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Jewels of the Iberian Peninsula ~ Exploring southern Portugal and Andalusia in luxury 

Scenic Eclipse in port of lisbon


For myself smaller is always better when it comes to travel.

     I seek out boutique hotels over big chain properties, if I do a tour, I prefer it to be a small group event.
I far prefer intimate vessels over mega ships, under 300 people is my sweet spot.

     When I saw that Scenic had a cruise on their new discovery yacht, the Eclipse, which lined up perfectly with a European trip I already had booked I was very excited to check out this innovative vessel!

After all it is one of a kind!
I always try to add on to my adventures, air has gotten more expensive over the years, I want to get my monies worth out of the cost of the flight.
My philosophy is once you have gotten over the Atlantic (or Pacific) any other flight is a quick hop so go forward and explore, check out the other “neighborhoods”.
For example, I added on a stop in Beijing on the way home from Myanmar to see the Great Wall.
It was a seven-hour flight but in the big picture nothing compared to the journey to get over to Asia, you never know if you may not be able to go back!

This looked to be a great trip, I have been to the Douro region of Portugal before and Barcelona but never to the southern regions, it exceeded my expectations!

Jewels of the Iberian Peninsula montage video ~


     The Scenic Eclipse is an all-inclusive, all suite, discovery yacht.
It was built not only to enfold you with well earned indulgences but to cater to your sense of wanderlust and adventure.
She differs from other luxury ships as it is the only one to have two helicopters on board as well as a submarine. 
Wi-Fi, premium beverages (including 100 different whiskeys), up to ten different dining options, gratuities and airport transfers are all included.
Daily you are given multiple options for shore excursions (at no charge of course). 
These are not boring walks about town, but active exciting trips or cultural enriching journeys with ample opportunities to taste local wines and specialties.
You can explore by e-bike, there is a marina deck on board to launch kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards.
Additionally , there are a range of water sports actives from an inflatable trampolines to waterskiing.
In the polar regions, each guest is given a complementary expedition parka and use of special polar boots.
Except for the spa, helicopter, and submarine excursions, one does not need to open their wallet even once on Scenic cruises.

     I arrived a day early in Lisbon, so I didn’t take advantage of the complimentary transfers that Scenic provides.
When my driver pulled up to the ship, I was surprised how large the Eclipse looked.
Although she holds just 228 guests (200 in the polar regions) the vessel appeared much larger than I anticipated.
There was so much space to spread out, many nice niches to relax in, giving all the guests plenty of space.
My driver had just stopped, and immediately people were at my door ready to assist, I felt like a VIP!
They didn’t want you to have to carry a thing.

     We were escorted into the lounge and offered a glass of champagne as we checked in and were told to wait a moment for our private muster drill.
Yes, our own private drill, this alone is one of the reasons I love this line lol.
We were brought to the spot where we would assemble should there be a problem on board and the alarm would ring.
The crew member explained about our “go bag’ which is quite ingenious, it has several great items in the event we had to abandon ship.
Items included long johns, a drinking mug, socks, a hat, sunglasses etc. they really gave a lot of thought to it.
She showed us how to put on the low-profile life vest, not one of those big bulky orange things I have had to wear in the past.
After that was done, we were escorted up to our suite, to meet our butler.

Highlights of the Scenic Eclipse overview ~video


     Each suite on the ship comes with a butler.
Our butler was a great guy, very patient with my pillow dilemma.
They offer a wide variety of pillows on board to choose from.
I have neck issues so I kept asking him if he could trade in pillows until I found the combination that worked.
He never had a problem with it, and I did end up with the perfect fit.
The butler brings you room service, we ate breakfast out on the veranda a few days, and also oversees your mini bar.
The mini bar is not like your typical tiny nip bottles that you find on most ships.
In the refrigerator there are some sodas, ice, and beer.
For your in suite alcohol there are glass decanter bottles, the butler asks what type of liquor you like, and he fills them (and keeps refilling them).
I think my husband and I cleaned out the ship’s stock of amaretto as we so enjoyed each night before bed sitting on our balcony sipping amaretto in our pajamas.
The butler also keeps you well stocked in water, I prefer sparkling water and drink a lot of water daily, he always had three carafes full for me.
The cruise line provides nice travel mugs and before an excursion he would fill them up with ice and water.
It would be great if he could have come home with us, he thought of everything.

     Our suite was very luxurious, you could tell a lot of thought went into the design.
For example, the bathroom there was two tone gray slate and marble, it was the type of accent you would find in a boutique hotel.
The bed was amazing! 
It had a memory foam topper or was some type of memory foam mattress but not too soft like some can be, nor was it hot.
On each side of the bed was remote controls that could raise or lower the head or foot of the bed.
I thought that was a great idea and just wished I could control my husband’s side so that when he started snoring, I would be able to push his side up.
If someone had sore legs from walking a lot that day raising the bottom of the bed probably would be helpful.

