One of the top items on our Bucket List was to cruise across the Atlantic. Also, we wanted to go back to Gibraltar to see the apes and to see the Statue of Liberty from a ship. A trans-Atlantic cruise would take care of all those items so, the first day the tickets for the trans-Atlantic voyage of the new Carnival Vista were available we pounced and bought ours! The good news was that we had tickets for our Atlantic voyage; the bad news was that we had to wait 21 months for the cruise. Talk about anticipation!
Finally, the time for our trip arrived and we were off to Barcelona, Spain. This is an incredible port city with so much to see, do and eat! (Check out our blog posts for more information about Barcelona.) At last, it was time to board our ship. Our taxi took us right on to the pier and there it was, the Carnival Vista! The Vista is Carnival’s newest and largest ship and this was to be her maiden voyage across the Atlantic…and we were going with her!
Like I said, the Vista is new, so new that her first voyage was only a few months earlier in the Mediterranean. She weighs in at 133,500 gross tons and can carry up to 3936 passengers along with 1450 crew. She has many new features never before seen on a Carnival ship including an IMAX theater, a sky-bike track that allows you to pedal your way above the ship & sea, and a beautiful shape-shifting column in the atrium which provided constantly changing digital artistry. There is so much to see and do on this wonderful ship!
As soon as we got on board we headed for Guy’s Burgers. Yep, this is our favorite sea-going burger and it’s our tradition to start our voyage here. Then it was time to explore the new ship. It’s huge and there were surprises everywhere! For instance, the Red Frog Pub has its own on-board brewery, and pour-your-own beer taps! And, there is a new outside BBQ joint called, the Pig & Anchor…gotta try that! Finally, we ended our tour at the Havana Bar. This is a great club at the stern of the ship featuring Cuban atmosphere and Latin style. A great place to relax with a mojito!
We finished our exploration and went topside to watch our departure from Barcelona and turn our heads westward as we began our voyage from the old world to the new. America, here we come!
It was early morning and the sun wasn’t up, but I was out on deck. Why? Because we were headed for the Strait of Gibraltar and I didn’t want to miss the experience of being in-between two continents. On the starboard side were the twinkling lights of Europe; off the port side you could see more twinkling lights…but these were in Africa! How often do you get the opportunity to see two continents at once!?! (Note, that I said “I”….not “we”. Mona was fast asleep in her warm bed. Apparently, not everyone gets pumped up to see two continents at once…but that was her loss, not mine!)
Soon the twinkling lights gave way to shadowy masses, especially off the port bow as we turned and Gibraltar came into view. You might think the famous view of “the rock” is what you see from the sea, but it’s not. The only time you get that perspective is from the narrow neck of land that connects Gibraltar to Spain. No matter, regardless of where you are, Gibraltar is an intimidating mass of rock, guarding the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, and the scene of countless battles in the endless tug of war over this tiny piece of land.
Gibraltar is a tiny little spit of land on the southern end of Spain. It’s been inhabited all the way back to Neanderthal times and it seems as though it’s been fought over ever since. That’s because this 2.6 square mile piece of geography is only 15 miles from Morocco, Africa and its towering peak gives it a huge strategic advantage over any ship moving between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. To the Greeks and Romans, Gibraltar was one of the Pillars of Hercules. To the Moors, this was “The Mount of Victory” and it was lost, won, and lost again in many battles until it was permanently lost in 1462 to the Castilians. Soon after, the Spanish took over, then the British, then the Spanish (you get the idea) until finally the British were “given” Gibraltar in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
Although Gibraltar has been British for over three hundred years that’s not to say it’s been a peaceful time. It’s been at the forefront and center of many battles through those years including the Spanish Civil War and WWII. Its status as a British colony is still the subject of much debate even to this day. In fact, when Britain voted for Brexit, many Spaniards saw this as an opportunity to reopen discussions about Gibraltar’s ownership and it remains to be seen as to who will rule Gibraltar in the future.
Yes, there is a lot of history here and the city has plenty to see and do, but our visit had one primary purpose: To see the Gibraltar Apes! (Yes, I know they are technically a species of tailless monkeys called Barbary macaques but they’ve been called “apes” for centuries and who am I to argue?) The reason for our focus was on the apes was because we had visited Gibraltar back in 2003. Then, we had parked our car near the Spanish border and simply walked across the airport to Gibraltar. We wandered the town and then walked back across the airport to Spain. We saw “the rock” and we were happy. Happy, that is, when friends were aghast that we hadn’t seen the apes. “How could you visit Gibraltar without seeing the apes?!?”, they said. Well, it took us 13 years but now we were going to see the apes!
Our tour first took us to St. Michael’s cave. Yeh, yeh, huge auditorium inside a cave with awesome music and spectacular lighting. Pretty cool, but where are the apes? We pretty much ran through the cave and burst out the door to see the apes, but no apes. Damn, are we going to repeat our failure of 2013? Our guide told us to be patient and get back on the bus. “Soon,” he said, “You will see apes, I promise.” Yeh, sure right. I was not a believer.
However, in just few moments I heard, “Look over there!” My glaze followed the pointing fingers and there it was, a Gibraltar Ape! Mona saw him at virtually the same time I did and we quickly got off the bus to get closer. I’m not sure how it happened but Mona and I were quickly split up. I guess we were so enchanted with the apes’ antics that we just forgot about each other for a bit. It happens, right? Anyway, it was so much fun watching the apes’ interaction with the tourists and to see them climbing up buses and leaping from one bus to another.
We got to spend about a half hour with the apes before we reluctantly boarded the bus to head back to the ship. It hadn’t been much time, but we were all smiles. We had finally seen the Gibraltar apes!
