Sunquest Tours Sunbird by Bob & Wendy Evans Western Mediterranean July 3, 2004
This was our eighth cruise, a western Mediterranean cruise on the Sun Cruises ship Sunbird, embarking in Palma, Mallorca and going to Malta, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, and Corsica. We booked it on a sell-off, getting an outside A-deck cabin for $1,175 CAN, including air. Inside cabins were $1,055 including air. Port and other taxes were an extra $339 CAN. Tipping was included in the cruise ticket. The ship's currency is UK pounds.
This and the other Sunquest/Sun Cruises/My Travel cruises will end in October 2004, when the ships will be sold to Thompson's Cruises and renovated. This was our second time doing this itinerary, which we wanted to do again because there was so much we missed the first time. Here's the link to our review of our first Sunbird cruise in 2003: http://www.cruise-addicts.com/reviews/readreview.php?id=0000002438
We departed Toronto at 11:35 p.m. on Skyservice. The direct flight took eight hours, and two meals were served. We arrived in Palma at 1:30 p.m. and were on the ship via the transfer bus in an hour. This time there was no delay getting on board, perhaps 20 minutes. We got a quick bite at the Lido buffet, and left the ship to spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening shopping and sightseeing in Palma. Taxis are about 10 euros to the huge medieval cathedral and other sights, and the shopping is there too, on Avinguda Antonio Maura beside the cathedral, going up to Placa de la Reina, continuing on Passeig de Born, then turning left onto Aviguda de Jaime III.
The Palma street names are too blurry and small to read on the map the ship hands out, but there's a good map at www.hot-maps.de. We took the local bus into town; it stops at the terminal entrance, costs 1.3 euros, runs every 15 minutes, and an electrical display board counts down the minutes until the next bus. It runs along the bay, then turns and stops at the cathedral. The return bus picks up back on Sagrera, the road along the bay.
The ship was still in decent shape for a three-star. If you are bothered by minor signs of wear, and want a new ship, you should probably not take a three-star. We measured our outside A-deck cabin at 91 square feet, smaller than most ships these days, with a 2 foot by 2 foot shower (which will test your dexterity). Bring a power bar for the one outlet. Soap and shampoo are provided. There was no fridge but lots of ice from the steward. We had excellent service in all areas. The passengers are about 75% from the U.K., with the rest mainly Scandinavian and Canadian.
The food was satisfactory in the dining room, with lots of choices, much better than the Lido buffet. Late night buffets were good, either a theme such as Italian, or hot/cold snacks the waiters take around the public areas. Drinks were 2 U.K. pounds, and weak; bring your own, or find a bartender and tell him how you want it mixed.
Our friends said the musical entertainment was ok. We went to the passenger participation shows, such as The Weakest Link, Mr. & Mrs., and Singing Legends. These are a fun change from the set stage shows on the North American cruises.
As on all ships, Internet on the ship is expensive (0.75 UKP per minute); in the ports it's easy to find Internet cafés charging 2-3 euros for 15-20 minutes.
The first port was Valetta, Malta, a jewel for history buffs. This was where the Christian knights made their last stand against the Ottoman empire. Valetta is a huge walled city with awesome cathedrals and other architecture. It's a hot, rather steep 15-minute walk from the ship up to the main gate entrance, and a better start would be taking or sharing a 10 euro cab. The ship map has the sights marked. The main shopping is on Republic and Merchant streets. You can buy bottled water or a beer at many shops, but the cheapest is at the small grocery store on Republic, perhaps a block from the main gate, for about half a euro.
The other main sights are Mdina/Rabat; Vittoriosa across the harbor from Valetta; and Sliema, the hopping resort area. We did Mdina last time, a complete medieval city, no cars allowed. It's a 0.30 Malta Lira (ML) bus ride, about $1.20 CAN or 0.45 UKP, and you need local change, not euros, which the shops will change for you. The same trip by taxi is about 30-50 euros, or $70 CAN, 30 UKP. The ship tour is about 40 UKP.
This time we did Vittoriosa in the morning, a .15 ML bus, and Sliema in the afternoon, also a .15 ML bus each way. In Vittorioso we wanted to see the Inquisitor's Palace and some other medieval cathedrals. All buses depart from the roundabout in front of the main Valetta gate. It's a zoo, buses everywhere, and you need to first ask at one of the bus control offices around the outside which bus number to take. If you go to Sliema for the action, stay on the bus along the marina/beach/bay road (nice views), and get off when it turns toward the business district. Then you can walk either the boardwalk along the bay or the shops/cafes on the other side, or the street going into town towards the Preluna hotel.
