Cruise & Explore the Gems of Spain

A Luxurious Mediterranean Cruise to Intriguing Spanish Ports

By Charlene & Richard Mixa

The MS New Amsterdam sails the coast of Spain

The MS New Amsterdam sails the coast of Spain

Roman ruins, ancient cathedrals, lively cities and remote villages entice visitors to Spain. A country where the great civilizations have risen, fallen and left behind their indelible mark. Holland America’s Gems of Spain promises enchanting glimpses of an intriguing country while indulging in a luxurious Mediterranean cruise.

Verandah Suite

Verandah Suite

Welcome Aboard MS Nieuw Amsterdam! The shimmering waters of the Mediterranean will be our home for a week. Boarding the MS Nieuw Amsterdam, a spacious, intimate, and perfectly staffed Signature class cruise ship.  Our cabin is a designer Veranda Ocean-view Suite featuring a king bed, sitting area, ample closets, very nice bathroom and private balcony. With just 2,000 passengers the ship is cosier than superliners of 4,000+ passengers. Comfort, entertainment, service, and variety are paramount with activities to fit each guest’s desires. Options abound with nightly entertainment from high energy shows to a piano bar to dancing. The casino rings with slot machines and table games, the library offers solitude with magnificent views, relaxation awaits at a wonderful spa, burn off calories at a state-of-the-art fitness center, a huge pool and hot tub rejuvenate, games from bingo to trivia test mental skills, and an array of shore excursions assure unique adventures in each port.

The top of the Barcelona Cathedral

The top of the Barcelona Cathedral

Journey to Dynamic Ports! The Gems of Spain features six ports along the coast of Spain. Viva Barcelona! A global capital of commerce, fashion, culture, cuisine, and sunshine is the 1st Gem. On a pre-cruise visit this vibrant city radiates with the ancient, the modernist and the Gaudi. Barcelona Bus Turistic, a hop-on-hop-off bus, gives a superb overview of the city’s history, diverse culture, and magnificent architecture. The visionary architecture of Antonio Gaudi is seen throughout. Intriguing history is found in the Gothic style Barcelona Cathedral with panoramic views from its rooftop. A must do is a stroll on the infamous Las Ramblas, a glorious tree-shaded thoroughfare in the heart of the city. Tasty and tantalizing is the Sandeman’s Tapas Tour with lots of sampling and sipping. “Barca!” Fans cheer at the Barcelona football (soccer to us) stadium, the 3rd largest football stadium in the World. Our top deck seats offer extensive views of the stadium and city.

Cathedral in Palma del Mallorca

Cathedral in Palma del Mallorca

The Island of Palma del Mallorca Awaits! A stylish, sophisticated, and intimate capital city, Palma del Mallorca bursts with life. The 2nd Gem, the city overlooks the sparkling blue seas of the Mediterranean on the southern shores of the island of Mallorca. Wandering along the Esplanade, we see the massive Gothic cathedral with its beautiful fountain and ramparts. At 11:00 AM is the Europe Free Walking Tour. An extensive historic 2-hour tour that provides insight into this fascinating city influenced by the Moors, the Romans, and the Christians. Each culture impacted the city from its historic past to present. An enchanting city to meander and shop.

The amazing Esplanade of Spain in Alicante

The amazing Esplanade of Spain in Alicante

It’s Wednesday! It must be Alicante! We awake to a wonderful view of the Castle of Santa Barbara perched atop Mount Benacantil. Boasting a thriving trade and sandy shores, many cruisers seek the beaches while others visit Old Town. An easy walking city, we delight in exploring Old Town’s unique shops and historic sights. A special stop is the Co-Cathedral of St Nicholas Bari the main church in Alicante. A striking combination of baroque and renaissance features, it boasts a beautiful blue dome. Amazing! The Esplanade of Spain is a wavy colored red, blue and white mosaic design of 6,000,000 tiles, lined with stunning rows of palms. The Esplanade beckons for a leisurely stroll.

