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Wordless Wednesday: Madeira Countryside

Madiera Countryside

One Day in Madeira

Câmera De Lobos overlook

Câmera De Lobos overlook

After a wonderful day exploring the Azores, our next port stop was Madeira. Originally, I booked a third-party tour for the day, but a few days in advance, I was looking at the tour and comparing it to our times in port and I realized that the tour was scheduled to get back two hours after the ship was set to depart. Obviously, I canceled it and quickly booked one of the available tours on the ship called “A Taste of Madeira”.

Church in Madeira

Our tickets said to meet in the theater so we headed down a little early and were shocked to see the line for the theater stretch all the way to midship. We waited at least half an hour to get a sticker that told us what bus to board. We have taken several ship excursions on other cruise lines in the past year and I have not experienced anything like this. This was not how I wanted to begin my day in Madeira.

Cabo GirãoWe followed the line of people to our enormous bus where we stopped at a few roadside pullovers to look at the view. Our last overlook was at Cabo Girão, a popular destination with the highest cliff skywalk in Europe. There were so many people, it was hard to get to the edge to take a picture and if you wanted a picture of yourself, it was near impossible to get one without anyone else in it (left). This was a far cry from our amazing, small group tour of São Miguel at the last port stop with a driver that seemed to take us away from the crowds.

After seeing the sights, we finally got to the tasting part of the tour. There was a snack table of Madeiran cheese and crackers and we got to try Madeiran still wines. The wine was interesting and not something you can find in the States. This was probably my favorite part of this tour, but I’m sure we could’ve found a restaurant to do something similar if we had chosen to explore Madeira on our own.

Funchal to Monte Teleférico

Funchal to Monte Teleférico

After our bus took us back to town, we took the Teleférico up to Monte to see if we could ride the famous toboggan. Unfortunately, the line was too long and we weren’t sure if we would make it back to the ship on time. So, we took the Teleférico back to Funchal and walked back to the ship.

Funchal Countryside

While Madeira is a beautiful island, I feel like we barely got to see it. Part of that was because of my poor pre-planning and part of that was the limited time we had. We will have to return sometime with time to wait in line for the toboggan and really get to experience the island. This experience compared to our day in the Azores really has me thinking about how great third-party excursions are and how people who are afraid to step out from the cruise ship’s safety bubble are missing out on some truly amazing experiences. Expect a post on this in the near future!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I review the Norwegian Getaway after 12 nights onboard! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Furnas


One Day on São Miguel Island – Azores

Azorean Beach

Azorean Beach

After seven days at sea on the Norwegian Getaway, we arrived at Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island in the Azores. The Azores are a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that are an autonomous region of Portugal. Because of its location in the middle of the Atlantic, Ponta Delgada is a common port of call on transatlantic cruises. I booked the Furnas Crater Lake Small Group Tour for the day on VentureAshore.com and I have to say, it was one of the best shore excursions I have ever taken. When they say small group, there were only six of us, and with such a small group, our guide was able to take us to spots where the big tour buses from the ship just couldn’t go.

Nossa Senhora da Paz

Our tour guide met us at the port with a sign with my name on it which is something I’ve seen in movies but have never experienced myself before. The two of us and one other family loaded into a van and we headed out to explore the island. Our first stop was at a black sand beach where we could feel the volcanic sand (top), although it was a little chilly for a swim. Our next stop was at Nossa Senhora da Paz, which is a chapel to Our Lady of Peace. According to the plaque on the wall of the chapel, a statue of Mary was found on the hill and it was given to a priest who put it in a church. The next day, the statue was found on the hill so they began to build a chapel to store it. Later that night the foundation of the chapel was moved to a place nearby, where the chapel is standing today. The chapel itself is beautiful and the view from the top is breathtaking.

Caldeira Das Furnas

Caldeira Das Furnas

cozido das furnas

Cozido das furnas

Our next stop was Caldeira Das Furnas which is a park with hot springs on Furnas Lake. The walkways with the bubbling hot springs and mud pots around them reminded us a lot of Yellowstone.  The biggest difference between Furnas and Yellowstone is that in Furnas, they use these geothermal features to cook. One area of the park has big holes where local restaurants put a giant pot of Cozido das Furnas (a traditional Azorean dish) in the ground to cook for six hours. While we were there, we watched the chefs pull their pots out of the ground to take back to their restaurants for lunch. Of course, we wanted to try it so our tour guide made us a reservation at a local restaurant, Já Se Sabe, so we could try food cooked underground. We had a little bit of time to kill before our reservations so we drove to an area with more hot springs, some natural springs where we could drink bubbling water right out of the ground, and a snack bar that served corn on the cob.