There is only one rather awesome sight in Messina, the medieval church Il Duomo, visible from the ship and a five-minute walk. But the medieval town of Taormina is a must-see. It's a beautiful hillside town with quaint little shops, a Greek/Roman amphitheatre facing Mt. Etna, and several medieval monasteries and churches. You'll find many beautiful views. It's an hour from the ship, and it's best to take the half-day ship tour for about 30 UKP rather than doing it yourself on the local train, which stops too far from the town, or on the bus, which leaves too late and returns too early to be practical. The other tour, a full day to Mt. Etna and Taormina, is a lot of driving (two hours each way) for about 50 UKP.
Last time we divided the day between shopping in Naples (Via Toledo & Via Chiaia) and seeing the ruins of Herculaneum and going up the culprit, Mt. Vesuvius. This time we went to the Amalfi coast resort town of Sorrento. Instead of the full-day ship tour for 50 UKP we did it ourselves, taking the one-hour Circumvesuvius train there for 3 euros, and the 50 minute hydrofoil back for 7 euros. We'd suggest not taking the train, even though it's convenient (running every 20 minutes), because there are no views down the coast. It passes through industrial or residential areas and tunnels, and there is no A/C. It's a 10 euro cab to get to the train. The hydrofoil is smooth, scenic, and has A/C, or you can sit up in the breeze and sun on the top deck. The hydrofoil departs from the other side of the terminal building from the ship, not requiring a taxi as the train does. There is no bus service. Our friends took the hydrofoil to Capri and had a great time.
Sorrento is built on a cliff, with lots of interesting shops, beautiful views, cute cafes and vendors, old churches. To get from the town down to the beach/boardwalk/hydrofoil, you either walk down a series of stone switchback paths in the cliff, or take the 1 euro bus. It's a pretty walk, lots of photos to take. The hydrofoil leaves at 4:20 and gets you back to the ship by 5:15. The ship leaves at 6 p.m.
On our first cruise here we shopped in Olbia and then had a long lunch there. This time we shopped and then went to the ritzy resort town of Porto Cervo. Shopping on via Umberto in Olbia is interesting, with many different types of shops; the prices were not bad.
Instead of the 30 UKP ship tour to Porto Cervo, we took the local Greyhound-style bus for 3 euros. We couldn't believe how cheap bus and train travel was in these ports. The bus leaves from the station past the bow of the ship. Walk through the brown brick station to the bus parking area behind, ask which bus goes to Porto Cervo, and buy a ticket from the driver for about 2 euros; there is a schedule on the bus door. It leaves at 1 p.m., takes about 50 minutes, and returns at 4:20, arriving at the ship at 5:20. The ship sails at 6.
Porto Cervo is a beautiful resort, with many big name boutiques (Gucci, Prada, etc.). It was established by the Aga Khan for his VIP friends. It's fun to walk along the marina checking out the huge yachts. The main café is not expensive, and the grocery store near the bus stop is quite cheap (beer 0.5 euros) and it sells snacks and cold drinks as well as lots of grocery items.
Getting both Olbia and Porto Cervo done was a squeeze. The ship is supposed to arrive at 10 a.m., and of course the shops close from 1-4 p.m. as everywhere. It's almost a mile from the ship down the dock to town, a 15-minute fast walk, and the city provides free shuttle busses. But the first shuttle leaves about 30 minutes after docking, as late as 11, so we had to squeeze the shopping between 11 and 12:30 to catch the shuttle getting back in time for the 1 p.m. Porto Cervo bus, and grabbing lunch along the way, kind of a dash.
The ship is only in port for the morning. Ajaccio is lovely, quaint, and clean. The best shopping is on Rue Napoleon and Rue Fesch. We took a tour down the coast to see the views, which were pretty with hills and mountains on one side, and beaches and rocky coastline on the other. We stopped at a medieval observation tower that was used to watch for invaders. It's a 10-minute climb up steep irregular steps. Some of us went for it, and exchanged cameras at the top for shots of ourselves with the lovely Sanguli Islands in the background.
Debarkation was smooth; we were called about 11:30 for the 3:20 flight. Some spent the morning getting a few last rays on deck. The only hassle at the Palma airport is the long line at security. The larger duty free shop -- on the corner where the café is -- has free booze samples at the back, and good prices. One-liter rum and scotch were on sale for 10 euros, down from about 12E. And as usual there was a Toblerone chocolate sale, 600 gr. for 7.50E.
Hi to our ship friends Bill and Shelly, who won the iron man and woman awards for never taking the elevators once all cruise! (Lucky no one stepped on their hands crawling up the last flight of stairs). Email us if you have questions. You will love this cruise!
Here's the link to our Med photos: http://community.webshots.com/user/rob42ca and here's the link to our other cruise photos: http://community.webshots.com/user/bob42ca
Bob & Wendy Evans