I’m back! I’m sorry that I couldn’t update you with live blogs during the cruise – I just couldn’t get my blog to open using the ships Wi-Fi – but I’m here now, so let me tell you ALL about my Central America and Mardi Gras cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines!
The cruise didn’t quite start off as everyone had planned. We were late sailing from Southampton and from the moment we left, Mother Nature threw storms at us – one after the other, so much so that we lost count of how many we had sailed through or tried to avoid. Balmoral was due to arrive in Funchal, Madeira on Wednesday February 8th, but we had to take shelter from strong winds and rough seas, so on February 7th, we ended up in the Spanish port of Gijon – I’d never even heard of it before. We stayed there overnight to try and avoid the worst of the weather and we sailed again, for Madeira, at 18:30 the following day. This unexpected stop put us 2 days behind schedule and we were informed that because of the weather ahead of us, we would unfortunately lose our calls in the Caribbean to Tortola and Jamaica. Not what anyone wanted to hear, but what can you do about the weather? We had to just roll with it…literally! On the up side, by this time, I had been reacquainted with several crew members whom I had met on previous cruises aboard Balmoral and I was absolutely thrilled to see them. They were equally as pleased to see me, which was nice! I have always said that Fred. Olsen has some of the best crew members at sea and I still stick by that.
We finally arrived in Madeira on Friday February 10th and we were incredibly lucky. Rain had been forecast for most of the day, but aside from a quick shower, it was warm and the day offered the glimmer of sunshine that we all so desperately had been craving – we’d had nothing but grey skies, rough seas, bad news and rain up until this point. My friend and I had a walk around town before arriving at Marina Terrace where we would stop for lunch. We visited this restaurant in 2016 and enjoyed it so much that we had to go back. It’s located on the marina and it is a wonderful place to eat, drink and watch the world go by. It’s a family-owned restaurant and you can have anything from Madeira’s famous ‘steak on a stone’ to a simple ham and cheese sandwich. I opted for steak on a stone this time (I had pizza last time) and it was delicious. The piece of beef was HUGE! It was served with traditional Madeira garlic bread, homemade chips, dips and salad, and a drink, all for 16 euro. If you are in Madeira on a cruise at some point, then please go and check out the menu. There is an access point to the restaurant from the main street – you can’t miss it.
We sailed from Madeira, right into another area of low pressure! We really were becoming storm chasers at sea by this point, but within 48-hours, everything began to resemble the tropical cruise that we were all aboard Balmoral for. The sun was out, the air temperature was slowly increasing and the crew were even outside doing a BBQ at lunch time – something they would continue to do at lunchtime on most sea days throughout the cruise. Spirits lifted and the ship became a different place – long gone were the tears over Jamaica and Tortola, most of us were happy to finally be outside, enjoying the open decks, even if it was still windy.
The weather improved day-by-day and it wasn’t long before I was sunning myself by the pool on Deck 7 with a raspberry smoothie in hand. I was excited to finally arrive in the Caribbean, but I must admit that I did enjoy the long row of sea days – we all need to sit and do nothing sometimes and those sea days gave me the opportunity to switch my brain off for a while and delve into some books. I know I’ve said it before, but I rarely get the chance to read at home, so I love days/nights onboard when I can really get my head into something that lets my imagination wander freely for a while. I managed to finish 2 books before we arrived in the Caribbean: Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison and the final book in the Seven Sisters series by M.L. Bullock, the latter of which I liked to read at night as it was quite spooky.
After 13-days onboard Balmoral (and only 2 ports of call), we finally arrived in the Caribbean. Our first stop was Barbados, and as my original evening tour had been cancelled, I jumped ship and took off on a ‘Barbados Beach Hop’…