Furnas Lake

Furnas Lake

After lunch, we hiked up a hill to see Furnas Lake from above and to burn off some of the calories from lunch. It was great being so high up and seeing where we were earlier in the day. From there we headed to Gorreana Tea Factory, an Azorean tea plantation where we saw how tea is processed and got to sample some of the teas they make. Their tea was delicious and we brought some home for ourselves and as gifts. This is the first time in the day that we encountered crowds. It was so full in the tasting room that there was no place to sit, so we sampled some tea and headed to our next stop.

Miradouro de Santa Iria

Santa Iria Overlook

Next, we got to see the north coast of São Miguel to the Santa Iria overlook. This was a nice place to stand and watch the waves crash against the cliffs for a little while.

Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo

Our final stop of the tour was at Lagoa do Fogo which is a crater lake in the center of São Miguel island. One of the people in our group said they booked this tour for this view because she saw a picture of it on her Windows login screen. Our tour guide took us to the top of a hill to get this viewpoint that the big tour buses couldn’t get. From where we were sitting we saw the buses down below and all the people walking around and we had this view practically to ourselves. It was a pretty awe-inspiring moment and I would say, one of the best of the whole trip.

We had a wonderful day seeing the sites on São Miguel, but we really only saw half of the island. I would love to go back and spend more time exploring this island and the rest of the Azores. One thing I hope you get from reading this is how amazing third-party shore excursions can be. I am so glad we chose this small group tour where we could escape the crowds and try typical Azorean food.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I recap our day in Madeira! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Madeira Fountain

Fountain in Funchal

Orlando, Port Canaveral, and Great Stirrup Cay

Soaring to FloridaOur whirlwind transatlantic cruise that took us to Portugal and Spain started in Orlando, Florida. Originally, we planned on booking a Port Canaveral hotel that included a shuttle from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the port. But the more that I searched, I realized how expensive those hotels were. We’re not really beach people and this was just the beginning of a really epic vacation. The price didn’t seem worth it to us, instead I booked a hotel right outside the gates to Walt Disney World (its amazing to me that it was cheaper than the Port Canaveral area). If you are going to the parks, they also offer a free shuttle. If you are looking to visit the theme parks and don’t want to pay the price to stay on property, I highly recommend Buena Vista Suites!

Walt Disney World Entrance

We only had one night so we didn’t spend any time in the parks, but it was our anniversary so I got us reservations at Steakhouse 71 in the Contemporary Resort. It had been probably over 20 years since I stepped foot in the Contemporary. I really enjoyed the mid-century theming and I wish we would’ve sprung for the deluxe accommodations for the 50th anniversary. The walkway to the Magic Kingdom would’ve saved us a lot of time that day! Steakhouse 71 is themed as a 1970’s steakhouse and everything we had was fabulous (get the bacon & eggs appetizer! You won’t regret it)! Since it was our anniversary, they get us a free champagne toast that I did not expect. After dinner, we took the monorail to the Polynesian where we sat at the outdoor Trader Sam’s and watched the fireworks before finishing the monorail loop and heading back to our hotel for the night.

The next morning, we enjoyed our free breakfast and drove our rental car to Port Canaveral. We had earned a free day rental from National because of our recent long term rentals so this one-way rental was much cheaper than the Orlando to Port Canaveral shuttles I found. We had an 11:00 am check in time because that is usually when cruise ships start boarding so you don’t have to wait too long and you get a lunch that is included in your cruise fare. I will share more about our embarkation experience when I do my Norwegian Getaway review.

Great Stirrup Cay in the rain

The next day was our first port stop, Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s Private Island. We visited Great Stirrup back in 2015 making it our first repeated port in our seven cruises. I was surprised by how many people we heard that said they weren’t getting off the ship at Great Stirrup. The tendering process isn’t the easiest, but this was our last chance to stand on dry land for 7 days. Great Stirrup Cay is different from Norwegian’s other private island, Harvest Cay. All food is included and drink packages work on the island. Since 2015, they have made a lot of improvements to the island from additional beach areas, bars, and dining options to new private cabanas for rent. There are many water activities to do on the island, from jet skiing and snorkeling to paddle board rentals and even a zip-line. We always like to rent a clamshell on these islands to give us some shade. Shortly after we got on land it started raining and the clamshell kept us dry, although one of the cabanas would’ve been even drier. Our last two times on Norwegian’s island we booked the clamshell on the ship and our shore excursion credit covered it. This time it was only available to be booked once we got off the ship. He wrote our name and room number down but the rain came so hard, I’m pretty sure the ink on his paper ran and became illegible because we were never charged for our clamshell so I’m not sure if the shore excursion credit still applies to these island rentals.