Ponta Delgada, The Azores
Our next port of call was Ponta Delgada in the Azores. The Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal consisting of nine volcanic islands about 850 miles west of Portugal. The Azores came into modern history in the early 1400s when they were rediscovered by ships sailing for Henry the Navigator. Ponta Delgada is the administrative capital and the largest city in the Azores with a population of about 18,000.
The Azores are known for beautiful landscapes, volcanic hikes and whale watching. However, we purposely didn’t book an excursion as we wanted to simply explore the town and do some geocaching. We got off the ship and let the geocache locations guide us around. We wandered around from cache location to cache location, with very little luck finding the caches, until we ended up at Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião (Mother Church of Saint Sebastian). This is a beautiful church, dating back to 1547, with an imposing high tower and a gorgeous baroque interior of carved cedar and other exotic woods.
After visiting the church we walked across the street to a little cafe. While ordering our coffee and pastries I decided that this would be a great place to leave a Bee Kind rock. I got out my little painted rock and attempted to talk to the server in English. She knew a few words of English, but not enough to understand what I was trying to do so she got another server to try to help me. His English was better, but my Portuguese was still nonexistent. We still didn’t quite communicate so he got yet another server to help. And this is how it came to be that we met Priscila. Not only was her English excellent, she also has a mission to spread happiness wherever she can. Priscila paints signs promoting happiness and love hoping to bring Mini Sorrisos (many smiles) to as much of the world as she can. What a coincidence that we met on an island in the middle of the Atlantic with a mission similar to Bee Kind Rocks!
Five days later we docked at the King’s Wharf at the Royal Navy Dockyards in Bermuda. This was an overnight visit so we planned to wander and geocache the first day and do beach/snorkeling activities on the second. After all, you can’t come to Bermuda without seeing the incredible beaches, right?
Our Day One plans went without a hitch. We found several geocaches and we enjoyed wandering around the old dockyards. Here we learned that because of the Revolutionary War Britain needed a new naval stronghold in the Atlantic. They chose Bermuda and began building the Royal Navy Dockyards in 1809. Most of the construction was done by convicts from England and slaves from around the island. We had a very nice day wandering the streets and shops and just enjoying being on land. We ended our day enjoying a Rum Swizzle, the unofficial national drink of Bermuda.
The next morning the winds were fierce and the waves were swelling 6 to 8 feet. In spite of this we donned our swimming gear and walking out to the end of the pier to catch our snorkeling boat. The little boat was rocking and crashing but the captain was still willing to try to take us out. I was sorely tempted because I really really wanted to try out my new GoPro knockoff camera, but the thought of that little boat riding those big waves was a show stopper. Reluctantly, we walked back to the ship to dress in long pants and warm up. Perhaps someday we will come back to Bermuda and try their beaches and snorkeling!
This voyage had nine sea days. You might think that we would get bored with so many days at sea with little to do, but that’s definitely not the case. There were so many choices of things to do: Vegas-style shows, live music, trivia games, lectures on our destinations, dancing, and even new release movies at the IMAX. If we weren’t careful we could overdose on the activities and forget to relax. Luckily, we made sure relaxation was a key component of every day. Sometimes we would lounge by one of the pools; other times we might find a quiet spot to read and sip a glass of wine. We definitely love sea days!
I can’t talk about the activities on the Vista without mentioning the incredibly fun Halloween celebration. I have never seen so many costumed people and in the most incredible costumes imaginable! We made sure that our costumes were small and easily packed but some of these people went all out and had to have separate luggage just for their costumes. I highly recommend cruising on Halloween!
Sailing Into New York City
After a thirteen day voyage it was finally time to come home and what better place to enter the United States than New York City! We were thrilled that we would be coming into this iconic harbor and see that Statue of Liberty from a ship. Talk about a Bucket List item! However, as we approached the coast we learned that we would be passing the Statue of Liberty at 3:00 AM. AM!?!?! I knew I would be up for it, but it simply wouldn’t be the same without Mona who I knew would sleep through it.
Much to my surprise and joy Mona got up with me at 2:30. We donned our bathrobes and went out onto the chilly deck and watched the sky line of New York as we approached. Incredible! Then we passed under the Verranzo-Narrows Bridge. Looking up it appeared that we had only inches between the Vista’s funnel and the bridge decking. Wow!
A few minutes later and there she was, the Statue of Liberty, ablaze with lights for all to see! What an incredible sight to see from the deck of a ship that crossed the Atlantic from the old world to the new. Words failed us and tears came to our eyes. Later we talked about how immigrants fleeing poverty and wars must have felt when they first saw Lady Liberty. It may seem a bit cliche but at that point we felt very proud to be Americans!
Our ship docked virtually in downtown Manhattan. We collected our luggage and made it through Immigration and Customs then walked out to the street to catch a taxi. Once outside we found that we were on 47th street and just eight blocks from our hotel. Who needs a taxi for eight blocks in New York City!? We walked through Times Square and on to our hotel to enjoy a few days in New York. What a fitting way to end our cruise!
In Ponta Delgada we met Priscila and learned about her Mini Sorrisos project. Here’s where you can learn more about her project to spread love and happiness: Mini Sorrisos FB Page.
As we travel we have the pleasure of spreading kindness through our sister’s Bee Kind Rocks. Here’s where you can find out more about Bee Kind Rocks
Gibraltar has over 50,000 years of history and prehistory. But if you just want a quick glimpse you should simply check out Wiki’s summary: Wiki – Gibraltar
We also cruised across the Pacific in the same year as our trans-Atlantic voyage. Here’s our blog post on that trip: Cruising the Pacific on the Carnival Legend.
Soon to come – a post comparing our Pacific and Atlantic cruises!