February City Break & NCL Cruise Photo Diary
It feels like a lifetime ago now, but for two weeks in February is was living the dream.
A makeup holiday after the disaster that was 2018, my first trip of 2019 was everything I dreamt of and more. Full of city exploring and sun-soaked cocktails, we struck the perfect balance between active and relaxing. It was perfect.
As I write this I’ve been home for 5 days and, seeing as I’m battling with the dreaded holiday blues, I thought it would be a good time to share my trip with you. You all seem to have loved seeing my photos on Instagram but it thought it would be nice to tell a little bit more about what I got up to.
Holiday Photo Diary: Barcelona City Break
Holiday Photo Diary Day 1: Flying from to Barcelona
The day before we flew out to Barcelona, Manchester Airport was closed for the best part of the day as a result of heavy (for the UK anyway) snowfall overnight.
The more I watched the news about the weather, the more I was becoming anxious and I’d set instant alerts for both the airport and the airline on my phone. Luckily things were on our side though and, in the end, our flight to Barcelona was only delayed 30 minutes.
Just a very quick note on our airline: we flew with Vueling, a Spanish budget airline based in Barcelona and partnered with British Airways. The flights were booked as part of a package so we didn’t have much choice in who we went with, but reading the reviews, I wasn’t expecting much.
The way people were talking, I was expecting the entire flight to be awful, but it was only for 2 hours 30 minutes so I could deal with it. Turns out Vueling was one of the best low-cost airlines I’ve ever travelled with, so just shows you that you can’t always go off what other people say. Unless it’s one of my reviews obvs.
Back to the flight and we were treated with incredible views over a patchwork of snow-covered fields. It was so beautiful to see the wintery landscape from above and I felt like I was in the scene from the Snowman where they fly to the North Pole!
Arriving in Barcelona at 9 pm, we made our way straight to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Del Mar on the edge of the Gothic Quarter and Port Vell and would 10/10 recommend. The hotel itself was lovely and made the perfect base for exploring the city. We even had the cutest little balcony overlooking a square!
Whilst the hotel didn’t offer an evening meal, there were plenty of options nearby. Looking for something quick and fuss-free, we stumbled on POSTA, a pizzeria and Italian restaurant.
I know it’s hardly Spanish but it was by far one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve ever been to. I had the Golfo de Napoli pizza which was folded over to represent the Bay of Naples coastline and even had a ‘volcano’ that, when you cut into it, erupted cheese! Cute or what?! Oh, and if you do go, save room for the Nutella Cookie bomb which was absolute heaven.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 2: Exploring Barcelona
After eating breakfast at the hotel, we jumped in a taxi to Placa de Catalunya for a spot of morning shopping.
Marking the top of the famous Las Ramblas, we had a wander around the shops and paid a visit to Sephora, aka my happy place. There was even a slide down to the shop floor!
The rest of the day was then spent sightseeing. I’ve been to Barcelona countless times so have done all the touristy things to do, but it’s always nice to revisit old favourites and explore new areas.
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of looking at the incredible architecture in Barcelona. I love that there are so many styles and, somehow, they work together so well.
We spent quite a lot of time on Montjuic in the afternoon, taking in the spectacular views of the city from above. If you’re looking for an amazing, free viewpoint to see Barcelona, I recommend going to the steps outside Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). A national museum for Catalan art, the steps give breathtaking views of the city including birds-eye views of La Sagrada Familia.
That night we went back to POSTA and I actually ended up ordering exactly the same because it was THAT good.
Holiday Photo Diary: Morocco & Canary Islands Cruise
Holiday Photo Diary Day 3: NCL Spirit Embarkation
After checking out of Hotel Del Mar we jumped into a taxi and began the second leg of our adventure.
Arriving at Barcelona Cruise Terminal, we went through the hectic check-in process and made our way onto our home for the next 11 nights, the NCL Spirit.
Boarding at about 1 pm, we learned that there was going to be special precautions in place during our cruise as quite a few people had suffered from Gastroenteritis because of the time of year. As a result, the buffet wasn’t self-service and you were encouraged to wash your hands much more frequently.
I have to admit, the buffet was a bit manic as everyone was directed there because cabins weren’t ready yet and, of course, people were being told about no self-service. Things did get a bit better as people got used to the new system, and the buffet actually became self-service again after 7 days, but it did make the buffet much slower and stressful.
After sailing away from Barcelona with a cocktail in hand and watching the sunset, we decided to have a quiet night and headed to our cabin to get all our unpacking done. Once it’s done, it’s done, right?