Tour of bedroom area of my suite ~ video

     There are many dining options on the ship, you will certainly not go hungry, you can get room service 24 hours a day.
I have never seen a buffet like the one on this vessel.
The deserts alone would shame any high-end pastry shop, they had fresh gelato each day to warm this Italian girl’s heart.
My favorite dining experience was the Night Market at Koko’s.
The concept is to take flavors one may find at a typical night market in Asia, street foods, and kick them up a notch to make them even better.
You must sign up for this as it is very limited, there is one seating per night and just for 8 guests.
They have three themes, Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asia.
I would have loved to have gone to all three but to be fair they only allow one reservation.
As I said there are not enough slots for everyone on the ship to go once let alone multiple times.
We did the Southeast Asia menu; my husband was delighted that he finally was allowed to eat “street food” after all the times I had forbidden him on our trips.
Our chef’s name was Strawberry, she was an absolute delight, not only culinarily talented but also warm and charismatic.
I asked her if Strawberry was a nickname because her Asian name was too difficult to pronounce for Western tongues.
She laughed and replied that when she was born, she came out with a red face and her head was shaped like a strawberry, so the name stuck.
The meal is ten courses, so you need to have a small lunch, they are tapas style courses but still ten of them.
I am allergic to poultry so I was not able to eat two of them, the cruise line was very good at watching out for my allergy and keeping me safe.
They offered to make me alternate choices for those two items but I passed, I can tell you everyone else loved the chicken and duck entrees.
The meal was wonderful, it was also a nice educational “show”, Strawberry explained to us the history of the different foods and the cooking techniques.
When she pulled out the smoker and the glass domes that was quite dramatic!
On land, or other cruise lines, an evening like this would have been very expensive, it was included at no charge as part of our cruise fare.

Night market at Koko's ~ video

     The itinerary for the cruise focused on southern Portugal and Spain as well as Gibraltar.
Originally, we were scheduled to go to Morocco, but they were not allowing ships in yet so Scenic had to pivot, changing things up a bit.
Morocco is not going anywhere, I can visit there in the future, and I had a great time in our substitute ports.
In Funchal Madeira I was really looking forward to seeing Rua de Santa Maria and it did not disappoint. 
This street is not far from the port in the old town, or Zona Velha de Funchal.
At one point it was a thriving area but fell into decline even though its location should have been attractive to tourists.
People avoided it because of abandoned buildings and the un-welcoming environment. 
In 2010 an artist from Madrid named Jose Zyberchema decided to start a project to try to revitalize the area called the “painted doors project”.
He reached out to landlords, other artists, and the former secretary of culture with his idea of creating a unique street art gallery of doors.
As an artist myself I was moved by the paintings, each one unique and telling a different story.
The area is no longer ignored by tourists and is once again bustling!

Santa Maria Street Funchal ~ video


     When we were in Gibraltar, I was torn as we had several great choices to pick from.
I decided that I would rather see the cave at the top of the rock and the Barbary Macaques rather than go inside the tunnels or the other options.
Getting to the summit is a scenic drive but not one for someone who is afraid of heights.
The woman sitting in front of me was gasping and grabbing the seat the entire time.
It is a narrow winding road, and you are right at the edge, our driver was very good and there were no issues, but keep that in mind.
Maybe don’t sit next to the window if you might be afraid, I thought it was a beautiful view but I did feel bad for her.
I have been to Castellana Grotte in Puglia, and I thought that was an impressive cave.
St. Michael's is not quite as massive but, in some ways, more exciting as they had lights and sound playing which highlighted the  dramatic Stalactites and Stalagmites. 
These rock formations were created from dripping rainwater over thousands of years that left mineral deposits.
It is somewhat like when a taper candle is melting and leaves a trail of wax.
The light show was pretty but did make it hard to photograph.
I would set my shutter speed and then the lighting would switch suddenly so I finally decided to just step back and enjoy it.
After we exited the cave, we met some of the resident primates of the island, the Barbary Macaques.
These are the only wild primates living in Europe.
They are from the Atlas Mountains and believed to have come over from Morocco which you can see from Gibraltar.
The might have been stowaways on ships pets of the pirates.
They are larger than monkeys but smaller than baboons, we saw about 10 of them walking about looking for food.
Our guide had warned us that they are friendly enough if you don’t feed them, kind of like Gremlins.
The estimated population of these apes is 300 on the island.

St. Michaels Cave Gibralter

     In Cadiz I entertained my husband’s love of fortified wine and went to Jerez for a vineyard tour and sherry tasting.
He was delighted to drink both of our samplings as I do not even like the smell of it.
I did enjoy the winery though and seeing the aging process, it is always special when you can walk into rooms with stacks of wine barrels!

