Sovereign Cruise: Palma To Lisbon, 19-22 November 2016

The thought of sailing with Pullmantur had crossed our minds quite a bit but we never really took the plunge and booked a cruise with them. That was until last September when we, Jordan,  Assistant Editor of Cruisemarsh and Editor of Cruise Captial and I decided we would test the water and book a short two night cruise on Sovereign. We would be joining the ship in Palma de Mallorca and disembarking two days later in Lisbon, Portugal. However, with flight times on the day of the cruise being extremely tight with check in for the ship, we decided that it would be best to book a hotel in Palma the night before and flight out then. That way, it would mean that we would get more time to explore a bit more of Palma.

Day One: Southampton to Palma via Gatwick:

It was an extremely early start in the early hours of the morning on Saturday 19th November. In order for us to have a smooth as possible journey, we had booked the 01.40 coach from Southampton Coach Station to London Gatwick. Our flight from London Gatwick to Palma de Mallorca was at 06.15, so it gave us plenty of time to get to the airport. The coach journey itself seemed like it was never going to end and with a toilet door that kept opening every time the coach turned a corner, it was a very frustrating couple of hours on the coach, we were extremely relieved to get to London Gatwick.

Having not expected many shops to be opened at the airport at Gatwick, we were pleasantly surprised to see that a Costa at the North Terminal was open and we duly obliged with a visit and had a lovely hot chocolate to warm us up.

With us already checked in on line, it was a pretty straightforward process through security and into the departure lounge. We were flying Easyjet and I have to admit, I was pretty dubious about them after my previous experience with them in 2007. However, these fears were unfounded and the flight actually went very smoothly, even though there was paint scraped off the plane’s fuselage and strange noises coming from the hydraulics and wheels.  It was so smooth, that we even arrived 15 minutes or so early in Palma. That was a pleasant surprise.

Once through passport control, we proceeded to exit the terminal at Palma and went to join the Number one bus that would take us from the airport into the port area of Palma, where our hotel was situated. It was 5 Euros for a single ticket and the buses were pretty clean and comfortable, so was a fairly pleasant journey from the airport into the city.

We were looking forward to trying out the hotel’s unique funichular that would transport us from close to where we got off the bus, upto the hotel. However, we found out that it wasn’t working and so had to walk up the steep hill to get to the hotel. It was well worth the walk though as our hotel was very nice indeed.

We had opted to stay in the 4 star Hotel Catalonia. With a lofty position at the top of a hill, there was fantastic views from the front of the hotel overlooking the harbour and the rest of Palma.

Check in at the hotel was pretty straightforward. It was also a bargain price of 37 Euros each for the one night stay at the hotel.  The booking was done through Booking.com and worked out extremely well indeed.  Our room unfortunately didn’t have the famed frontal sea view, however we were impressed with the size of the room and the view from the spacious balcony was pretty decent as well.  For a snip of a price, we weren’t arguing, this was a very good room.

After a drink on the hotel’s terrace and a quick nap, we decided to take the local bus into the centre and explore what Palma had to offer. We visited the famous Palma Cathedral and Palace and had a great walk through the centre of the city looking at the shops before having dinner at Burger King, which was excellent. We then took the bus back towards the hotel but got off a couple of stops later as we wanted to explore the shopping mall that was located close-by. We stocked up on supplies for the evening ahead at the local supermarket which were reasonably priced and then headed back to the hotel. We decided to chill for a little while before heading to bed at 8pm as we were absolutely shattered. We had been up a full 24 hours and we were really feeling it!

 

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The view of the hotel from the terrace.
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The view from our room.
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The view over the harbour in Palma.

 

Day 2: Embarkation Day:

After a fantastic sleep in one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in, in any given hotel, it was time to embark Pullmantur’s Sovereign. It was really quite strange going to check in for a cruise at 9.30am but that’s what we did.  We took a taxi from the hotel to the cruise terminal, which to be fair was only a 5 minute ride away but meant we didn’t have to walk down the steep hill. Once the taxi driver dropped us off at the cruise terminal, we were left quite confused. The signs for the ship weren’t clear and with disembarking passengers already congregating around the terminal, it was difficult to see where we were supposed to head to to embark the ship. 5 minutes after looking, we finally found signs to Sovereign and proceeded to a pre-check in desk. At this stage, we were asked our names and nationality and were told that we were upgraded to another cabin, so that was a nice surprise. We then gave our luggage to them and proceeded into the cruise terminal to go and collect our cruise card. Along the way, we had our embarkation photo taken as well. Once we received our cruise card, we were then invited to embark the ship and to proceed to deck 4 reception to complete check in. A rather unusual way of doing things but however, it worked.