The mountain village of Pampaneira

The mountain village of Pampaneira

Motril and Its Mountains! The 4th Gem is Motril and our Shore Excursion is a bus ride up the twisting roads of Alpujarras Mountain Drive. On the trip we learn the legendary history of Motril, where sugar cane was once king, and the hardiness of the tiny mountain villages. At Pampaneira, a village perched high above the sea, we roam the winding hilly streets among shops and homes. The quaint street scenes are picturesque with views of the Sierra Nevada range. In Motril, at the top of a steep walkway is El Real Santuario de Nuestra Senora de la Cabeza. The church’s simple exterior and interior is a dichotomy to its grand glittering golden altar. Behind altar is a majestic artwork of Mary with the baby Jesus. Definitely, a hidden gem!

Our WW II Tunnel tour begins with donning hard hats!

Our WW II Tunnel tour begins with donning hard hats!

Hello Mate! The English Flag flies over the 5th Gem of Spain, Gibraltar a British Overseas Territory on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. The Shore Excursion Fortress Gibraltar, is enthralling with insight into the many facets of Gibraltar and Britain’s continued efforts to maintain control of the territory. From Lighthouse Point, Morocco is just across the water. On a narrow twisting road up the “Rock.” we spot the Barbary Apes, really tailless monkeys. Next is an intriguing tour of the World War II Tunnels that created a fortress within the fortress of the Rock of Gibraltar. Winding through a few of the 32 miles of tunnels, we hear tales on the tunnel’s impact, the propaganda to lure 5,000 Brits and 240 Canadians to the tunnels where they lived, worked and slept. Gibraltar’s Jurassic limestone seeps water causing the workers to constantly face cold, wet conditions. Ugh! A lot of work that was all for naught.

Roman Theatre Museum in Cartagena, Spain

Roman Theatre Museum in Cartagena, Spain

Let the Adventure Begin in Cartagena! Elegant Roman architecture gleams in Cartagena, the 6th Gem of Spain. The town is walled, the harbor defended by forts, and Roman ruins are scattered throughout. A city with a rich cultural legacy from the days of Romans, Muslims and Arabic rule. Majestic, the entire city has exquisite tiled marble thoroughfares. Three sights for the price of one! The multi-pass ticket includes a self-guided tour of the Roman Theatre Museum, the Archaelogical Park, and the Concepcion Castle. The Roman Theatre Museum gives an extensive history of Cartagena and is fun to roam this coliseum-like structure. Atop Concepcion Castle are breathtaking views along with information on its remarkable history. At Archaelogical Park, ruins and digs show how the Romans lived. Cartagena has numerous sights and easy to explore on foot.

The Staff entertains us on the final evening in the Dining Room!

The Staff entertains us on the final evening in the Dining Room!

Be Wined and Dined with Gastronomic Pleasures Choices are paramount on a cruise ship as more time is spent on the ship than in ports. To assure a pleasurable and satisfying cruise, dining and activities are critical. Extensive gourmet dining is available throughout the day and night from the elegant atmosphere of the Main Dining Room to a casual dining restaurant to specialty restaurants on the Nieuw Amsterdam. The Lido Deck’s daily extensive breakfast and lunch buffets more than satisfy our desires. Evenings, we opt for the open seating in the Main Dining Room for an unforgettable five-course dinner. Each evening we sit at a different table and make new friends. Dining at the ship’s unique specialty restaurants adds to the epicurean pleasure on the cruise.

The Pinnacle Grill

The Pinnacle Grill

The Pinnacle Grill is refined luxury in an intimate setting with an exceptional dishes inspired by America’s Pacific Northwest. A sheer drapery in a semi-circle booth creates a romantic venue while the excellent wait-staff assures a magical dinner. Appetizers of fresh heirloom tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and a succulent lobster bisque then transition to entrees of a tasty halibut with shrimp and scampi sauce and tantalizing filet with creamy mashed potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. Decadent desserts are a luscious vanilla soufflé with fruit compote and a creamy cheesecake with raspberries. A magnificent dining experience!

A toast to Le Cirque!