That night we experienced the ship rolling for the very first time. Although we had previously sailed on the Western Mediterranean cruise on the NCL Epic, you wouldn’t have known you were sailing. Whilst none of us were seasick, it definitely made sleeping fun and I spent half the night wondering if I was going to end up on the floor.
As I said, we planned on having an early night so imagine our surprise when there was a knock on our door at 12 pm. Practically sleepwalking, we were greeted with 33 1 litre bottles of water. We knew our cruise package included a bottle of water per person per day but we assumed we’d have it delivered daily. In a relatively small cabin, let’s just say we had to get inventive in where we stored our water. Could only happen to us.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 4: Day At Sea
I absolutely love days at sea and always use the first one to really explore the ship.
After having a bit of a lie-in and getting an omelette from the breakfast buffet we decided to start on the top deck and work our way down. Stopping for a cocktail in a bar naturally.
Having an early night the previous night, we went to watch one of the shows (World Dance Beat) at the onboard Stardust Theatre. You honestly cannot fault the entertainment on the NCL Spirit. It’s so varied and of such good quality that you can never be bored.
That night we went to the Windows Dining Room, one of the complementary main dining rooms and our personal favourite. Despite being one of NCL’s smaller cruise ships, the Spirit still had loads of dining options, both complementary and speciality which you paid extra for.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 5: Casablanca, Morocco
Waking up super early, day 5 of my trip marked my first ever trip to Africa!
Want to know something funny? I fell for Africa. Literally. Instead of walking off the gangway and onto the shore (and a new continent) like a normal person, I managed to get my foot stuck in a groove and face planted the floor. I actually ended up with inflammation and a huge bruise on my knee. You could say it was the size of Africa. How fitting.
Punny knee bruise aside, I jumped on a coach and headed to Morocco’s capital city, Rabat. Packing so much into the day, I managed to see so much including the Royal Palace, Mohammed V Mausoleum and Hassan Tower.
I think one of my favourite places to explore was Chellah, a medieval fortified Muslim necropolis that was abandoned in 1154 AD. Located on the south side of the Bou Regreg estuary, the site is also home to migrating Storks that have travelled south from Europe.
After having a delicious traditional meal in a restaurant hidden in the maze-like streets, we then headed back to Casablanca, seeing the famous Rick’s cafe and visiting the largest Mosque in Africa, the Hassan II Mosque.
In terms of visiting, I’d definitely recommend a trip to Rabat and it’s historical sites, but, unless you’re a die-hard fan of the film Casablanca, you can probably give this port a miss. Apart from the Mosque, there wasn’t much going on, and it’s not the prettiest Moroccan city. For this reason, I’d love to go to Marrakech on my next trip to Morocco.
As it was Chinese New Year, we decided to have a meal at the complimentary Asian restaurant on the ship. Named Shogun Asian Fusion, the food was lovely and much better than the Chinese restaurant on the NCL Epic.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 6: Day At Sea
After a very busy day exploring Morocco the day before, I wanted to take it easy on the next day at sea.
Having a bit of a lie in, I sat by the beautiful Tivoli Pool with my kindle for the majority of the day. Sat conveniently close the poolside bar (frozen cocktail? Why not?!) I listened to live bands and even participated in the ring toss challenge where I came a respectable 3rd.
In the evening we went to see a magic show in the Stardust Theatre, rounding up the most perfect rest day.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 7: Arrecife, Lanzarote
A filming location for movies such as the Planet of the Apes, we watched a ranger demonstrate how hot the ground was with a series of experiments. Having always been a bit of a geography geek, I was really in my element.
After being introduced to the volcanic landscape, we then boarded a coach and drove around the Fire Mountains on the Lunar Route which really showcases this unique environment.
Clearly looking around the National Park is thirsty work so we made a stop at Bodega La Geria which is a winery in the wine region of Lanzarote. Tasting some of the local produce, we went back to the ship for some R & R.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 8: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
The second of the Canary Islands we visited was Gran Canaria, and if I’m being honest, I was underwhelmed.
A beautiful, hot, sunny day, we docked in the capital city of Las Palmas and walked around the beautiful harbour.
Faced with limited time, we decided to jump on a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour to cover the highlights. I know it’s offseason and I don’t know if the tour is a good reflection of the city or the island, but I wasn’t particularly impressed and felt like I could have been in any Spanish resort town. I certainly didn’t feel like I needed to come back on a separate trip.
Finishing the tour, we did a spot of shopping in a shopping mall located right next to the cruise terminal called Centro Commercial El Muelle, before heading back onto the ship.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 9: Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Pulling back the curtain in Santa Cruz, I couldn’t get over how beautiful the port was. Featuring views of the nearby mountains, pastel hillside villages and the city skyline, I was excited to get exploring.