We had talked about trying zip-lining on Great Stirrup or renting jet skis and I’m glad we didn’t book it because the zip line was closed the whole day because of lightning and for several hours no one was allowed in the water. Luckily, the rain let up for lunch and we walked down the beach a bit to try one of the new food options. We hung out for a little bit after that but headed back to the before the rain started up again. It was an odd beach day, but I was glad we got off the ship for a little bit even if we got a little wet.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. Be sure to check back next week as I recap one of my all time favorite cruise excursions in the Azores. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Belem Tower

Belem Tower

Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain

Cruise Ship in Ponta Delgada

We are back from another crazy, life-changing trip! This time we spent 12 nights at sea sailing from Florida to Portugal. When we arrived on land, we explored Lisbon, Porto, Toledo, Madrid, and Reykavik getting around by train, plane, and boat. This trip involved four separate flights on four different airlines. Here is a sneak peek at what is to come over the next few months:

Day 1: Orlando

Day 2: Board Norwegian Getaway in Port Canaveral

Day 3: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Day 10: Ponta Delgada, Azores

Day 12: Funchal, Madeira

Day 14-16: Lisbon

Day 16-21: Porto

Day 21-23: Toledo

Day 23-24: Madrid

Day 25: Reykjavik

The trip alternated between a relaxing week at sea without much to do and jam-packed days exploring European cities. We saw many historic sites and beautiful churches. We tried some of the most amazing food of my life and drank some delicious wine. Without much time at each place, we got a feel for many of our stops without really being able to see and do everything so many of these places have been added to our “must return” list for future travels.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: It’s a Small World

It's A Small World

A First Timers Guide to Mackinac Island

Main Street Lined with Bikes

Mackinac Island in the Evening

Mackinac Island (pronounced mak-en-aw) is a popular tourist destination in Northern Michigan, voted Best Island in the Continental United States by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is only accessible by ferry or plane, and no cars are allowed. Main Street is dotted with dozens of fudge shops and horse-drawn carriages carrying guests to their hotels. A visit can feel like a step back in time.

The grounds of the Grand Hotel

The grounds of the Grand Hotel

Where to Stay

Staying on the island can be expensive so many people stay on the mainland (either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace) and visit for the day. If your budget allows, I recommend staying overnight on the island because the atmosphere changes when the final ferry of the day leaves the dock. If price is no object, stay at the iconic Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel has won many awards over the years and is home to the world’s longest porch. If you would like to experience the Grand without paying the high price of lodging, you can get a reservation at one of the resort’s restaurants or pay the $10 entrance fee for a self-guided tour of the hotel. Be aware that the Grand Hotel does have a dress code. If you’re looking for a more relaxed stay, Mission Point Resort is located on the “Sunrise Side” of the Island and is home to five restaurants and a sprawling waterfront green where you can relax in an Adirondack chair and look out over the water. My go-to hotel on the island is the Chippewa Hotel, located on Main Street steps from the ferry dock. The rooms at the Chippewa face either the action of Main Street or the tranquility of Lake Huron. Probably my favorite thing about the Chippewa is the Pink Pony Restaurant and its waterfront deck where can watch the ferries come and go while enjoying dinner or a drink. Whether you decided to splurge on a hotel on the island or a stay on the mainland, I recommend Star Line Mackinac Ferry Company to get you to and from the island with ease.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

What to Do

I always recommend doing a guided tour on the first day of a trip to a new place. On Mackinac, I recommend Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. While riding in a horse-drawn carriage, your guide will explain the history of the island and give you a lay of the land. The tour stops at the iconic Arch Rock (above), the Butterfly Garden, and Fort Mackinac. After the tour, I recommend renting bikes from Ryba’s Bike Rentals and riding the 8.2 miles around the island. When you are done with your bike ride, spend some time shopping for souvenirs and fudge on Main Street. Once you have seen the most popular tourist attractions, don’t miss some of the hidden gems on Mackinac Island.

Fort Mackinac

Be sure to save some time to explore Fort Mackinac (above). Built in 1781, Fort Mackinac was occupied by the British throughout the American Revolution. The first battle of the War of 1812 took place on Mackinac Island when the British stormed the north end of the island on what is now known as British Landing (this is a good place to stop if you choose to bike around the island). Americans did not regain control of the fort until the end of the war in 1815. With tensions between the Americans and British declining after the War of 1812, Fort Mackinac’s military significance declined and the fort and most of the island was made the second National Park in 1875. In 1895 the park was transferred to the state and became Michigan’s first State Park.

Drink on the Patio overlooking the water

Enjoying a drink at the Pink Pony

Where to Eat

As mentioned above, my favorite restaurant on the island is the Pink Pony with its waterfront patio. I also enjoy getting a bite to eat at the Yankee Rebel Tavern and The Chuckwagon. For a unique experience, head inland to the west side of the island for a meal at The Woods. If you are looking for a fine dining experience, look no further than Chianti at Mission Point Resort or the Grand Hotel Main Dining Room. While Starbucks is now the first and only chain business to operate on the island, I would recommend the Good Day Cafe or Watercolor Cafe for a more Mackinac coffee pick-me-up.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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