Sailing out of Southampton in July 2015, Feet on the Ground editor Johanna Payton boarded Royal Caribbean’s smartest ship, Anthem of the Seas, for a cruise holiday around the Mediterranean. Her first port of call was Gibraltar.
My second visit to Gibraltar was much more sedate than the first. When I originally visited the rather weird and wonderful British territory in 2002, I got married there (it was a John and Yoko thing) – and I had no idea that the runway is about a foot long. When the BA plane screeched to a dramatic halt on the tarmac, my anxiety levels went through the roof…and when the air hostess told me that ex-RAF pilots usually make the flight due to the “tricky” take-off and landing, I had the flight home on my mind for the entire trip – even on my wedding night.
Visiting Gibraltar by cruise ship was an entirely different experience. We arrived first thing on a hazy Tuesday morning after two full days cruising at sea, happily getting to grips with everything Anthem of the Seas has to offer. And that’s a whole lot. Relaxed, rested and slightly tanned, we left the ship after a leisurely breakfast, swerving the inevitable rush off the gangway when we docked at 9am.
Gibraltar hadn’t changed a jot. Main Street is still a shopping Mecca reminiscent of 1970s England. Electrical shops, jewellers and perfume emporiums jostle for tourists’ attention as the throng of cruise passengers swarm through town. With just short of seven hours in port at our disposal, we could have queued for a taxi tour of the rock with the masses, cramming into St Michael’s Cave or the cable cars (that only go half way up the rock in summer) and eagerly monkey-spotting…instead, we strolled around the shops (the summer sales were in full swing and preferred boutiques offer decent discounts to cruise passengers) before taking a cab out to the four star Caleta, the hotel we stayed in when we got hitched.
Our little trip down memory lane (just £5 in a taxi from the town square) took us far from the madding crowd and we relaxed in the cool Caleta bar, with stunning views out across the Strait. The hotel, and its pretty courtyard garden, is about to undergo a makeover, so we were glad we had a visit before it changes – for old time’s sake. The new and improved five-star version is bound to be worth a visit if you find yourself in Gibraltar as part of a European cruise itinerary.
In the same, small area as the hotel, there is a little bay with cheap and cheerful restaurants and safe paddling for kids – so don’t forget your swimming kit when you disembark. A huge, inflatable play area is on offer on the water and there’s a nice mix of British and Spanish holidaymakers. On this visit, the monkeys didn’t make an appearance, but they frequently pop down from the rock to sniff around the tourists – so don’t go waving your ice creams around.
If you don’t want to leave the town centre, the Marina is a nice place to have lunch and Main Street is littered with quirky bars that look like they are trapped in a time warp. Generally speaking, the further up the high street you go, the calmer and cheaper the bars and restaurants get.
The 4pm onboard time was perfect for us; plenty of time to get in the pool (thanks to the 30 degree heat we were glad of a dip) and the boat offered a fantastic view of the airstrip. As we set sail into the Med, a BA plane was screeching to a halt in the shadow of the rock. I have to admit, I was thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t on it: a cruise ship is by far my preferred method of transport.
Next stop: Cartagena, Spain
How to get to Gibraltar without flying:
Johanna took a no-fly 14 night Mediterranean Italian cruise with Royal Caribbean, departing from and returning to Southampton.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Images: Johanna Payton