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After completing the check in process on board, and an initial exploration,  we then proceeded to go for breakfast in Buffet Panorama, which was the lido style buffet restaurant on board. Interestingly, this was situated towards the front of the ship on deck 11. The norm usually is that lido restauarants are situated aft on a cruise ship but on Sovereign, the layout worked very well and with seating overlooking the bow, it provided great panoramas of the sea.  The choice for breakfast was good, with cooked Spanish style breakfast and traditional continental breakfast on offer. I had the cooked breakfast and really enjoyed having Spanish Omelette, I could have eaten that all day, it was so good!

The best part of embarkation day is exploring the ship and it’s always fun trying to get your bearings. Sovereign though was a pretty easy ship to find your way through. We started at the top and worked our way slowly down the decks. The former Viking Crown Lounge on deck 14 is now called 360. It offers stunning 360 degree vistas across the outer decks of the ship and the sea. A great place to enjoy a quiet drink and to admire the views on offer.

The pool deck on Sovereign is very spacious and is reminiscent of Royal Caribbean ships. Of course, Sovereign was once Sovereign of the Seas for Royal Caribbean, so it’s easy to see where the similarities lie.  She has two outdoor pools and two whirlpools. The pool sizes are generous and nicely finished with the Pullmantur logo on the base of the pool.  There are two outdoor bars within the pool area, Bar Panorama which is forward of the pools and Bar Marina which is aft of the pools. There is ample seating areas on both port and starboard sides of deck 11. The smoking area is situated on the starboard side. With refurbishment taking place, both sides would be closed at one point but at different times in order for new deck carpets to be laid. This was also being done on starboard side of deck 12 too and there was a hive of activity. However, it wasn’t a huge hindrance at all and was quite fun to watch the progress they were making.

We then proceeded to muster. This was situated in the Broadway Showlounge, which was aft on deck 5,  and was compulsory for all passengers embarking in Palma that day. It was quite a strange affair as there was only a handful in the theatre for the muster briefing from the cruise director. It was initially conducted in Spanish and then he came over to the small band of English speakers to go through it in English, although to be fair, we got the jist of what he was saying in Spanish.

Soon after, it was time to sail for Lisbon and we proceeded to deck 12 to see us sail from the berth. It was a rather low key affair with very few people on deck to see us sail. Having said that, there was very few passengers on the ship, which made it a little eerie in all honesty but was great for taking photos.

The afternoon on board was a continuation of exploring and relaxing and enjoying the all inclusive nature of the cruise. Relaxing in the bars and lounges was complimented with a nice soft drink or two before eventually deciding to have an alcoholic beverage. The bar staff were so friendly and we quickly built up rapport and banter with a trainee bar waiter and whenever he saw us again later in the cruise, he would say hello. They served with a smile on their faces and that really made a lasting impression. We also enjoyed lunch in the El Duero Restaurant. It was a buffet style lunch but there was a very good selection of food.

The main atrium of the ship is the hub centre. However, with very few passengers, it felt like a ghost ship! The stunning staircases and glass elevators created an expansive space and in between there was good shopping area on deck 5.

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We then went to rest for a little while in the cabin and to get ready for dinner that evening. Our cabin orginally was supposed to be 2957 situated on deck 2 and was an inside cabin. However, since we were upgraded at the cruise terminal in Palma, our cabin was now 6020 and was a superior outside cabin situated forward, starboard side, on deck 6. Although rather compact compared to the larger and more modern ships today, the cabin was perfectly serviceable and practical and most importantly very comfortable.

