I am writing this first of several blogs from my very nice Concierge Veranda stateroom on Oceania Marina (deck 10) as we cruise away from the Spanish port of Cadiz en route for Lisbon. It is day three of our jaunt through Europe on this lovely new ship – day five for everyone else as we had special permission to board late in Malaga instead of the official embarkation port of Barcelona.

As a result we have been hot-footing it around Malaga, Casablanca and Rabat in Morocco, and today Cadiz and Seville and haven’t had too much time to explore our temporary home on the high seas! So this blog will be dedicated to first impressions and what we have experienced so far, plus three very diverse ports of call.

So, as mentioned we boarded the cruise late in Malaga (blame it on my family in Spain), and made the mistake of arriving at the port in the throes of a very large and impressive Spanish festival, dedicated to the country’s military. I thought we were never going to get to the ship – our taxi entered the port and it was crawling with people visiting war ships, attending demonstrations….you name it. But eventually we pulled up at Malaga’s pretty impressive new terminal (almost complete…well it is Spain), and got on board Oceania’s spanking brand new flagship, Marina.

As we were set to leave port at 6pm, we headed back into town after a quick lunch al fresco on the Terrace Cafe at the rear of the ship. This is a lovely space equally dedicated to indoor and outdoor casual dining, and with a very impressive buffet packed with choice. On shore again we meandered through the old part of Malaga – having travelled to Andalucia and the Costa del Sol many times when I was a lot younger, I had no idea the much maligned city had such a pretty old quarter. We climbed the Gibralfaro fortress to the top – with me as usual in totally inappropriate shoes – but the view from the top across the beaches, the city and the bull ring was worth the effort in the heat.

Back on ship later, we quickly unpacked and settled into our stateroom. A Concierge Stateroom means you have a veranda, essential in this part of the world I reckon, and perks including a private lounge for your use on deck 9 including a concierge to help you with anything you need, magazines, flat screen TVs and refreshments all day. Very handy after a long, hot day exploring ashore.

Never known to do anything by halves, we’d pre booked dinner several weeks before sailing and were heading to Jacques that night – Jacques Pepin’s very own dining venue on board. First we had an excellent cocktail in Martinis, a lovely bar on deck six, then headed downstairs to the elegantly appointed restaurant. What a way to kick off a cruise, I say…..superb service, exquisite food (the fois gras casserole will linger long in the memory), and a late sunset through the windows to die for.

The next day we were up and at it early for a day-long excursion to the Moroccan city of Rabat, which was quite fascinating. It started off with a peaceful political demonstration, a visit to the very grand Palace, an authentic lunch in a local restaurant, and an afternoon visiting more sights including the Mausoleum and Kasbah (and yes, we did rock it!). Last, night, still recovering from all the exertion, we opted for room service – prompt, and very good even if the menu is quite basic.

Today was devoted to a day-long excursion of Seville, which is about a 1 hour 45 minute drive from Cadiz. I have to admit to sleeping on the bus most of the way (I even napped through the 10 minute “comfort” stop half way, so Ben says) but it set me up well for four hours of walking the alleys of the Jewish quarter, Santa Cruz, and meandering around the sights including the glorious Seville Cathedral and the very impressive Plaza de Espana…..all on the day of a fiesta for the city, which had it packed with people. Naturally we had to stop for tapas and a glass of rose….it’s the done thing here, you know.

Tonight, heading for Lisbon, we debated…..the Grand Dining Room or a casual dinner in the buffet? The dining room is winning by a neck right now, so I will report back in my next blog how that goes. Tomorrow we are exploring a city we had the pleasure of visiting last 14 years ago…..and we have back-to-back special dinners – tomorrow night at the Asian fusion venue, Red Ginger, then a sea day and the experience of the authentic Italian, Toscana….I can feel my clothes tightening around my waistline as I write this, but who cares, after all I am on a cruise of a lifetime, right? Until next time, happy cruising!