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Pullmantur for Americans (Malaga to Portugal and Morocco 10/19)

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Morocco has been on my bucket list for a while.  We were in Gibraltar a while back and you could see across the straits to Africa.  I have students from Africa and wanted to ride a camel also.  You can get there on the mainstream lines, but usually just on transatlantic runs.  Lisbon was a plus also.  I did a search for those two ports and found Pullmantur.  They are an off shoot of Royal Caribbean, and use some of their older ships.  

One of the larger internet cruise sites lets you book Pullmantur – you can also book directly with the line.  The pricing is pretty good but the port charges and taxes were unusually high.  I am fine with window cabins as on the old ships balconies are rare.

We flew into Madrid.  The Indigo Hotel there is well located and has a nice breakfast.  Don't book IHG properties via Orbitz, Expedia etc. as IHG will not give you frequent guest points which is highly annoying.   Cool tourist stuff is near Plaza Mayor.  The El Corte Ingles department store is worth a trip- they are well merchandised and carry everything.

Malaga the departure port is not hard to get to.  You can fly direct from London or larger airports like Zurich or Munich or by fast train.  We stayed at the MG Hotel in Malaga.  It is close to a nice beach and there are good restaurants.  It is very close to the port also.  We answered our own question on early departures from the ship- it seemed to be late as it docked at 9- usually in the US ships seem to dock at 5 and unload at 7.  There is no “carry your own-walk off” departure.    We were in the second group and off by 9:45 or so. 

The online check in was a bit tricky as there is a narrow (30 day) time window to do it.  You have to wait in line at the port to check bags and they hand write new tags even if you have the printed ones you made up.   Pro Tip- there a special (short) check in line for online check in customers.  Cabins were available after 3:30. Aboard, we got an impassioned sell for the enhanced beverage package.  Note that everybody gets a basic drink (wine, beer, coffee etc.) package for free.  If you are fussy on your brands by all means upgrade.   Cafe Cafe on deck 8 was always full and was the town center.  

Embarcation lunch was in the buffet- I had pizza and paella and many had the free wine and beer.  The open deck covered dining was pleasant.  Afterward we went to the library on deck 8 which even had a sign asking for silence.  Libraries are rare and valuable aboard a ship.   We saw the "Waves" lounge for suite passengers and they had a private sundeck starboard up on 12. 

Announcements were in Spanish and English and this trip had 600 "international" passengers.  All crew seem to be at least bilingual in English- this was a rule as we learned.  There is most of a teak promenade deck and several nice aft and forward facing seating areas.  On more modern ships these  areas are cabins.   We were addressed in English much of the time.  

Dinner + service was good- they have a lot of choices.  The free wine was a nice touch- I remember paying $12 a glass after tip on more expensive lines like Cunard.  We were at an English speaking table and the service was excellent.  Everything arrived hot.  I had lasagna and pasta with clams main courses the first few days and fun tapas.  There were theme/dress up nights- gala, tropical, 1920s and white.  These were not well publicized in advance. 

The ship had several bands- and there was good Latin dancing in the central lounge on 7.  Sadly the dance floor was cluttered with chairs.  And the band was on super late- 10:30+ was normal.  I got unlimited Internet @67 a week it was rock solid. 

The "Ask the Captain" briefing was in English- translated to Spanish.  I asked a question- the crew seemed super friendly- they are from all over but Brazil and South America were common.  The Captain was from Ukraine and funny- he was asked a snarky question that the ship seemed smaller than most with a lot of motion- he said he slept like a baby.  Pullmantur has a bit of French heritage also.  The officers were out and about- you got a happy ship/family vibe. 

I spent some time researching cabins- I wanted a couch or love seat for in-cabin reading or knitting.  I picked one in "FC" which seemed to have one- "Deluxe Family Outside" - it had a fold down bed which developed a rattle which I reported.  After a few tries this (and some squeaky and or broken drawers) were repaired with several sheet metal screws, WD40 and some caulk.  If you have a problem they can fix aboard- ask- a nasty posting later is unhelpful.  The cabin had 2x US outlets and one two round pin Euro outlets at the desk.  These had flat screen TVs.   Cabin service was once per day. 

I found two favorite things - hot tea/coffee at 5am in the buffet and no piped in music at the table.   Spain is not the place for early risers but this helps me cope 🙂 There was a gluten free toast station at breakfast.  There are good vegetarian choices.  Lunch in the MDR was hybrid- you got a buffet for starters and the main course was delivered.  They would do well to have a “coffee shop” that was open early someplace aboard for international or jet lagged guests.  Or even a tray of rolls out- RCCL does this.   I missed ordering Eggs Benedict. 

