Saga Cruise: Wonders of the Canary Islands

STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on a cruise with his wife to the Canary Islands.

Saga Cruise: Spirit of Discovery in Funchal
Spirit of Discovery in Funchal

During the winter months we usually find a holiday location for a couple of weeks to escape the cold weather. This year we decided to try a cruise to the Canary Islands rather than flying, and we chose the Saga Cruise Wonders of the Canary Islands.

The two week tour was scheduled to provide one day in Madeira and five days in the Canaries (Tenerife, La Palma, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote) with a break at Lisbon during the return journey.

The Saga Cruise price included a taxi to and from Southampton, 200 miles from our home, with no other passengers in the car as a pandemic precaution. We had a careful, courteous driver and hence a pleasant journey.

Saga Cruise: The Grill
The Grill

Unfortunately on arrival at Southampton, we were informed that our Saga Cruise boat, The Spirit of Discovery, could not sail due to a technical problem with the Azipod steerable propulsion system!

Consequently instead of sailing at 6 pm on Sunday we finally set sail at noon on Tuesday. This delay resulted in us arriving at Funchal, Madeira, on Saturday rather than Thursday as scheduled.

On the positive side, the food, service and staff were excellent on our cruise ship. In  addition to the main grand dining room and The Grill, the three specialty restaurants East to West ( serving Asian food), Coast to Coast (seafood) and The Club (specialising in steaks) were all excellent.

Saga Cruise: The Lido
The Lido

For entertainment there were art and craft classes, line-dancing, lectures and organised games such as table tennis and darts. The theatre provided a wide variety of outstanding shows in the evening. For example, we saw the comedian John Clegg, a puppet comedian, music and dances from Queen, tap-dancing and a Motown show. Every evening there was also music and dancing in the Britannia Lounge, in which again we enjoyed taking part.

Nevertheless we found it all rather frustrating, with nothing to view except sea as we walked around the promenade deck for exercise passing The Lido on the way. Our opinion contrasted with some other passengers who really enjoyed just being at sea on the cruise ship, likening it to being in a five star hotel.

Saga Cruise: Funchal Harbour, Madeira
Funchal Harbour, Madeira

It was good to get off the cruise ship on Saturday morning and have our included informative tour of Funchal. We then  walked around the town and refreshed memories of it from previous visits (we had stayed a number of times in apartments in Madeira). We also appreciated the sunny weather at 21°C, which contrasted with the 5°C and snow in England.

On Sunday morning we arrived in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, and took the shuttle bus to the town in the morning.  We walked around its pleasant plazas, including the Plaza de Espana and the Plaza de Candelaria, the port and the seafront. Unfortunately most the shops in the shopping centre were closed as it was Sunday.

We again enjoyed some sunshine, but this was spoilt by heavy showers. In the late afternoon we joined the included excursion ‘Snapshot of  Santa Cruz’, which visited the nearby fishing village of San Andres, Teresita beach and the iconic Auditorium building.

Catedral de Santa Ana, Las Palmas
Catedral de Santa Ana, Las Palmas

Monday was another whole day ashore, in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. We have been to Gran Canaria on a number of occasions in the past when we explored the island by car.

Hence we took this opportunity to remain in Las Palmas and explore Gran Canaria’s capital city. We used the red city explorer bus (€22 euros each), which provided a great tour of Las Palmas.

We particularly enjoyed the old Vagueta area, the Catedral de Santa Anna with its Plaza, and the original commercial centre Triana, with its main pedestrianised shopping street Calle Mayor de Triana. The big disappointment was that the Parque/Pueblo Canaria and Canary village (a recreation of a typical Canarian village) was closed! The day was cloudy with sunny intervals and breezy, hence unfortunately feeling much cooler than the actual  21°C.

Calatamara Beach, Lanzorote
Calatamara Beach, Lanzorote

A final port of call in the Canary Islands was Arricefe, Lanzarote on Tuesday. This was the warmest (22°C) and sunniest day of our Saga cruise, but regrettably time was limited with arrival at 8 am and departure at 4 pm. We again took the included ‘Scenic Lanzarote’ your from 10 am to 1 pm.

This was another interesting excursion, which stopped at Teguise (the old capital), Calatamara Beach and the Peasants Monument. As we had to sail at 4 pm, this sadly left little time to see Arricefe. However we have been to Lanzarote a couple of times previously including a visit to Arricefe.

Wednesday was a quiet day at sea and this time we did appreciate having a lazy day. I acquired a map of Lisbon and also looked up the city on my iPad in order to plan a visit the following day. To our dismay, the captain announced at lunchtime that although we would arrive at Lisbon as scheduled at 9 am, would be leaving early at 1pm, rather than 5 pm. This was due to very bad weather forecast for Saturday afternoon in the Bay of Biscay.

Arriving in Lisbon
Arriving in Lisbon

Consequently on Thursday, on our first visit to Lisbon, we were now limited to the two hour excursion ‘Snapshot of Lisbon’ with no time to explore the city further. We found this excursion to be quite disappointing. The city itself appeared to be very pleasant and interesting as we travelled along the river front, but the tour did not stop to let us look around and take pictures. There was only one short halt at a viewing point overlooking the city.

There were two further days at sea including at one time when there was a force 10 wind with 9 m swell. Great care had to be taken whilst walking  around as the boat was swaying around. We finally arrived at Southampton on Sunday morning. After waiting in the lounge for two hours we were called for our taxi and driven home.

Lisbon, Marquis of Pombal Monument
Marquis of Pombal Monument, Lisbon

We had only been on one cruise previously, 14 years ago, which obviously shows we are not cruise fanatics. Unlike our previous cruise, this Saga Cruise was on a relatively small boat (maximum 999 passengers) and all costs were included. We found this to be a much better experience and we did receive some compensation from Saga for the days lost in Southampton at the start.

However it has reconfirmed that we are not really ‘cruisers’ at this stage in our lives. We will return to our usual holidays of flying and driving, staying in apartments and hotels, relaxing and exploring places properly.

A number of such holidays we have undertaken have been reported previously on this site, including:
Tour of Northern Spain: Bilboa, Pamplona, León, Gijón
Touring Normandy, the Loire Valley and Brittany in June,
Four Scenic Drives in Mallorca
Heart of the Silk Route: a Saga Tour of Uzbekistan
Moghuls and Palaces – Saga India Tour