Adventure of the Seas, France & Spain – Day 3 – Vigo
Day 3 brought our first stop of the cruise, the Galician port of Vigo. It was still dark as sunrise wasn’t until 8am but it was already wonderfully warm as I pulled back the curtains and stepped onto the balcony to spy land ahoy!
As the ship was docking I wrestled with the internet to finish yesterday’s blog. The wifi on board is nowhere near as reliable as on the Independence of the Seas and annoyingly it’s more expensive. This time we paid $219 with a crown and anchor discount for unlimited access across two devices for seven days. I paid only a fraction more in the summer for two weeks unlimited and three devices. Coverage is unpredictable around the ship and speeds are slow but it’s just about bearable for checking emails and Facebook and posting this live blog.
Once I’d written my daily installment it was time for breakfast so I hurried the boys along and we managed to make the al a carte breakfast served in Mozart on deck 5. One of my favourite things on a cruise is a waiter served breakfast as even in 5 star hotels it’s mostly breakfast buffet these days. I realise cruise lines are evolving but this is one indulgence I really hope they retain. There was a small queue as we arrived so we agreed to share a table of ten with three other parties from across Yorkshire. It made for a social start to the day although I wasn’t keen on the discussion of norovirus at the breakfast table! I enjoyed French toast with English bacon, Finn had the same but with sausages and Andy enjoyed an omelette with hash browns.
After breakfast it was back to the room to grab our things before going ashore. We visited Vigo around 10 weeks ago on the Independence of the Seas but I quite like revisiting ports as you never really get to see everything in one place in a day. We enjoyed Vigo last time, it’s a lovely Spanish port with an old town full of tree lined streets and squares. Our plan for Vigo wasn’t overly ambitious, a little shopping and a glass of red which always sounds like a perfect day to me.
Vigo is one of the easiest destinations to explore as you just exit the port building and you’re there. We turned left and walked along the waterfront stopping for the obligatory ice cream for Finn. We then took one of the steep tree lined streets up into the old town passing lots of lovely looking tapas restaurants. As it was quite early they were just opening up but if it had been closer to lunch I’d have definitely been tempted.
We walked up through winding streets and alleys to Vigo’s main pedestrianised shopping street which is very easy to find and begins by a tall monument with a strange half man / half fish sculpture on top. We stopped at Benetton which has a lovely range of kids clothes but seems to have all but disappeared from the UK. We stocked up on things for Finn and a few bargain jumpers for me and then continued up the street to buy socks I’d forgotten as we’d packed in such a hurry. The shopping street was full of buskers and human statues entertaining the thousands of cruise ship passengers who had arrived on Adventure and the Emerald Princess that had also docked in town.
The captain had forecast a cloudy day but they soon cleared to reveal a beautiful blue sky and some much needed sunshine. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect weather wise on a late October cruise so I packed for everything from a bikini to a cagoule! As it was nearing lunchtime it was clearly time for the first red wine of the day so we found a square lined with bars close to the church, grabbed a table and ordered two Riojas and an orange juice. The waiter arrived, delivered our wine and left what looked like a glass of John Smiths bitter for Finn! We questioned him, thinking a badly pronounced naranja had been misheard as cerveza but he assured us it was orange juice despite it’s dark brown beer like appearance. Andy tasted it and it was indeed orange juice but Finn wasn’t having any of it. We drank up (leaving the orange) and settled the bill which was a very reasonable 6 before taking the short stroll back to the ship via a toy shop in the shopping centre in front of the port. Finn couldn’t see anything he wanted so in a rare display of maturity decided to save his Euros for the next toy shop instead.
We were soon back on board with tummies rumbling so we headed to the Windjammer and enjoyed a Moroccan lamb curry which was incredible. Cruise ships always do a range of amazing curries which seem far tastier and more authentic than anything you get back home, I guess it’s due to the diverse nationalities working on board. After lunch we went back to the room and took full advantage of a blazing sun which was shining directly onto our aft balcony. Andy wasn’t convinced we’d actually get to use it with the weather this time but as it’s a sheltered aft I though even if it’s rains we could get some fresh air!
