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NCL EPIC . Transatlantic Nov - Dec 2019 - quick review.


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Sorry this one has been a little late coming - with Christmas and the NY following it I didnt get round to putting it together till later than usual and find I must now catch up as we have another cruise in a couple of weeks. I'll post as quickly here as I can but you can keep in front and see all the photos on the usual blog entry.

 

NCL Epic - Transatlantic 2019 - Part 1 Barcelona - Palma Mallorca - Gibraltar

 
 
 
Day 1 Barcelona
 
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The Norwegian Epic - often referred to as the marmite of cruise ships she is certainly one of a kind and indeed  only one was built before NCL moved on to the Breakaway Class. Everyone around us in line at the cruise terminal seems to have traveled on her before. However  all agree that this year's westerly transatlantic itinerary is just to too good to miss regardless of her reputation.
 
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16 days at sea from Barcelona to Puerto Rico with a whole host of places in between. Its also a late crossing: November to early December taking a southern Atlantic route so hopefully a chance of some decent weather along the way.
This will be our third Transatlantic but our first on the more southern route.  It will also be the first holiday ever where we have arrived at the airport minus one suitcase which appears to have mysteriously vanished so a visit to the Swissport desk is required who seem to be expecting us as our missing bag never made it on board the plane and is still sat in Manchester. AARRGGHH
 
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Not the greatest start then but the show must go on. We stop in the Modern Quarter of Barcelona at The Gates, Diagonal , a modern new hotel opposite a large collection of shops and restaurants at Glories Tower. As we eat a fantastic Italian dinner there &we get the first automatic update on the state of our luggage - it will be flying out at 6am tomorrow on an Easyjet flight.
 
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We had pre arranged transfers booked with From2- the problem with these type of companies is that that you spend an hour or so driving around the back streets of Barcelona picking up from a multitude of hotels. In future I would  just take a taxi. We also awake to another update from the airport telling us our luggage has arrived and has been picked up by staff from the cruise company. So fingers crossed it goes to the right ship.
 
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Barcelona cruise terminal today is a perfect example of utter chaos ( not the norm at Barcelona I must add). We have been here many times on various ships, some bigger than the Epic and never had any problems so what on earth has gone wrong today remains a mystery until we are finally inside the terminal building.  As this is a transatlantic voyage, the Spanish border control have decided everyone who does not hold an EU passport needs to be have further checks. The silly thing is they have split the terminal into two check in rooms one for EU and one for non EU and the EU area is totally empty - if they had arranged the outside line in the same way they would have solved half the problem before the line got so long.
 
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We finally arrive onboard to find the  case we dropped off ourselves at the pier has already been delivered to the stateroom. Still no sign of the missing bag yet though so we unpack what we have and head for the muster. Everything has been pushed back a little time wise and by the time muster is finished we are ready to eat. We take a long leisurely and excellent dinner in the Manhattan dining room where we have an excellent seat at the window. As the throb of the engines increases and we slowly pull away from the port of Barcelona thoughts turn to the missing suitcase.
 
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And so we find ourselves heading back to our cabin that night with everything crossed for luck - and there it is sat outside proudly covered in RUSH and Expedite tickets having made its own journey to catch us up. We do a little happy dance in the corridor and finally retire to bed.
 
 
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Day 2 Palma - Mallorca

 

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Tomorrow morning we arrive early into Palma. Its warm but a little cloudy today.

 

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We choose to walk from the cruise terminal into Palma following the Harbour footpath which does throw up the odd challenge - especially if you're on the phone to mother!!!!! - Still it raises the heartbeat.

 

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Having been to Palma quite a few times on cruise visits we decide to go on foot and head for a wonderful sanctuary. The Basilica, Monastery ( now a Catholic school) & Cloisters of St Francis in the Old Town area of Palma.

 

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This little hidden gem is practically deserted today - we seem to have the whole complex to ourselves. The entrance fee was 5 euros.

