Cruising to Gibraltar

I could end this review now by saying if I had choked on my maraschino cherry or fallen on the sharp end of my cocktail umbrella at that moment I’d have died a blissfully happy man.


THE Columbus Monument stands some 197 feet tall at the lower end of La Rambla, in Barcelona, at the site where Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage to the Americas. We weren’t going quite as far as that on this trip but it seemed fitting that Columbus atop his pillar was the nearest, most visible monument from the deck of the Azamara Journey as it sat taking on passengers at the Barcelona docks.

This was, after all, the first time my wife and I had ever been on a cruise.

We could also just make out Gaudi’s famous church the Segrada Familia, under construction since 1882 and not due to be finished until 2026 – again very fitting as we too intended to take things slow over the next couple days, but to see this monument to manana properly, we’d had to have put down our cocktails and shifted a little to the left in the hot tub.

No, it was never going to be a tough sell, this cruise lark. I lost count of the people who said to me, “Oh, wouldn’t fancy it. Go mad I would. Nothing to do but sit around, eat, drink and sizzle like a sausage in the sun.”

Hello? Have we met?

Fact is, our flights from Dublin to Barcelona had arrived in plenty of time for us to have a good look around the city. We slipped in from the airport by taxi quickly and easily and could have worked up a nice sweat plodding for hours around the city’s ancient monuments, streets and squares, before kicking the dust of the city’s beautiful and warren-like Gothic Quarter off our boots and settling into Azamara’s cool pool deck.

But sod that. We were first to board and itching to get our kit off and start sizzling.

So after a simple check-in procedure, we dumped our stuff in our stateroom and split straight to the pool.

More about the staterooms and other decks later – the pool deck is center of hedonistic operations here, consisting of hundreds of luxurious sunbeds around a small but deep, cool pool between two bubbling hot tubs with a view over the sea on both sides.

There’s also a large bar at one end, a great barbecue bar at the other, cooking up burgers, gourmet hot dogs, gyros, kebabs and fresh tacos to order – and in between, a few hundred yards from where one of the best waiters in the world was bringing us a second round of piña coladas in our hot tub, a stage on which a lovely young woman began to sing ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding.

I could end this review now by saying if I had choked on my maraschino cherry or fallen on the sharp end of my cocktail umbrella at that moment I’d have died a blissfully happy man.

But the ship hadn’t even cast off a rope yet for our part of the cruise around the coast of Spain, in no particular hurry, to Gibraltar, then on through the straits around to Lisbon.

So as Azamara Journey finally moved gently away from the docks we hauled ourselves up and padded off to explore the rest of the ship.

The staterooms come in a range of sizes from smaller and windowless to salubrious, palacial even. Ours was pretty compact, with a double bed, wardrobe, dressing table, small telly, mini bar and tiny toilet/shower. We did have a window with a view of a lifeboat. Did it matter? Did it hell. We didn’t intend spending much time there. If we were, I’d have insisted on an inbetweener – something with just a little more room and a small balcony – and don’t worry, there are plenty of those.

Azamara Journey isn’t a huge ship. With a capacity of some 700 passengers and 300-odd crew (not a bad ratio for quality service) it’s intimate enough as cruise ships go and this is a good thing.

We were able to orient ourselves fairly quickly. There’s a number of lifts and stairs between nine decks and as we walked around the first time we copped a swanky martini bar, a casino, shops, a theatre for live shows, a nightclub area, a lido-deck buffet restaurant already loading up for lunch and three other restaurants.

There is also a very well kitted out gym where you can peddle or jog on a machine hooked up to a telly or watching the Med slip by out the window, or slip off yourself for a massage in the luxurious spa. Me? I’m cheap but easy to please so the next thing on my list after loading up for lunch at the buffet, was a free steam.

That night we ate in the swanky Discoveries, a one-story dining room with impeccable service, sublime food presented so beautifully it felt like a crime to vandalize it with my eager fork.

House wine seemed to be free with all meals but there’s a wide ranging menu and an on-board sommelier should you choose to pay for something nicer.

We hit a cabaret after dinner and danced until we were exhausted. Before bed, we took a last breather on the top deck and watched the soft blue light of the Mediterranean night and foam whispering over the bow of the ship. It was a moment I could have stayed in forever.

We spent the next day at sea meandering along the distant coast of Spain. After a breakfast of fruit and fry on deck from the seemingly bottomless buffet we felt compelled to have a go around the running track that circles the upper deck. But the siren call of the pool deck and its abject luxuries was too much and we spent the day in sublime relaxation, soaking in hot tubs, baking under the high blue sky and stuffing our faces as once again gentle live music wafted across the decks.

Next day we awoke at ‘The Rock’, Britain’s 1400ft high peninsula fortress and explored some of the wonders of St Michael’s Cave where incredible stalactites soar in the cathedral spaces. There were a variety of excursions on offer for a nominal extra fee. We walked along the Great Siege Tunnels, blasted out of the rock in the 18th century, we giggled as Barbary Apes, the tail-less monkeys all individually named and the only such animals who live wild in Europe, as they attempted to pickpocket us, and we shopped until we were ready to drop on the Main Street of Gibraltar’s quaint little town.

One of the best things about a cruise such as the Azamara Journey is docking at cities you’ve never been to, having experiences you’ve never had, and being able to stroll back onto the ship for lunch.

As we bade farewell to the Mediterranean and slipped through the straits to the Atlantic, the coast of Morocco seemingly a stone’s throw away, I looked down once and saw a sea turtle slip by in the surf. This, dare I say it, is the life.

Our final destination was sunny Lisbon, where we got lost among the hilly, cobbled streets with their gorgeous flowering trees and exotic, tiled houses.

Knocking the dust off our boots for a cold, frothy brew in the city’s throbbing center, we could have lunched, but instead slipped back onto Azamara for a last feed before hitting a taxi for the airport.

It was sad to leave the floating luxury hotel we’d become so attached to in such a short time but we both agreed we’d be back. What a journey, Azamara.


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