving around the beautiful formal gardens of Parque Eduardo VII and our tour ended at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz

The grand dame of Lisbon’s hotels, the Ritz is undergoing renovation and my suite was imposing with high ceilings, art deco décor, a huge black and green marble bathroom, verandah overlooking the parks, and even a cedar closet. Not everyone’s accommodations were as recently spruced up, but as a single woman I was assigned the rooms with twin beds, which could be used to extend the “named” suite next door. Susan’s rooms on the ninth floor weren’t quite as spacious but her superior view more than made up for it.

I decided to spend the evening at the Equestrian Center where we were entertained with an exhibition by Portugal’s superb Lusitano horses and their riders, followed by a charming show of traditional folk dances, and a buffet dinner. Afterwards we were serenaded with fado—a really unforgettable evening.

After so much touring, Susan and I decided to hire a car and driver the next day and headed downtown for some power shopping. Then we were off to the Colombo mall, Europe’s second largest, for more shopping and lunch. For our last night in Portugal we had dinner at the Ritz. Superb! The service and food were impeccable. 

Departure—Going Home
Following room service breakfast our luggage was picked up and we had a few hours to kill. Most of us relaxed in the elegant lobby of the Ritz and made some last minute purchases in the gift shop. 

Arriving at the airport we were greeted with a long check in line. Seems the Air Portugal ground crew was in a state of confusion, with balky computers and stringent security concerns. After making our way through the process, Susan and I found the Instituto do Vinho do Porto to purchase bottles of the 20-year old port we’d enjoyed the night before and headed for the gate. Once again the Air Portugal ground crew was re-checking passports and boarding passes and generally infuriating passengers. It was a shame that so many people left Lisbon with a poor impression after this treatment.

The the boarding delays baffled the flight crew on our plane—they said the entire aircraft had been gone over thoroughly by security people and  every seat cushion was removed. As soon as we were airborne, the appearance of the beverage cart and complimentary drinks soothed ruffled feathers. Again, I slept the entire flight, not even waking up for dinner. 

Impressions & Notes
Weather was somewhat unpredictable. Like some of the other passengers, I tracked the weather in each port for a couple weeks before leaving. Unfortunately, a cold snap hit the area the day we departed New York. Fortunately, the ship’s logo shop had some really spiffy French terry “sweatshirts” from Gear for Sports.

We hit a squall after leaving Gibraltar and some rough seas in a couple other places but the Captain gave us advance warning. The ship rode the waves quite well and sea bands sufficed until we reached calmer waters.

In my quest to find the Perfect Cruise Ship, my suggestion to “improve” the R2, now named Regatta, would be to add mini-refrigerators in all staterooms (or at least in the ones with a verandah). 

Copyright © 2000 Linda Coffman

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