After a few hours topping up the tan we went to the top deck as Finn wanted to splash around. I grabbed a strawberry daiquiri for me and a beer for Andy then Finn and I braved a chilly swimming pool then the much more pleasant hot tub. There was a live band playing poolside and it was almost like being in the Caribbean.
After we’d dried off we went to take another look at the inline skating, thankfully Finn (and to be honest myself) decided it looked a little dangerous so we decided on the arcade instead. I had trouble loading credit onto his card so we went to the main reception who quickly resolved this. As part of the Crown and Anchor loyalty package Finn gets an extra $25 credit if we add $25 so we took advantage and I’m hoping it will last the week. A few games of air hockey later (he beat me!) then it was back to our room to change for the evening.
Dinner was booked for 7pm in the main dining room and we were quickly seated and received a warm welcome from our waiting staff who said they’d missed us the night before. Service was notably more relaxed than the first night and two bowls of strawberries for Finn and two glasses of red wine for the grown ups appeared instantaneously so they’re definitely looking like contenders for the Wow cards we were given to reward staff.
For starters I enjoyed a wonderful minestrone soup and Andy loved the garlic soup. For mains I had lasagne and Andy had tiger prawns, both were absolutely delicious. Once again we declined dessert but our waitress appeared with another glass of red each which we hadn’t asked for but it would have been rude to refuse!
Following dinner we went back to the arcade for a bit more air hockey followed by a little fresh air on top deck where they were showing a film and then the Imperial Lounge at the front of the ship where they have live music nightly. I enjoyed a Baileys (getting value from the drinks package) while watching the Teddy Quartet play a few numbers. Andy was tired so went to bed while Finn and I went to the packed Royal Promenade for the 70s dance party which was a lot of fun. We ended the night in a shop buying another teddy we don’t need and chocolate for Finn before heading to bed, tired but happy after a great day and looking forward to adventures in Gijon tomorrow.
Adventure of the Seas, France & Spain – Day 4 – Gijon
Seven night cruise’s slip by far too quickly for my liking but half term school holidays just don’t allow for anything longer at this time of year. We docked at Gijon around 10am and in a serendipitous moment Andy was watching a Rick Stein cookery show on the ship TV’s Polish BBC channel. Rick was in Northern Spain touring the exact area we were docking in and cooking a stew mentioned in that days cruise compass! It was an unexpected insight into the Asturias region and seemed to bode well for the day ahead.
The distractions of the TV and writing the blog meant we missed the al a carte breakfast option so we decided to brave the Windjammer which was heaving. We had to circle the restaurant to find a table and as it was about 10.45am they’d started closing half the food stations down to prepare for lunch. The remaining breakfast stations were mobbed with hungry diners and it felt a little like the Boxing Day sale at Harrods with a full English as the prize. Elbows out I headed in and returned to our table with breakfast for myself and Finn. Andy couldn’t face the scrum and was probably still full from the previous night’s dinner so settled for an orange juice. Unfortunately the sausages weren’t quite cooked so we didn’t eat them but I mentioned it to a member of staff who promptly removed the tray from the counter. We finished our French toast and went up to top deck to get our bearings, assess the weather and plan the day.
At first glance Gijon was far from impressive as we were docked in an industrial port full of containers and what looked like a coal mining operation. We were clearly well away from the centre of town which had looked quite promising in the port research I”d done however there were plenty of taxis waiting and the option of shuttle buses too. The RCI shuttle was $15 per adult and $10 per child for a return ticket but we decided to take a taxi as we much prefer to travel independently.
It was a wise decision as disembarkation was chaotic to say the least. We had to queue for about ten minutes to descend the world’s narrowest gangway and then joined another huge queue to exit through a hastily erected marquee on the dockside. It was classic British behaviour and the bottleneck was being caused purely by a small table of free maps and guides which we sidestepped to visit the tourist desk at the side of the marquee. We spoke to a very helpful woman who gave us a map and discount vouchers and showed us where to get the cab to drop us in town.