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Dinner time came around fairly quickly and we were in the El Duero Restaurant on deck 4. There is another main restaurant below on deck 3 and both were situated aft on the ship. We were dining at 19.30, however the first night was pretty much open dining and you could choose to eat anytime between 19.30 and 21.30. The restaurant was a nice size and tastefully decorated but clearly was identifiable at a former Royal Caribbean ship.  The menu for dinner had a good choice of items and courses on it and was split into various sections which made it much easier to read. This would however be a set menu for the duration of the cruise, so not much variation was available but still, the choice was good and the quality of the food was excellent. We enjoyed not having to put our hands into our pockets for our cruise card to order wine as that indeed was inclusive too. The food was presented very well indeed and the service was quick and efficient. In fact, we were only in the restaurant an hour but still had a four course dinner and drinks too! That’s what I call service!

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After dinner, it was a case of having a walk around the ship before enjoying a pre-show drink. We then went to watch the show, ‘The Voyage of Life’. It was by the resident theatre group on Sovereign and they certainly put on a show! It was more about visuals than sound and was a highly entertaining show. It was something different to see and a change from the more mainstream shows you see on board other cruise lines.

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After the show finished, we took a walk around and then decided to have a drink in Rendevous. After which, we decided to head to Zoom, the nightclub on board Sovereign. This was around 11.30pm and to be brutally honest, it wasn’t that busy. There was a few people, whom seemed to have had a tipple too many, up on the dancefloor and enjoying themselves. We just sat back, enjoyed the drinks and music and watched them dance.

It must have been about 2am by the time we got back to the cabin, after initially having a walk along the promenade to kind of clear our heads as we had both consumed a fair amount of alcohol. But when it’s all inclusive, the drink flows more freely.

Needless to say when my head hit the pillow in the cabin, I was away to the land of nod.

 

Day 3: At Sea

The second and final day of the cruise. Admitedly we did lie in after the previous night’s alcohol consumption and so therefore missed breakfast. We did however go to El Duero restaurant for buffet lunch, which again was very good, with a fair selection of food on offer.  After lunch, it was a case of exploring the ship more and taking more photos and videos for both our respective blogs. We did have the odd drink of coca cola here and there in the afternoon with the Spinaker Bar being the favourite place.

We were also taking a passing interest in the refurbishment work that was being undertaken on the upper outer decks, with the removal of old flooring and replacing it with newer flooring.

It was a fairly relaxing afternoon on board in which we played the tourist card and got the photos and videos we needed. We then had to go and hand in our passports for immigration the next day in Lisbon.

It was very eerie though as the ship was not full at all. Rumour was that there was only 200 passengers on board for the leg of the cruise between Palma and Lisbon. We therefore didn’t experience any real queues but atmosphere wise, it was rather flat. Especially in the evenings when the bars and nightclub should be busy.

We then watched us sail past Gibraltar and the African coast as we headed through the Straits of Gibraltar. Unfortunately it was overcast and misty and only got a glimpse of the Rock but was still worthwhile to head up on deck to see.  (Pics below of sailing through Straits of Gibraltar, the Rock and the African coast)

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After returning to the cabin for a brief rest, it was time for dinner and was to be frank, very hungry.  Dinner again was very nice and served very promptly. Food quality was superb and the chicken soup was again out of this world. Certainly a favourite dish.

After dinner, it was a case of having a look around the ship and having a pre show drink.  The show again was superb and was called, ‘Rock Never Dies’ which played homage to some of the biggest rock stars and bands including Guns n Roses, ACDC and Queen. The singers and dancers were superb and really felt like you were at a rock concert. I pretty much knew most of the songs, so that was a bonus!

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After the show, it was time to take some photos of the ship and the outer decks at night. We had to brave the squally weather though!

 

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After our walk around the outer decks to get some photos, it was time to head to Zoom for a few drinks and to enjoy the music from the DJ. Again, as the ship wasn’t full, neither was the nightclub. There was a few brave souls up on the dance floor but we only spent about an hour and a half in the nightclub before deciding to call it a night and head back to the cabin.  (below are two pics from the nightclub)

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Day 4: At Sea/Lisbon/Disembarkation

So, it was sadly our last morning on board Sovereign and was quite a strange feeling that we were still at sea was we approached our final destination of Lisbon. It was therefore a very leisurely morning as we didn’t have to vacate our cabin until 12 noon. We therefore managed to make breakfast in the restaurant before walking around the ship taking final photos as we headed into Lisbon.  (Photos below of approach to Lisbon)

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The final approach to Lisbon is just stunning. With the April 25th Bridge spanning the river and the Cristo Rei Statue (Jesus Christ) overlooking the  bridge from its hilltop vantage point, it is a wonderful city to sail into. The sun was shining but unfortunately the wind wasn’t doing us any favours and felt quite chilly up on the forward decks as we approached the bridge.

