In the second part of her no-fly Mediterranean cruise report, Johanna Payton calls in to the ports of Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza, reliving holidays of the past and discovering new treasures
The Balearic islands will always have a very special place in my heart. My first holiday with my dad, after my parents separated, was to Alcudia in Majorca, and when I returned to the holiday hot spot in 2011, my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I decided to get married.
Ibiza is another very special place. I may have missed the “super-club” boat, but in the mid 2000s we had two fantastic family breaks in San Antonio, staying in private villas on the opposite side of the bay to the lively old town, but within easy walking distance of the buzzing bars and restaurants.
One of the big draws of the MSC cruise from Marseille was calling in at these two brilliant destinations – not just for a quick stop, but with the opportunity for dinner and a whole night out, as well as day trips.
We arrived into Palma de Mallorca at 3pm on day two of our cruise.
As we’ve now had a little bit of cruise experience, we swerved the rush, lying idling around the ship’s pool before disembarking and catching the shuttle bus into town at 5pm.
We were tempted to do the Caves of Drach excursion, particularly as I went there as a child and loved it, but with “all aboard” at 11:30pm, we seized the opportunity to explore a town we’d flown into, but never spent any time in. I didn’t even realise Palma had such a beautiful and iconic cathedral – let alone how vibrant and eclectic its shopping opportunities are.
Once we’d got our bearings, we walked up past the cathedral and through the old streets, popping into some of the big brand stores in the town centre and discovering some fantastic vintage boutiques – including UNICO “new and vintage lab” – on La Rambla: if midcentury garms and furniture is your thing, make sure you call in.
The back streets of Palma are plush, atmospheric and well worth wandering around. Locals mingle with wealthier holidaymakers who clearly wish to avoid the nearby tourist-traps of Magaluf and Arenal. The side streets are also best for food: some places are quite pricey, so be prepared to splash out.
We found a busy and affordable tapas cafe in the streets behind Calle Jaume III, heading back towards the sea.
Cafe Ca’n Toni did the business with a cured meat platter, chicken croquetas and a sumptuous squid salad. A typical Spanish eatery serving tapas and snacks, the atmosphere was casual and the waiters couldn’t have been friendlier, encouraging my son to try out his Spanish at every opportunity. The traditional Mallorcan ensaïmada de crema quemada – which won me a nod of approval from the waiter – wasn’t bad either.
Having a long and lazy supper in traditional Spanish surrounds was a real treat. We still had time to spare for a leisurely stroll back down to the harbour before boarding the boat and enjoying a nightcap on the terrace, with the lights of the city sparkling in front of us.
We sailed just before bedtime and woke up after a refreshing night’s sleep…in Ibiza.
One thing my son adores on holiday is a water slide session. Again, due to limited time in port, we didn’t manage a water park trip last year, so we took advantage of an MSC excursion this time around by buying round trips and tickets to Aguamar.
A small water park, Aguamar is perfect for a morning adventure and reasonably priced. We were there as the gates opened, so it was deliciously quiet for the first hour. The boys went off to hurl themselves down various slides while I managed to swim a decent distance in the lovely pool – and spotted Fatboy Slim and his kids enjoying the water. The actual Fatboy Slim. I’m not even joking.
And I know I hate flying, but I did enjoy watching the planes take off over Playa d’en Bossa from my sun lounger, safe in the knowledge that I didn’t have to get on one.
After three good hours of fun, we retreated from the blazing midday sun to chill out in the Brigante cafe bar on the beach before catching our coach back to the boat in time for lunch.
In Ibiza, all aboard was at 6:30am the following day, so we had plenty of time to chill by the MSC Armonia pool before catching another bus across the island to San Antonio (around 30 minutes from the cruise terminal by coach or taxi).
We arrived just in time for sunset.
Unlike our previous May visits, thoroughly tame and chilled out affairs, the strip was packed with everything from lager-swilling Brits to pushchairs and giddy Spanish teens.
We squeezed into a spot on the rocks in front of Cafe Mambo and soaked up the classic Ibiza tunes (Moby, Zero 7, Morcheeba) as the sun sank into the sea.
It’s cheesy, it’s busy, it ain’t all that “spiritual” anymore – but it is fun. And I just don’t think you can go to Ibiza without enjoying sunset from that very spot. We particularly enjoyed snapping my son outside Cafe Mambo: the last time he posed for that picture, he was the one in the pushchair.
With the sun safely down and the crowds dispersed, we took a table for dinner at Fresh, part of Grupo Mambo, on the strip.
A great place for people watching – and wow, the sights you see – Fresh also has exceptionally friendly staff and great (big!) burgers. The mocktails made me and my son very happy and my partner enjoyed an ice-cold Spanish beer. Happy nights, indeed.
There was no rush for the coach, which left around 10:30pm, to take us back to the boat. If we’d been on the cruise without our young charge (or if he was a fair bit older) we would have probably taken advantage of the next day departure to dance the night away at Pacha, the nearest club to the cruise terminal. Instead, we did a circuit of the ship to check out the Ibiza party on board and then settled back into our comfy beds, dreams filled with pools and sunsets and legendary DJs…
The Balearic islands by cruise ship:
And don’t miss part three, as Johanna visits Sardinia, Pisa and Genoa
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Images: Johanna Payton