There were huge, disorganised queues for the shuttle buses which we bypassed to walk up to where we could see some waiting taxis at the end of the dock. In doing so we inadvertently jumped a big taxi queue as they were only allowed to pick up by the ship and only one or two were permitted to drive up at any time. Thankfully the policeman controlling the flow of taxis allowed us to jump in one there and we were soon on our way into town.
In Northern Spain many locals don’t speak English as fluently as we are used to in the more usual tourist destinations of Southern Spain or the Balearics. Our taxi driver didn’t speak any English and our grasp of Spanish is basic to say the least. Our plan was to jump the hop on hop off bus and the woman in the tourist office suggested getting a cab to the marina as that’s where the HoHo departs from so we asked the taxi driver to drop us at ‘the marina por favor’ while I waved the hop on hop off map at her. She clearly didn’t understand so grabbed her phone which had a translation app on it and gave it to me to talk into. I tried a good few times to say we wanted to go to the marina until it finally repeated back the Spanish phrase which was just ‘marina’ in a Spanish accent! Much laughter all round. If you are visiting Gijon the square by the marina is called Jardines de la Reina which may save you some similar confusion!
An 18 cab ride later we arrived at the yacht filled marina right by a huge red Gijon sign and in the heart of the historic old town which was much more attractive than the industrial port we’d left behind. We saw the Hop on Hop off bus but the first one was so full we decided to save our fares and just wander the streets. Looking at the bus map much of the route takes you out of town and heads for one particular building, the science and technology museum, so unless you particularly want to visit there the rest of the city is probably best seen on foot.
The weather was cloudy but warm as we strolled along the curve of the sea front promenade. The beach looked lovely but as it wasn’t beach weather we watched the surfers and dog walkers then turned back into the town. Gijon is filled with narrow streets, beautiful old buildings and some quality designer shopping. It was a pleasant surprise and we found the obligatory toy shop where Finn purchased some Lego while Andy and myself argued over who would have to build it later. We headed through the side streets and sat outside a bar to enjoy a few Riojas accompanied by some complimentary tapas for a very reasonable 10 before taking a taxi back to the boat.
Finn decided he wanted to go to the kids club Adventure Ocean so we dropped him off and went to the Royal Promenade for a drink. A bit later I went to check on Finn and he was having a whale of a time, gave me the two prizes he had won during the session and announced he was staying at kids club for tea! Kids dinner was taking place in Johnny Rockets so I signed him up and there was no additional charge involved. On the way back to the cabin I stopped by the champagne bar and grabbed a couple of champagne mojitos which are included in the premium drinks package we have. We then sneaked up to Johnny Rockets to spy on Finn who was having a lovely time sitting with friends and the youth staff.
We enjoyed a child free dinner in the main dining room, a duck breast salad followed by strip steak and chips for two. I finally had a dessert as my all time Royal Caribbean favourite, Jaffa Cake was on the menu. It’s a chocolate dessert that tastes exactly like its namesake biscuits – or are they cakes ; )
Following dinner we went back to the champagne bar and sampled another cocktail, this time a Royal Fizz, a blend of champagne, grand mariner and lemoncello (I think) which was delicious and we’ll be returning for more I”m sure.
We went to collect Finn who probably would have stayed at Adventure Ocean all night if we’d let him and we got front row seats for the 9pm show, a solo headliner female singer called Chilli Gold. She was very entertaining and worked the crowd beautifully with mainly country and western classics. When Simon Cowell says on X Factor you remind me of a cruise ship singer it should be a compliment not a put down as we’ve seen some amazing talent on cruise ships over the years. It was a very enjoyable end to the evening.
Adventure of the Seas, France & Spain – Day 5 – Bilbao
Blue skies and 80 degrees of sunshine greeted us as we arrived in the beautiful port of Getxo, a short drive from the Basque city of Bilbao. The inclusion of the destination on our itinerary was one of the main reasons for booking the cruise as I’d visited the city 16 years ago on a work trip and have always been keen to return. Until very recently there were no direct flights from Manchester so a weekend trip to the city and it’s world famous Guggenheim art gallery was far from easy but a cruise seemed like a perfect way to take my boys to see Jeff Koon’s amazing 40ft high flower puppy which sits directly outside Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpiece of a museum.
