Several months ago we did a cruise along the Norwegian fjords and up to Svalbard. On that cruise, one of the waiters was from Madagascar. We asked him tonnes of questions and our desire to visit Madagascar began to grow. Getting there is expensive though; especially as we started to look at flights to island hop including Seychelles, Reunion and Mauritius. These are all expensive islands to get to and to stay in. We found a cruise that started in Genoa, Italy and made its way to all of these islands.
The cruise is with Costa. It is an Italian company that perhaps became most well-known when one of them sunk several years ago. The captain was charged because he was intoxicated. Nevertheless, I am sure they have taken extreme precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The cruise is 23 days long. We departed Genoa, Italy on October 3rd and disembarked on October 26th in Mauritius. It cost us 1389 euros per person which is about 60 euros per night. We typically have a budget of about $100 CAD per night each. This cruise is a bargain considering it includes our transportation, meals, and accommodation. About two weeks after we booked it though the cost dropped to 1189 euros… rarely do we not get the best deal. That said, most people on board paid much more than us.
From Genoa, we sailed to Naples. We walked from the cruise ship into the centre of the old town area. We did a free walking tour to learn more about Naples. Our guide was pretty good and also taught us about Neapolitan people. For example, their use of hands in every day communication is very famous. I am not sure it is unique to Neapolitans but apparently they have their own dialect and vocabulary including with body language.
After Naples, we headed to Catania which is the largest port city in Sicily. We had planned to take a local train which circumnavigates Mount Etna. However, it was Sunday and apparently this train only goes on week days. Instead, we rented a car for the day and drove up to Mount Etna. It is still quite an active volcano. We could see puffs of smoke every few minutes. It was quite a spectacular drive up the volcano.
Next, we sailed to Heraklion, Crete (Greece). We had been there before on our Mediterranean cruise in 2013. We recall doing the main sites with Andrew and Amanda then. So, this time we decided just to explore Heraklion. We wandered around for a while. We even stopped and did the foot spa treatment where you stick your feet in a fish tank and little fish nibble the dead skin from your feet. Nic giggles the whole time as she finds it ticklish. We found a bakery to buy a spanakopita and then another place for a couple of Greek local beers.
After Crete, we sailed through the Suez Canal which took about 15 hours for the whole passage. Apparently, Egypt is still on their red list meaning the ship cannot stop there. It would have been amazing to have a day or two to stop in Egypt again. That said, going through the Suez Canal was also an experience.
From here, we sailed to Eilat, Israel. If you recall, we had been in Aqaba, Jordan back in August which is only about 15 km from Eilat. For us, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea are all about the snorkelling. Many people on the ship did excursions to Jerusalem which was expensive and involved very long bus rides. For us, we just wanted to find a beach for some snorkelling. Nic had researched how to make that happen. We took a local bus until we were almost at the border with Egypt. The snorkelling here was spectacular.
After Eilat, we sailed across the bay to Aqaba. Again, we were looking to snorkel. We knew from the last time we were here that the best snorkelling is at South Beach. We had kept some Jordanian Dinars from our last visit. So, we paid 10 Dinars (about $18 CAD) each to go to the Berenice Beach Club. We got an excellent spot under a gazebo with two nice lounge chairs. We snorkelled for more than an hour and enjoyed the warmth of Jordan. After we were done here we shared a taxi with Donatella and Edward from Chicago back to the centre of Aqaba.
I should mention that sailing from the Suez Canal to shortly before Seychelles is through some dangerous areas. We were warned about the ship’s protocols in case we were attacked by pirates. At night, the windows of the ship were all blacked out and the ship sailed at almost its top speed all the way to make it more difficult for pirates. Needless to say, we did not have any run ins with Jack Sparrow.
The next stop, after four sea days in a row, was in Salalah, Oman. Unfortunately, Salalah is not a really touristic type of place. We took a local bus to the main tourist site which is a large mosque. Nic and I were not sitting together on the bus and she was our navigator. I was chatting with a French lady on the bus practicing my French. Nic had told me we had three more stops and the lady asked me if this was my stop. I said no and she said she thinks my wife got off. I looked and Nic was on the street next to the bus. I ran to get off and managed to do so just before the bus took off. I asked Nic why she had got off. She said this was our stop and I said we still had two stops to go. She got off about 2 km early and a woman from Reunion had gotten off with her. We were all now stuck with walking in the extreme heat. A good story for me to hold over her head the next time I screw up… lol.
We used the maps.me app on the phone offline to navigate to the mosque. Somehow I got to the wrong mosque but it was not far from the one we wanted. The big beautiful mosque is only 7 years old. The Sultan of Oman is very progressive and has really done great things for the country. He paid for this mosque himself.
We then went to the gold souk. This is an area where they sell gold and silver jewellery. Nic bought herself a silver necklace with a camel on it as well as a silver ring. Then we walked to the beach. It was about a 2 km walk. We went into the water up to just below our knees. We walked from here to a market area where I picked up something Omani for the wall of my gazebo. I was beginning to feel sick from the heat. We walked back to the mosque. We had walked about 12 km in scorching sun and heat. We took the bus back to the ship.
Next, we sailed to Seychelles. We had not done much research on Seychelles except we knew that we could take a fairly inexpensive bus around the island. We also knew that it was an expensive place. We had about 29 hours in Seychelles from 9 am one day to 2 pm the next day. We ended up renting a car with Donatella and Edward. We started out by heading to the beach and snorkelling a bit. It was a bit murky so the snorkelling was not great. We continued by completing a full loop of the island. We dropped off Donatella and Edward and then Nic and I continued on a bit. The following morning we walked to the botanic garden. It was incredibly hot and humid. We also found the clock tower that is a site to see but it is maybe 20 feet tall.
From the Seychelles we sailed to La Reunion. It is an island that is part of France. Unfortunately, President Emmanuel Macron was there and it caused a lot of traffic in the capital. He is not well liked and protests were planned. We rented a car again and Donatella and Edward joined us. Reunion is not a good place for swimming or snorkelling. There are sharks for one thing and not the good kind that we like to snorkel with. Also, the water is incredibly rough. We drove around about 2/3rds of the whole island but instead of completing the loop, we doubled back to avoid the capital city, Saint Denis. We stayed mostly along the coastline but we did try to go up one of the pitons. It was too foggy at the top to see anything. We drove across a road that crosses lava. In Madagascar, we met some girls from Reunion and they showed us pictures of the big volcano (La Fournisse) erupting since we were there.
Finally, our ultimate port stop was Mauritius. We did not try to do everything in Mauritius because we will be back for five days after we go to Madagascar. We just hung out in Port Louis for the first day. The next day we went to the airport for our flight.
I wanted to add a little about the people we met on the ship. We were at a table with six other people for dinner every night: Jim and Assumpta O’Mahoney from Cork, Ireland; Nils-Jorgen and Inge Sorensen from Denmark; and Bjarne and Edit Dueholm from Denmark. We had lovely conversations and a lot of fun at dinner.
As on every cruise, I love to play trivia. We played on a team with Leonard, Zelinda, Marissa and Arthur. Arthur and Rozella were from Montreal. We worked out at the gym on most sea days. Nicola often did morning stretching on the pool deck with a group. Most evenings we went to a show. Some were really good and others were just okay. It can be really distracting when everything is in six languages.
All in all it was a good cruise. It served its purpose. We unpacked our backpacks and got to Mauritius. Next is 24 days in Madagascar.