 

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The following morning is a sea day and a welcome one at that. We take breakfast in the room as we tend to avoid the madness of the buffet unless there really is something special happening.
 

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Heading back to the Spanish mainland finds us in the unique position of having practically all the Epics upper decks to ourselves..  Whilst its not baking hot its certainly a hell of a lot warmer than late November in the British Isles so quite where everyone has disappeared to is a mystery.

 

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Tonight we have reservations at Le Bistro where we will use the first of our Platinum level dining freebies. You get two of these - one for either Bistro or Cagneys and another that can be used in La Cucina or Moderno - add to this the perk of 5 specialty meals and free drinks that NCL already include means you can vary your dining experiences even on a relatively long cruise such as this.

 

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The cavern still remains one of our favourite venues on any cruise ship.. Nice and intimate with great live music - its the prefect setting for the EPIC Beatles to do their stuff and feels so much more intimate than watching a show in the theatre.
 

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Day 3 Malaga for Gibraltar
The following morning sees us heading to Gibraltar from here we take the simple coach trip "Gibraltar on your own" from the ship and then share a touring taxi with fellow ship mates from Honduras.

 

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Neither of us have been to Gibraltar before and we are keen to explore the Big Rock especially as Jacks Father spent some time stationed here during his time in the Navy.
 

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Watch out for those pesky Monkeys
 
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And that breeze. From here we can make out the mountain ranges of Morocco. If you only have a day in Gibraltar I highly recommend the private taxi tours. The rock itself is not an easy place to get to (even if you use the cable car it only takes you to one spot) and there is so much to see on top, inside and around. The tours include all access fees to all the sites as well.
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NCL Epic - Transatlantic Nov 2019 - Part 2 Cadiz - Madeira - Lanzarote

 
Day 5 Cadiz 
 
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Overnight the ship makes its way from Malaga through the Straits of Gibraltar and on to our final Spanish mainland port of Cadiz. For the James Bond fans that's two film locations back to back.
 
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We had been to Cadiz many years ago & visited Jerez for the sherry bodega and the Lippizana Stallions so its nice to just leisurely stroll around today and visit the Cathedral. Unfortunately as soon as we step off the ship the heavens decide to open for an hour or two and a misty fog rolls in from the sea.
 
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We eventually make it to the Cathedral Nueva ( well it was new before the 18th century) where the excellent audio guides take us around the many side chapels & crypt. As we exit the sun has reappeared and we make our way back to the ship.
 
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Dinner tonight is Cagneys where wine is served in glasses you can almost drown in, the lamb is excellent and lobster tail  which has finally reappeared on the menu after a couple of years absence. Yay! It's a rocky one tonight as we head out into the mighty Atlantic.
 
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12 hours ago, Comi.uy said:

Good review, sorry about your missing bag!

 

Have to say it really was well handled and efficiently resolved in the end. We were impressed.

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Day 6 &7 Madeira
 

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A time change overnight means we are out on the balcony for breakfast for a surprisingly warm and beautiful sunrise, perfect conditions as we slowly sail into the port of Funchal. Its taken us a full day at sea to reach Madeira from Cadiz.

 

 
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As we left Cadiz we finally entered the Atlantic Ocean and have begun our crossing, though  I'm slightly baffled (again) as to where everybody had disappeared to on the sea day. Cant complain though as we kept the waiter busy with Camparis in the sun.

 

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Now we are finally sailing gently into the port of Funchal Madeira it's noticeable now many Aida cruise line ships seem to be following us around this section of the cruise- it seems they have a few ships based  in the Canaries and Madeira -  Aida are a  cruise line who unlike other European lines (Costa or MSC) seem to trade only with the German market, a pity as some of the winter routes look quite excellent.

 

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We have an early morning walk with the guide around Funchal's old market where abundant vegetables, flowers and fruits are displayed like works of art.With its year round sub tropical climate, most plants thrive in Madeira.

 

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The fish section of the market looks wonderful too - though some of its inhabitants look slightly more menacing than others. Everywhere is  beautifully tiled with traditional Portuguese porcelain.
 