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We did spot a couple of cruise ships  berthed in Lisbon. Grand Circle Cruise Line’s Corinthian and P&O Cruises Arcadia.  We got a much better view of Arcadia as we berthed right behind her in central Lisbon.

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Well, it was time then to head to the El Duero for one last meal on board before we would head to collect our passports and then proceed to the showlounge to wait until we were called to disembark the ship. Thankfully, it was only a 5 minute wait before we were advised we could disembark the ship.  It was time to leave and with sadness as we really enjoyed our two nights on board.

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Disembarkation was relatively straight forward although the gangway didn’t seem very stable!

Once dockside, after taking a few bow shots of Sovereign, we proceeded to the terminal tent where our luggage was being held after it was landed from the ship.

We then proceeded to go to the local train station and to take a train to go and see the laid up Portuscale Cruises ships, Porto and Funchal which were berthed in a suburb of Lisbon. After getting to grips with the ticket machine, we proceeded to embark the train, which was a double decker one. After a few minutes wait, we were on our way and it didn’t take long until we reached Braco de Prata, the station where we would get off. With our suitcases in tow, the paths around the station and down towards the docks were not great and neither was the area which was in general decline. To be honest, the walk to see Porto and Funchal and back to Braco de Prata station wasn’t pleasant. It was nice to see the ships but the trip in itself wasn’t worth it. After which, we then took the train back into Lisbon where we caught a connecting metro to the airport.

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We arrived at Lisbon Airport in good time and after proceeding through security, we grabbed a McDonalds as we had sufficient time before we had to board the plane. Time soon passed and we were on board the flight and on our way back to Gatwick. The flight was fairly smooth with the odd bit of turbulence but nothing of any real significance.  We arrived back at Gatwick safe and sound before proceeding through passport control and then to Costa for a hot chocolate and piece of cake.  It wasn’t a long wait before we were on the coach back to Southampton. We finally reached the flat at just after 3am. It was some hectic weekened but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was an experience which was highly enjoyable and one we would reccommend.

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Ratings: Marks out of 10. 1 being poor, 10 being superb. 

Accomodation:  5/10

Cabin was practical and clean but on the small side. Bit dated as still was in same design as she was when she was with Royal Caribbean International as Sovereign of the Seas.

Bars and Lounges: 7.5/10

Good selection of bars and lounges to choose from, with 360 Bar and Lounge the pinnacle of the lounges with fantastic vistas over the ship and out to sea.

Recreation: 7/10

Good amount of deck space and outdoor activities on offer. Swimming pools are of a good size.

Entertainment: 7.5/10

Good entertainment on offer with the shows in particular a highlight. The cabaret acts and singers around the lounges cater for the Spanish markets and tastes whereas the main shows were in English and Spanish.

Service: 8/10

Nothing was too much trouble for the staff and crew, Smiles on their faces, they were very friendly and courteous.

Value for Money: 9/10

For what you pay, you get a lot of holiday for your money. With the drinks being mainly all inclusive, small surcharge to upgrade to premium brands, there wasn’t any need to be penny watching. For a cruise experience, it gives a lot of value for money.

Family Friendly:  6/10

Pullmantur embrace a family atmosphere on their ships and that was no different on Sovereign. There are kids clubs and teens clubs to keep the younger passengers happy whilst the adults are enjoying themselves during the day. Although the ship wasn’t anywhere near full, it was hard to gauge how many families were on board but there wasn’t many children. On longer cruises, that surely will increase and the numbers of families will be greater.

Overall rating: 7.1/10

A good and enjoyable cruise experience which has provided a lot of food for thought. A product that clearly offers a great product at value for money prices. A predominantly Spanish clientiele, there is still an international feel about the ship as most of the crew and staff were multi-lingual and could speak Spanish, English and French.  A few issues with embarking procedures, the refurbishment program being undertaken and the lack of passengers on board were the only downsides to the cruise. If we were to reccommend Pullmantur to people who were thinking of sailing with them, we would highly reccommend them and indeed we ourselves will look to sail on one of their ships again in the future but on a longer itinerary.

 

 

 

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