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Norwegian Epic – Madeira

by Patrick O'Halloran
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I awake to the rolling motion of the ship. Nothing too bad, just a slow pull of inertia as Epic rides the swells. It’s early. 4am I think and we have few hours to go before we arrive in Funchal, Madeira. Having never visited this Atlantic Island before we are keen to explore and see what she has to offer.

The alarm on Peters phone sounds at 6.30am. We shower and head up to the Garden Cafe for breakfast. It’s busy and it seems as though most people are heading out early to make the most of our last day on land for 5 days.

Gathering our belongings we head down to the Epic theatre to pick up our tour. Taste of Madeira. There is a young man on stage giving very clear instructions on how the process works, which he repeats often. It still seems beyond the understanding of some folk.

When our tour is called we get our stickers and head out to join the bus. We leave promptly at 8.30am and our first stop is a lookout point way above Funchal itself. It’s a beautiful morning and we can clearly see Epic docked in the harbour alongside Mein Schiff 1 and Balmoral of the Fred Olsen cruise line. However, to the east, there are some ominous looking dark clouds.

Our next stop is another lookout point which looks down on the main fishing port of Funchal. It’s a little underwhelming. The next stop is the one I am looking forward to and one of the main reasons I picked this tour.

Cabo Girao is one of the highest sea cliffs in the world. There is only one higher which I think is in Hawaii. There is a glass-bottomed look-out bridge that allows you to look down at the Atlantic Ocean some 1900ft below. Well, you could if the weather was playing fair. It’s so misty and drizzly when we reach the top we can barely see 10ft ahead of us which renders the bridge useless. Such a shame but there is nothing to be done about it. As we have some time before having to return to the bus we get some coffee and cheese tarts at the little cafe onsite and then buy some souvenirs to take back home.

Next, we head to a local hotel and winery for some wine and cheese tasting. It’s quite busy when we get there as there is a coach ahead of us. Upon entering the small restaurant we help ourselves to a selection of 3 types of cheese and some delicious locally made white wine. The cheese is accompanied by some equally delicious traditional bread with garlic butter. We spend some time after strolling through the hotel grounds which has a beautiful garden full of flowers.

The bus heads back to port as this is only a half day tour. Along with a few others, we decide to get out in Funchal rather than head straight back to the ship. It’s not rained here so we head down the pretty Main Street before turning left down toward the port to take some photos of Epic. Sadly the rain soon catches up with us and we are forced to buy some brollys from a street seller to prevent ourselves from getting drenched. After a look around the town some more we walk back to the ship which takes about 30 minutes.

What we didn’t know at this time was that the tide had caused the gangways to the ship to become unusable and there was a long backlog of passengers queuing outside the terminal. It took us nearly an hour to finally get onboard but we did eventually.

Thinking this would be the perfect time to try lunch at O’Sheehans Irish Bar we are disappointed to be told the wait time for a table is 40mins. We are keen to try it, but not that keen. So we head up to the Garden Cafe. I am a little disappointed with the variety of food here in the Buffett but I do find something I like although it does take me several circuits to decide.

We depart Funchal around 4pm. The gloomy clouds have lifted slightly and the rain has stopped but Madeira’s tall peaks are still shrouded in mist as a Epic heads out into the Atlantic heading southwest toward St Maarten in the Caribbean. We are due to arrive there on Tuesday 14th November at around 10am. I sit on the balcony listening to music as Madeira slowly recedes in the distance. A few gulls track the ship for a short while but soon we are alone as the birds turn back toward the island.

We head down to Maltings for some pre-dinner drinks. This bar is always busy but we find a couple of seats whilst I enjoy my new favourite cocktail, The Aviator. I don’t recall exactly what’s in it other than bourbon. It’s nice. Shakers is our next stop where I stick to a more traditional Jack & Diet and Peter his G&T.

We are back in Taste for dinner this evening. Peter had mentioned the poor service in Cagney’s the other night. I think this meant a red flag had been put against our names as the service here was brilliant. The Maitre’D kept coming over to make sure everything was ok. Was almost comical really but nice of them to check on us.

I order some Chinese style dumplings for starters. They were delicious with a really nice ginger/soy dipping sauce. My main in Red Snapper, again with an Asian style dressing. It was really tasty. I don’t recall what Peter had but think it was a Chicken Cordon Bleu. He was happy with it anyway.

We don’t have a late night as we were up really early for our tour so we finish the evening with a drink in Maltings before heading back to our cabin. 5 sea days stretch ahead of us now and hopefully 5 days in which the weather will get progressively warmer.

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Patrick O'Halloran

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