We liked dinners on the ship.  They have a fancy chef advising them- there were “everyday” items and creative new ones each night.   The Gala Night had a fixed menu.   Attire for men was sport coat average on Gala Night.  There were barely enough tables for the buffet when it is raining – the nice aft and poolside outdoor seating was unavailable.  The early seating dinner at 1930 was a stretch for us- but lunch- Brasa Grill- tended to go on and on- until 1930.  The normal late start for breakfast of any kind was annoying- but the Waves Lounge was open half an hour earlier.  

The port day in Casablanca was a circus aboard as port clearance seemed delayed.  The main dining room had a buffet which seemed sensible as there was a mass crowd and the tours started late.  We watched a submarine board crew, prepare for sea and load supplies.  We and a few others walked to town.  Pro Tip- the Medina looks close but is not -there is a big sturdy sea wall around the port you have to walk around it for like a mile.  Gently or firmly refuse the (La) taxi tours but a few Euros (you won't have Dirhams at this point) for a ride to the Medina is worth it.  

The place to get Dirhams seems to be ATMs- don't forget to call your bank ahead of time.    I would say most of the business is in Dirhams.  Keep your receipt as you will need to convert extras back when you leave.  Morocco is pretty, safe but poor.  One of two English men who approached us in the Medina with helpful tips was observed to drop a few coins with beggars as he walked along.  The average income is <$4000 annually.  In traditional Muslim countries save the short shorts and tank tops for poolside on the ship.   

We had a nice local lunch at Grillades-Brochettes-Poulets at 120 Rue Allal ben Abdellas.  It was vegetable Tangine and bread and rice and lentils for 47 Dirhams for both of us.  They had a clean rest room of both types.  Food is eaten with the hands and sinks are common.  TP in restrooms is not.  Petit Taxi meter fare back to the port was 15 Dirhams - ($1.50).

The key to Porto on your own is the #500 bus.  This one boards right outside the harbor gate - go straight maybe a little left a block or two.  (There is a port shuttle bus to the gate).  It is double decker and costs 2 or 3 Euros.  It goes along the river and then stops right in the pretty historic district.  There is a apparently a rivalry on which of the two Portugese ports (Lisbon or Porto) is prettier- hard to say really.  Both have nice modern cruise terminals.  We found a lovely bakery right when the #500 terminates downtown.  There was a chocolate bun shaped like a mouse we sadly did not try.    

Lisbon is also nice.  The metro, bus and tram system is complicated.  We got off the ship and walked up the hill and found the #28E (historic) tram and handed over 3 Euros and stood for a while until seats opened up.  We rode to the end – and were disoriented as we were near modern buildings and away from the river/sea.  A Tuk Tuk driver said he would take 10 Euros for a ride to the castle – the line to get back on the #28 was 45 minutes.  Near the castle we found our favorite restaurant from last time – it was at a convergence between #28 and #12 trams and you sat outside under a tree.  

Tangier was a great stop.  The Medina was right outside the city port - Tangier Ville- but 40 Km from the other possible port - Tangier Med.  We could not get an answer from anyone where we would dock exactly so sprung for the 51 Euro city and food excursion.  The guide was good and there was a full chicken lunch.  Tangier is a pretty and historic place.  Inside the fortress the narrow streets are just like a movie set.  If you took the ships' tour, you could pay completely in Euros.  After years of cruising to the Caribbean, I can honestly say I would have been upset to have missed Tangier.  The build up was worth it.  

I think we figured out the business model for Pullmantur.  The older ships keep the lease expenses low.  The don’t make much on the bar as so much is free and the non smoking casino was quiet.  But they sell a lot of excursions and the laundry was fast and tidy and the Internet was reliable.  So they got a well deserved extra few hundred Euros  from us.   They are getting a newer ship with more balconies- so have a bright future.   


Edited by ew101

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Good review.  We were booked on this cruise but cancelled as we decided to do a trans Atlantic with Celebrity instead.  Maybe next year. We have enjoyed all Pullmantur ships except Zenith which will be leaving their fleet soon.  We are booked on a New Years cruise on the Monarch in a couple of weeks and are looking forward to that as it will be our 20th cruise as well as my wife's birthday and our wedding anniversary too. We will overnight in Willemstad on New Years.  Our first cruise was ten years ago on the Pullmantur Pacific Dream, now the Horizon, and that was a New Years cruise too.

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