     Malaga was a hard choice, southern Spain has gorgeous beaches, fortunately it was the end of April which made my decision a little easier.
We headed to Mijas, one of the white villages.
It was a scenic drive past rolling hills and windfarms.
When we arrived, we went to an artisan chocolate factory where they craft small batches and did a tasting of several types with wine.
It was a delicious way to start our morning!
We then saw something new to me, a bull ring, they only do one bullfight a year now in Mijas, but I guess it is still an important event.
At the top of the village the views were gorgeous all the way down the valley.
We had free time to explore the town and I couldn’t help but wonder how often they must keep putting on coats of white paint?
Everything looked so fresh.

     In Puerto Banus again I was torn.
Scenic gives you so many great choices, part of me wanted to go to the fishing village of Estepona to learn about the craft from the locals.
I also was interested in checking out Marbella, but I finally decided that I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the dramatic gorge of Ronda.
Off we went, again stunning countryside along the way, Andalusia is just breathtakingly beautiful!
When we arrived in Ronda the photos I had seen of the bridge and the gorge that separates the town did not do it justice.
I couldn’t imagine how they could have even constructed it over the massive abyss below.
If you have the chance to visit Ronda, you must visit!
The town is adorable and a place I could see myself staying a few days in.

Ronda Spain 

     We left the sea and turned on to the Guadalquivir River heading towards Seville.
My yacht cruise turned into a river cruise; it was so peaceful, very different scenery.
We overnighted in Seville, which was fantastic, it was my favorite port.
Having all that extra time on my floating hotel allowed me the freedom to explore independently.
Although the cruise line offered great complementary tours, I do like to go off on my own.
The cruise director was very helpful telling me how to order tickets online for Alcazar palace.
(Here is where free fast internet comes in super handy).
The first day in Seville we stepped into a fairy tale visiting Plaza de España. 
Designed by Aníbal González in 1929 for the Ibero-American Expo this palace like structure represents all the regions of Spain.
Horse carriages carry tourists around a fountain while others ride row boats in a canal flanked by bridges decorated in beautifully ornate ceramics.
It was a festive atmosphere with a flamenco dancer in a hallway as I walked by the government offices that now dominate this property.
Families were having picnics; it was nothing like our city hall back home!
After the Plaza we decided to make sure we could find our way to Alcazar palace as our tickets were for 9:30 the next morning and we would be walking from the ship.
Google maps must have been chatting with my Fitbit to push up our steps that day as we kept being sent round in circles being told we were at the palace.
Two miles later in frustration I googled where is the entry to Alcazar palace?
Google was not lying, we were at the palace, standing at the last wall towards the main street.
Maps would always bring us back to that as that is technically the palace but not where you can enter.
So to save other people from being frustrated you need to google how to reach the Lion Gate entrance.
Once I did that we retraced some of our steps and then went through several squares and found ourselves by the cathedral and the Lion Gate was right there.
Now that we were armed with the knowledge for the morning, we were ready to head back- oh but it was a football day……

Plaza de Espana Seville ~ video


     Football (soccer in the US) is very big is Europe, Seville has two teams.
Apparently the green team (I later found out called Real Betis) had a big match that day.
As we started walking back the streets were suddenly filled with people dressed in green and white clothing singing and chanting and drinking beer.
This was much more animated behavior than football fans here in the US display, these people were overjoyed, and everyone was in costume.
From young children to old men, the streets were filled with fans, the team had just won something called the Copa del Ray.
Police appeared on horseback reminding me of crowd control at Marde Gras, no one was violent, they were excited, but the crowd was getting huge.
They were gathering in front of a hotel balcony where I am guessing the team might plan to show up.
We edged past them and headed back, I am sure it was fine, like I said people were happy, but it was a unique experience.

     In Portimão we went to the one of the prettiest places in the Algarve called Ponte de Piedade to see the sandstone rock formations.
It was so peaceful looking at the sea stacks watching boats zip about, I could have stayed there all day.
We stopped at a quiet beach town which I am sure is hopping in the summer, in April it was serene.
I watched two dogs playing in a tidal pool left by the receding ocean, one with a large stick and thought to myself did I really need to go back to the hectic life I live?

Before I knew it my eleven nights ended, and my cruise was done.
I guess that is an indication of a fantastic trip when time passes quickly, and you are not sure what day it is.
The Scenic Eclipse is a fantastic vessel, one of the best I have ever had the delight to sail on.
The itinerary was engaging and when you factor in all the inclusions it is a great value.
I didn’t have time to go on the helicopter or the submarine, it is important to book these events early as they are popular.
I was able to meet with one of the pilot’s and he let me get a behind the scenes look at his pride and joy, what a gorgeous machine it is!

Interview with Scenic Eclipse Pilot Tony Lumpkin ~ video

I am looking forward to exploring again with Scenic in the future, if you would like to know more about my adventure or to plan one of your own give me a call at 413-552-8941

I have some fantastic deals on Scenic cruises right now-  25% off Eclipse ocean cruises or savings up to $3500 off river- limited time only!

(255 Reviews)
99% Recommended

Ann Castagna Morin

Southampton, MA
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