A toast to Le Cirque!

Bon Appetite! Le Cirque restaurant in New York City is ranked among the best restaurants in the world. One night per voyage, Holland America recreates legendary and whimsical ambiance of this illustrious restaurant. The Pinnacle Grill is transformed to bring an exquisite French Continental cuisine. A five-course dinner with wine pairings is elegant gourmet dining. Beginning with a sparkling wine and foie gras mousse with rhubarb, we wine and dine our way through each course. From appetizers of a lobster salad and a burgundy escargot to chilled yogurt melon soup to main courses of delectable seabass and rack of lamb. Each course brings its own tantalizing flavors accompanied by the appropriate wines. Decadent desserts are the finale. Le Cirque is the crème de la crème!

Canaletto's Large Plate of Veal picatta with angel hair pasta.  Delicious!

Canaletto’s Large Plate of Veal picatta with angel hair pasta. Delicious!

Buon Appetito!  While in Spain dine like an Italian? “Spartire” is the Italian word for sharing. The Canaletto Restaurant’s menu is designed around this authentic Italian experience offering a variety of dishes to enjoy and share. Each evening a portion of the Lido Deck is converted to Canaletto’s private dining venue with scenic views of the Mediterranean. We select two small plate dishes of a Canaletto salad and a dish of delectable veal meatballs in a hearty tomato sauce. Gnocchi with a moist and tender braised beef brisket is our one medium plate. Our large plate is a superb veal piccata with angel hair pasta and crisp kale greens. Sweet treats are the Tort al cacao chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream and unique lemon custard with a lemon liqueur and gelatin. A fun and delightful Italian family style dinner.

The Showroom at Sea

The Showroom at Sea

OnBoard Cruise Activities Are Varied and Plentiful Every day aboard a Holland America cruise brings a wealth of cruise activities and indulgences, along with the freedom to partake in as many or as few as we please. Dabble, discover, or daydream! There are plenty of choices to fill our time onboard. The Showroom at Sea offers fantastic nightly entertainment from high energy shows of singing and dancing to amazing one-man performances. Strolling the deck we pop in for a dance in one of the nightclubs or just to listen to favorite tunes at the Piano Bar. The Casino entices us to give the slots and table games a spin. In the Crow’s Nest we find a cozy chair to relax, read, or lookout over the expansive tranquil Mediterranean Sea. Games of Trivia test our knowledge while BINGO is just fun. With the largest gym ever built for Holland America, early morning or late afternoon workouts help burn calories. The Hot Tub and Sauna are great for relaxing. Hidden niches with chaise lounge chairs are perfect for a siesta. Walking the outer deck of the Promenade Deck on the day-at-sea, we get in a few miles as three laps equal one mile. Having options for activities in the afternoons, evenings or day-at-sea is terrific.

Arrivederci! Magnifico! Fun, exciting, educational, entertaining, relaxing and delicious are only a few adjectives to describe the fantastic Gems of Spain Cruise. Disembarking at Civitavecchia Port, the closest cruise port to Rome, Italy, we say a fond farewell to our luxurious Mediterranean Cruise to intriguing Spanish Ports.

If you go: A cruise is fantastic for seeing numerous locations and a terrific deal monetarily. We liked the size of the Nieuw Amesterdam being more of a mid-size ship. Each port we visited was unique and we especially liked the option of exploring on our own or paying for shore excursions. The various dining venues were excellent while the meals were all gastronomical pleasures. For time onboard it was great to have a variety of activities and entertainment. (Note: On a recent river cruise, there were very limited options while onboard, which made us appreciate even more the options available on a larger ship). The lack of free Internet onboard was a disappointment as we assumed complimentary WIFI would be available in public areas. We highly recommend a Holland America Cruise. Just check out where you wish to travel, the number of days and the room that fits your budget. Be sure to evaluate shore excursion options or doing self-tours when in port. Do some research ahead of time then relax, explore and have fun on a luxurious cruise.

Holland America Cruises
1.877.932.4259
www.hollandamerica.com

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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.