Atlantic Adventurer 2015

This 50-day cruise visits only 9 countries, but makes 25 port calls, traveling from Florida to all around the Mediterranean and back again. The Maasdam, another Holland America ship new to Mike & Sandy, was their home for almost two months, getting them home just before Christmas. (Sandy loves these itineraries with no over-night flights required!)

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This trip had adventure, with Mike & Sandy delayed over 4 hours getting to Florida, thanks to a plane engine catching on fire at the Ft. Laderdale airport (with only minor injuries, fortunately). Mike & Sandy are traveling with Daryl, Carol, Chuck, and Ada, cruise friends from Florida. Here's a few pix enroute and on the ship.

You can't get from Florida to Europe without crossing the Carribean, hence port calls at San Juan, Puerto Rico (hot and humid!) and St. Marteen (a small port with 4 cruise ships there!)

We set out to cross the Atlantic in 6 days, heading for the Canary Islands, off of Africa. Mike & Sandy briefly visited the Canary Islands 30 years ago, as they sought some sun during one of their long, grey winters living in London.

The ship called at the 3 largest Canary islands, volcanic, and mainly about tourism and beaches. Tenerife, the first stop and the largest island, was largely devoted to Sandy going to a local hospital for ultra-sounds (to confirm gall stones) following an attack on the ship. On Grand Canaria, their tour took them to the volcano's caldera (looks just like Hawaii's), to a pleasant mountain-side village with a church congregation dating back some 500 years, and to a botanical garden with some cute mascots ("Grand Canaria is to Botany what the Gallapagoes Islands are to Zoology.")

The third island visited, Fuerteventura, is drier than the others, and is more desert-like, with sand dunes right by the ocean. Mike & Sandy visited an aloe plantation, and several small towns.

The Maasdam stopped at Tangier, Morocco, on the north coast of Africa. Sandy & Mike went out to the spot where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet, seeing the beaches and the legendary Cave of Hercules, and later toured areas of both the new (fast growing) and old towns, including the Kasbah fort and the Souk market place. Tangier was a surprise - much more "westernized," modern, and inviting than expected.

The next day, back on the north side of the Med, Mike & Sandy took a private tour out to the town of Granada to revisit the famous Alhambra. The buildings and gardens of this World Heritage site have many style elements similar to the Taj Mahal in India.

Now the ship continued along the north side of the Mediterranean for a stop at Valencia, Spain ("home of a huge Cathedral and the famous Valencia oranges"). Sandy & Mike visited the 100-year old Central Market, and the beautiful City of Arts and Sciences (designed by a well-known local architect).

Just up the coast is Barcelona, the most popular cruise ship port in all of Europe, and the Massdam was there two days. Mike & Sandy enjoyed seeing the "palace" of a weathy local, which was designed by Gaudi, and a museum featuring the archeological history of Barcelona. In the evening they attended a concert in the lavishly decorated hundred-year-old music hall. The next day they saw the interior of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, the enormous church that has been under construction since 1882, and saw the exteriors of several other Gaudi-designed buildings.

The Island of Mallorca and the City of Palma was next, a beautiful part of Spain where many rich and famous (e.g.,Michael Douglas, Richard Branson, Princess Diana) have or had second homes, etc. Sandy had organized a small-group private tour, including an old castle, built in the 1400's, the cute little mountainside town of Valldemossa (reminds one of Sedona, Arizona, with its arts focus, and Chopin had lengthy stays there), olive trees over a thousand years old, and and a ride on a narrow-gauge railroad back to Palma for a walk through the old town Gothic Quarter.

Italy was next, starting at Rome. Mike & Sandy, with 2 friends, left the ship for a few days of independent travel. They did sightseeing day and night (Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Viktor Emmanual Monument, Minerva ruins, Colleseum, St. Paul's Cathedral, and several museums), while based in a cute little hotel in the Trastevere district.

The Sandy & Mike team finished up sightseeing in Rome, and drove down the AutoStrade to Naples, where they reboarded the Maasdam. Rainy weather convinced them to skip wandering about the city, so this picture of famous Mt. Vesuvius will have to tell the story of the Naples area. The ship called at Messina, on the Italian island of Sicily -- not too much here, but the town square boasts one of those huge clocks with moving figures, and two nearby villages were locations for filming of the Godfather movies.

Athens was next, and Sandy & Mike skipped the well-known attractions in town (been there; done that) and headed south to Cape Sounion to visit the Temple of Poseidon, high on a cliff over the sea. The next stop, Katakolon, Greece, was scrubbed due to high winds, and the ship continued to Corfu -- cute resort island, but not really special. Next port was the little island nation of Malta, just south of Italy - a real jewel where Sandy & Mike have been before, and always enjoy another visit -- it has one of the most striking and beautiful harbors in the world. Mike & Sandy spent most of their visit in the countryside, where several temple ruins date from about 3000 BC, and there is an abundance of striking coast line.

The Maasdam continued its trip back to Florida, and called at two more Italian ports, Palermo, Sicily, and Cagliari, Sardinia. In Palermo, Sandy & Mike did the Hop On-Hop Off bus for a while, and then visited the Chapel of the "Norman Palace," built over 900 years ago (in the 1100's). A walk through the city's shopping areas took them back to the ship. Cagliari provided an opportunity for Mike & Sandy to see well-preserved ruins of a civilization of an even earlier time (almost 3000 years old) --- a truly fascinating UNESCO World Heritage archeological site. Stone buildings were constructed, with towers shaped like upside down ice-cream cones, and all sorts of interior rooms and passages.

The ship continued west, to Spain again, this time calling at Cartagena and Cadiz, with a stop at the still-British-after-all-these-years outpost of Gibraltar in between. Cartagena is a pleasant little town, and offered a peek inside an ornate fisherman's chapel, in use since 1695, and a chance for Sandy to do a little shopping. Gibraltar ("the Rock") was a new port for Mike & Sandy, and very interesting. There are all sorts of tunnels and fortifications in and around the mountain, some dating back to 1779, and some added during WW II. And of course it is famous for the Barbary Apes (actually a type of tail-less monkey) that run wild all over the mountain. Cadiz, Spain's largest port, is on the Atlantic Ocean side of Spain, and is where Colombus began some of his adventures.

The Maasdam again touched North Africa, this time "around the corner" on the Atlantic Ocean side at Casablanca, Morocco. In spite of being the setting for the famous movie of the same name (yes, we saw Rick's Cafe) and the home of one of the largest Islamic mosques in the world, Casablanca turns out to be a rather grimy industrial city which doesn't make the "we must come here again" list. Mike & Sandy took a tour to Rabat, the capital of Morocco -- a smaller city nearby that's a bit more charming. The Portugese island of Madeira was Mike & Sandy's last stop before braving the Atlantic again, heading back to Florida.

By mid December, the Christmas spirit began to envelope the ship, including a visit to the diningroom by Santa, decorations on cabin doors, and a ginger-bread house in the attrium. The ship's staff threw a Christmas party the evening of the last sea day, and those that had been dying to dance with the Captain (or with Catherine, our 2nd-in-command Staff Captain) or other Officers were indulged. Most of the crew crammed the showroom for the farewell singing.

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