In the end, we didn’t do much exploring in Santa Cruz as I’d come down with a cruise cough and felt a bit lethargic. Naturally, I managed to do a bit of shopping, picking up a cute wicker bag which I’ll be using this summer, but on first impressions, I’d definitely come back and see more of the sights in Tenerife.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 10: Funchal. Madeira
Another day, another port and another new country for me! For some reason, I had never been to Portugal, and hearing good things about Madeira, I was excited to see it!
Climbing through hillside villages, our first stop was Cabo Girao, a sea cliff lookout point located along the southern coast of the island. The highest sea cliff in Europe, the spot is famous for its suspended glass platform at an elevation of 580m. With a choice between a metal grate (that you can also see through) or the skywalk, it’s not for those with a fear of heights. Like me.
Our next stop was the picturesque fishing town of Camara de Lobos. One of the most beautiful towns on the islands, the colourful fishing boats were popular with Winston Churchill who used to paint Cabo Girao from the town.
Driving back through Funchal, I fell in love with Madeira and how green it was. After a quick stop at the Madeira Wine Company (would be rude not to), it was sadly time to go back to ship. Out of all the ports we visited on the Morocco & Canary Islands Cruise, I think Madeira is the one I’d most like to go back to.
Our 10th day was also a very special one, marking my parents 40th wedding anniversary! Before the cruise, I had arranged a party package including our cabin being decorated and cake and prosecco being delivered ready for when we arrived back onto the NCL Spirit.
Although I had to pay for the package, it was completely worth it and was a lovely surprise for my parents. It’s also worth noting that, if you let NCL know you are celebrating an event, they will give you a cake and bottle of wine, in addition to the package, free of charge.
That evening we had made a reservation to the Teppanyaki restaurant. One of the speciality restaurants, the Teppanyaki restaurant came at an additional charge but was completely worth it. Served delicious Japanese food whilst a chef cooked at our table, waving and juggling knives and ingredients, it was one of the best experiences we had on the ship.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 11: Day At Sea
Just like the previous days at sea, we spent the 11th day relaxing on the ship after a couple of days exploring the different ports.
After having a late breakfast, we went and sat in Galaxy of the Stars Bar which had lots going on throughout the day. From Bingo to learning how the Cabin Stewards make the adorable folded-towel animals, the morning soon flew by.
The Observation section (which is through Galaxy of the Stars) was the perfect place to read and look out at the Sea or Ocean, and that’s where I spent most of my afternoon.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 12: Malaga, Spain
Back in mainland Spain, I was excited to see yet more cities I’d yet to visit.
As it was one of the coldest days of the entire trip and there was quite a strong wind, we decided to jump on another Hop-On Hop-Off bus so we could see the sights in the limited time we had.
From climbing up to the medieval Moorish palace of Alcazaba and the castle-topped hill of Gibralfaro to seeing the stunning Costa Del Sol coastline and thriving art culture, we had the best morning in Malaga.
Sadly, with an early sail-away time, we had to get back on to the ship and continue our journey back to Barcelona.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 13: Alicante, Spain
Our last day for exploring and unfortunately all of us had developed a nasty cruise cough that was refusing to budge. Not that that stopped us exploring Alicante though.
A warm and bright day, we took things a bit easier on our last day, getting the complimentary shuttle bus into Alicante to do some shopping and taking time to enjoy what time we did have left.
Faced with another early sail-away, we headed back on to the ship and started the joyful task of having to pack our suitcases for our return flight to Manchester the next day.
Holiday Photo Diary Day 14: Flying back to Manchester
And just like that, it was time to fly home.
We opted to have our suitcases taken off by NCL, opposed to us having to carry them off and down the gang ourselves. This meant that we could have a relaxed breakfast and made disembarkation much smoother.
Having booked a taxi to the hotel independent to NCL we got to choose what wave we disembarked the ship in, and I have to say, the entire process was much better managed than previously on the NCL Epic, but then the Spirit is a smaller ship.
Once up in the air we were treated to one last look at the Spanish coastline from the plane before we made our way back to Manchester and home. For the first time ever, the sun was shining when we landed, so clearly we brought the weather with us.
After having such a disastrous 2018 and having to cancel our family holiday, this makeup holiday has started 2019 the best way possible. I don’t think I have laughed as much as I did on this Barcelona city break and Morocco & Canary Island cruise in years and I’m now counting down the days until my next trip.
Have you done an NCL cruise or visited any of these cruise ports? Where are you travelling to this year? Let me know in the comments below!
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