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We also spend a little time looking around a traditional Madeira embroidery factory  which is very interesting - especially the prices; though the amount of skill, time and manpower needed to even make a handkerchief probably justifies this.

 

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A short bus journey has us heading inland and upwards towards the village of Monte with its beautiful "Church of our Lady" and from here we walk past the traditional sledges - now Madeiras main tourist icon - to the cable car which will take us down to the botanical gardens.

 

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High above the town of Funchal, Madeira’s first Botanical Gardens were created in the 1960s and still exist in mostly original form today. Originally part of the estate and private house of a hotel magnate the gardens contain a dizzying array of species, with everything from Tasmanian tree ferns and ancient laurel trees to cacti, orchids, strelizia and the endemic (and rather strange) Dragon Trees.

 

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You can reach them several ways but there is a direct cable car from the village of Monte which will take you to the garden's ticket office.
 

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The iconic terraces of the botanical gardens. 
 
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The cactus gardens in the botanical gardens

 

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We have really enjoyed both the lovely November climate and the lush green of Madeira and its a place I would love to visit again perhaps on our next crossing 😉

 

Next we head off to LAnzarote

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Day 8 Lanzarote 
 

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We breakfast on our sunny balcony as we sail into the port of Arrecife. Lanzarote, which is  the polar opposite of Madeira as far as the landscape is concerned. Exchanging the lush & tropical for volcanic & wind swept beauty.
 

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Yes, it is a volcanic island and not green everywhere, but it is the unusual combination of lunar landscape and fertile farmland that creates such contrast.

 

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You can pick up a local tour bus of the island from the end of the pier (which you can pre book online - we used Lanzarote guides.
 

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Our adventures around the island included a winery/bodega visit, including samples! the vines have a unique cultivation method where each individual vine is surrounded by a knee high stone wall made from pieces of solidified lava that make up much of the islands geology. It does create a weird landscape to look at, especially in late November when most of the vines have been cut back and barely a leaf remains. 

 

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Lanzarote is famed for its dry winds that can sweep across the islands and remove the light fertile top layer of soil. Without these walls nothing would remain. The wine itself is a peculiar aperitif. For all the effort that goes in to protecting these vines I have to say that in all honesty the result is a taste only a mother could love.

 

 
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We then head on towards the national park which covers a huge area of the island. White painted  villages dot the otherwise quite stark landscape.
 

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The temperature has risen quite dramatically from early morning so its a welcome stop for an ice cream by the sea before we carry on into the desert looking for camels.
 

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Camels were brought to Lanzarote between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. The camels were later distributed in the rest of the Canary Islands. They fit the landscape perfectly. Its great fun watching our co passengers ride.

 

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The tour ends  with a visit to the fire mountains, Timanfaya National Park whose last eruption was 1824. Buses and cars are given an allocated time to enter the road into the park, so traffic is sparse. From the parks entrance you are taken to the beautiful new visitors centre designed by artist Cesar Manrique where in the baking heat of the sun they demonstrate how hot the ground is a few feet below your feet by setting fire to bracken without a match and pouring sand from the pits into your hands. Its like standing in an oven.

 

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After the series of demonstrations you re-board the bus for a scenic drive through the lunar landscape of the park which is timed to match music & narration piped through the buses PA system; for some reason mysterious wind chimes and bells ring throughout the breaks in the  narration which results in us having inexplicable giggles. 

 

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Its been a full day tour and great value compared to the ships half day version. Despite its starkness there is a beauty in the landscape - its also a very eco friendly island. The artist and architect César Manrique  had a vision for Lanzarote. He wanted the island to be a pioneer in sustainable tourism. Therefore he started his foundation in the early 80s and worked closely with the government to forbid developments of high rise hotel buildings and distracting billboard ads on the roads. 
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Tonight we will leave the volcano landscape of Lanzarote and set sail heading further south and are due to dock at Tenerife in the morning before pointing West and heading out into the Atlantic proper.
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