We made the a la carte breakfast just in time and joined the queue ahead of some of our Yorkshire table mates from a few days ago who we ended up sharing with again. I do like the size of Adventure of the Seas as you keep seeing familiar faces all over the ship unlike some of the larger cruise liners we’ve sailed on. That said I still keep discovering new things like the conference area and screening room we stumbled across on deck 2 yesterday where they show daily movies which is great for inclement days when the top deck screen isn’t practical. I also noticed a play room for 0-3 year olds that’s open daily for little ones and parents to enjoy as there isn’t a supervised Royal Tots Nursery on this particular ship. We also discovered an area on deck 12 at the rear of the ship behind Adventure Ocean which has two water slides and a small splash pool for the younger kids.
After breakfast we grabbed our things and went to the gangway which was located on deck one today, it’s like they change it just to confuse me!
Given that the port is about 9km from Bilbao, Royal Caribbean had laid on shuttle buses at the same prices as previous days but again we decided to take a taxi. There were plenty waiting at the rank which is just outside the terminal building and thankfully today’s driver understood us as we asked to be dropped at the Guggenheim. We drove past some incredible old villas that displayed the former wealth of the port’s maritime history and headed inland. The journey took no more than fifteen minutes and we passed through a toll tunnel out onto an iconic bridge with spectacular views of the Guggenheim and it’s curved metal structures glinting in the morning sunlight. Our driver dropped us off just by the puppy and informed us that the locals called the art gallery the dog kennel!
The taxi was just 23, much cheaper than I thought. We posed for photos with the puppy which was still in bloom then made our way around the side of the building, down the steps to stroll along the riverbank. Finn had much fun dancing in the fountains and getting soaked wet then we went across to a playground where he climbed the rope structures and dried off as we sat at an open air cafe for our first glass of red.
We then went into the gallery shop in search of puppy memorabilia as I remembered seeing replicas on my last visit that I couldn’t afford back then. Sadly sixteen years on they didn’t have them so I had to settle for a poster and a fridge magnet instead – oh well we’ll look on eBay when we get home. We decided not to do the gallery itself as it was hugely busy and we’d seen what we really wanted to see so we sat outside the Guggenheim bar for one more Rioja which was incredibly reasonably priced at 2 a glass – imagine what a wine would cost in the bar of the Tate Modern, a little more than that I’d guess!
We took a taxi back to the ship, went for a quick spot of lunch in the Windjammer then found ourselves some beds up on top deck to make the most of the afternoon sunshine realising it may be the last proper rays we feel until 2015! We read our books and enjoyed the sailaway as Bilbao and the impressive wind turbines at the edge of Getxo port slipped into the distance.
We went to the Royal Promenade for Hershey bars and a cheeky Royal Fizz in the champagne bar before returning to our cabin to change for dinner which was at 7pm. I declined a starter but enjoyed a delicious rack of lamb, cooked to perfection for my main. Andy enjoyed a spicy harira soup followed by some Japanese style shrimp gyoza, which are similar to dim sum dumplings and were served with Oriental vegetables. He was delighted when our waitress offered him a second helping which he gratefully accepted and soon finished off. Andy skipped dessert but I accepted a chocolate fondant, tasty but a little rich. Finn had two bowls of strawberries and chicken fingers -again!
After dinner we went to watch karaoke in the Schooner bar but it was standing room only so went to the Royal Promenade and found seats at the Dog and Duck to watch the excellent Bluewaters Band who were playing on a small stage on the promenade. They were taking requests so we sent Finn over with a hastily written note on a napkin and were delighted when seconds later they played Crocodile Rock, one of our favourites.
At 9pm we went to the the theatre for the headliner act The Emperors of Soul who sung and danced their way through a range of soul and Motown classics. It was a fabulous show and an excellent way to end a day that more than lived up to expectations. We went back to our room for a quick nightcap and a slice of pizza before bed and a lazy sea day tomorrow.