Caribbean Cruise Part 8: Funchal, Madeira

Read previous instalment: Crossing the Atlantic
April 3 11:05am

Yesterday after 5 days at sea, we arrived at the island of Madeira off the coast of Africa around 12 Noon.

The good thing about arriving at that time versus the 7am, that ships usually plan to arrive at ports is you are up to see the ship approaching the island in the distance right up to docking.
The island of Madeira looks stunning. It is very hilly; well I guess mountainous would be more accurate. The many houses and other large buildings cling right up from the coast to high up on the hills signs of bridges, which suggests there are some fairly major roads really high up. I could also see a very long cable car that rose from the coast up to about three-quarters up the mountain. This area I later found out is where the botanical gardens are.

The port we came into is called Funchal, apparently named by the Portuguese explorers that claimed the island for Portugal, after the large amounts of fennel they found there. Funchal is the capital of Madeira.

From the ship it looked like a large town and we found when we went into it that it is very busy. That may have been partly due to the fact that there were 3 cruise ships in port. The Arcadia, the Thomson Destiny (which looked like a battered old ship/ ferry turned into a cruise ship) and the Van Gogh ship which looked even tattier.

We had a fantastic view of Funchal from our cabin as we were docked facing the town. Although we are on a Port Side cabin, other than Barbados I don’t think our side has been on the port side!

We caught the shuttle bus into town for about 45 minutes, as we wanted to get some Euros. Rather disappointingly for the city considering there were so many visitors in town, the ATM system was down and so no-one could draw out Euros and all the banks didn’t seem to have cash to change (or were reluctant to). I am sure they missed out on a lot of revenue as the ATM system only came back online much later in the day.

I was very impressed with how pretty the town was. The pavements are all black & white designs made from small stones (or maybe ceramics), which are very labor intensive as they are kind of a mosaic. They are very striking. There are also loads of beautiful old buildings in great condition and clearly lovingly and carefully maintained. There are also many wide pedestrian avenues with trees and row after row of sidewalk cafes.

You could spot locals early as it was around 18 degrees and while all the tourists were in shorts, they were all in jumpers and sweat tops being more used to hotter weather.

We returned on the shuttle bus to get our excursion, which was a bike ride. We had high hopes after the great bike trip in St Kitts, which was not only energetic but also very well run and very informative.

This trip was terrible. The rather unfit and out of shape guide was lazy, rode slowly and on the pavements with the people walking on them shouting at us for being on the pavement. He told us nothing about any of the places we went to and if anyone asked questions he would give them a useless answer like “this is the oldest fort on the island”… We got back 40 minutes early, not even have broken a sweat. We went to see Mo Harrison (the excursion manager) to complain and she took it up with the agent. (We eventually got half the cost refunded).

We caught the shuttle bus back into town to take more photos, have a coffee and buy some gifts. Madeira is famous for its wine (a bit too like sherry for my taste), flowers and embroidery. I bought some of the latter for my mother who will love it.
We only set sail at 11pm and there was a big party on deck, where we drank too much and sang silly songs but was great fun. I also hit a semi-jackpot in the casino on a one-arm bandit and won £144 (US$290) – so that was great!

Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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