Georgina Cruz, a seasoned traveler and frequent Holland America Line guest, recently cruised on the Grand Mediterranean and Africa Voyage aboard Prinsendam. Wondering if our Grand Voyages are your dream getaway? Read below for a peek into her exotic vacation!
This spring my husband Humberto and I wanted to visit areas of the Mediterranean and Africa but without international flights. We heard that Holland America had a 54-day itinerary to those fabled regions of the world from Fort Lauderdale, near our home. It was a Grand Voyage, with all the extra luxuries of those sailings including a hand-picked staff, pillow gifts and special entertainment. And it was on the Prinsendam, the line’s “elegant explorer,” so in a word: perfect! We booked it and started packing.
The itinerary was very tempting and intriguing. The first portion of it focused primarily on Africa. The Canary Islands, although politically part of Spain, sit in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa and were among the top highlights of the voyage with stops at Lanzarote, Santa Cruz de la Palma and an overnight in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The Canaries are sometimes associated with the myths of the Lost Continent of Atlantis – they are, after all, in the Atlantic for which Atlantis presumably was named, and where the ancient Greek philosopher Plato said Atlantis was, beyond the Rock of Gibraltar in Europe and Mount Acho in Africa (the Pillars of Hercules). A theory holds that when Atlantis sank, its highest points remained as the Canaries we know today, and that their original inhabitants, the Guanches, were the descendants of the surviving Atlanteans.
But Atlantis or not, the sapphire waters of the magnificent harbor in Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife on the island’s eastern tip, were like a siren call, welcoming us to a vibrant city filled with interesting architecture and excellent shopping – Spain’s famous El Corte Ingles department store has a branch here and the colorful Our Lady of Africa market beckons with exotic fruits and blossoms. And the island also has many wonderful restaurants serving up the delightful cuisine of the Canaries which is Spanish, with African and Latin American influences – Tenerife was and is a popular stop for ships going to and from Europe to Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, with Columbus himself stopping here for a few days in 1492.
We went for strolls in town – the town center is within walking distance of the cruise pier – and visited several sites including the Parliament buildings of the Canary Islands, the lovely squares including the Plaza de España and the Square of Candelaria, and the daring Auditorium of Tenerife designed by Santiago Calatrava, reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House in Australia but in the shape of a Conquistador’s helmet.
On the other day in Tenerife we took an organized tour to La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the island’s former capital, and participated in a walking tour to the Church of the Convent of Santa Catalina, the market in the Plaza del Adelantado, the cathedral, the episcopal palace, the History Museum in the Lercaro Palace, and the quaint Calle de San Agustin, where we passed old convents and rows of beautiful carved wooden balconies, many adorned with flowers and banners.
Our next stop was Tacoronte, the most important wine-growing area of the island. Here at the Bodega Alvaro we enjoyed a wine tasting – we learned that the first vines planted in the Canary Islands came from the Eastern Mediterranean, including the vines that produce the famous Malmsey wines that were immortalized in the works of Shakespeare. We sipped the wines and they were delicious! Then, from the Casa del Vino Winery, we drank in big gulps the scenery over the north coast of Tenerife – with panoramic views of El Teide, majestic at 12,198-feet – breathtaking!
The other ports of the Canary Islands we visited included Arrecife, Lanzarote’s capital, from where we headed to Timanfaya National Park with its Montaña de Fuego (Fire Mountain) and lunar-like landscape. Here, at Islote de Hilario (Hilario’s Big Island), wonders include volcanic cinders from just below the surface that are hot enough to kindle wood and to produce steam.
In Santa Cruz de La Palma, we walked on cobblestone streets to see lovely Spanish colonial houses with flower-draped balconies in the Avenida Marítima (Maritime Avenue) and took a guided tour to San Antonio Volcano National Park, where a trail reaches right to the edge of the volcano’s crater. It was Good Friday when we visited Santa Cruz de La Palma and we were able to take in one of the Holy Week Processions – with marching bands, floats and penitents: very impressive!
More local color was ours to enjoy during a special onboard performance by the flamenco group Fuego (Fire) and a wonderful Spanish Evening in the dining room – specially decorated and with Spanish specialties like “paella” (the world-famous rice and seafood dish).
But though the Canary Islands were big highlights, there were many others – the voyage called on a whopping 28 ports including five overnights. On the way to Africa and Europe, we made stops in Caribbean isles with the opportunity to walk the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan and visit El Morro Fortress in Puerto Rico, and bask in warm aquamarine waters in St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Stops in the Cape Verde Islands offered more chances to enjoy beautiful, uncrowded beaches, and calls in Africa included Agadir, Morocco, for tours to the 16th century Oufella Fort and opportunities for a camel ride and to take the ultimate selfie: with a camel, which we took, of course; Casablanca, Morocco, for a chance to visit the city’s souk and Rick’s Café, in a courtyard-style mansion built against the Old Medina walls of the city and inspired in the classic film with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; Banjul, The Gambia, and Dakar, Senegal, one of West Africa’s largest cities.
In Dakar, an option was a tour that took to Independence Square with colonial-style buildings, and the Presidential Palace, where the Spahi in their red and blue uniforms stand guard. Other points of interest included the African Renaissance Monument, a 160-foot-tall statue; the Lighthouse of Mamelles; the Medina (Old Town) and the Kermel Market, the Town Hall, the cathedral, the Great Mosque and the Deity Mosque.
The African ports of the itinerary had given us a taste of exotica and prepared us for the next phase: the fabled Mediterranean!
If a Grand Voyage is the cruise of your dreams, check out Holland America Line’s upcoming Grand Asia and Pacific Voyage departing in September 2018!