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Gibraltar through the Port Hole!

Visited Gibraltar on more Cruises than I can remember (and for a fortnight in 2010 - see the photos AND again in 2015 for another fortnight)! It's a must stop for just about every Cruise to the Med, mainly because of the duty free BUT it's a terrific place to visit anyway. Firstly the Island Tours have to be done, the apes are fascinating and there are plenty of other places of historic interest (especially if you're British!). The main street in the Town (less than a mile from the Port - free shuttle buses are not allowed by the local taxi / coachdriver's Union so a minibus costing £1 each way is available, by 2016 £2 each way) is also full of Historical interest, the Museum and Church are well worth a visit and, if you go far enough (beyond the shops) you'll reach the Trafalgar Cemetery. Not too many graves from the Battle of Trafalgar but many Military ones from around that period. Well worth a visit.
Quite near the Port there is now a Morrison's Supermarket so check here for duty free prices (a litre of Spanish Brandy in 2009 £3.29 - the Gibraltar pound is the currency but this is fixed to the GBP so Sterling is accepted everywhere). Note: In 2014 prices no better than in Main Street.
Our agenda now for Gibraltar is duty free, a walk in the High Street and lunch (I know lunch is included onboard but there are certain places we like to eat locally and this is one of them). However, it seems that the time ashore is getting less on each Cruise (our Saga Ruby 2009 Cruise was onboard at 2PM and the QM2 2009 was onboard at 3PM). This is cutting down the time for lunch but we just have to eat early! The timing for the 2012 Ruby cruise was even worse, back on board at 1PM so not even lunch! It was just after the Queen's Jubilee, however, and Gibraltar was well decorated for the festivities.
One more minus point about the QM2. Because of it's size it cannot dock and tenders have to be used. Tickets are required from the ship and we got ours at 9.30 and had to wait until 10.15 before we could go ashore. Coming back was even worse, we got to the Port at 1.15 and the queue was a couple of hundred yards long! Back on board shortly after 2.30. Not impressed.
In 2014 we had the pleasure of staying for a full day. Walked down to the bus station and caught the local bus to Europa Point. On our last few trips they had been revamping it and we were looking forward to seeing the results. Well worth the trip. An underground display of Gibraltar through the ages (free!) as well as the lighthouse, the wonderful Mosque etc. Also the cricket ground! Go there if you can. Plenty of time for lunch at Al Andalus and the duty free shopping. 2015, plenty of time for lunch again (we arrived late morning and left late afternoon).
A few weeks after our 2015 fortnight (see below) we're back again! This time on the Magellan. Arranged to meet up with a couple (Stuart and Ronnie) who we shared a table with on board. They'd booked a trip to the top of the rock but when they were told, at the cable car, that there was a 1 hour+ wait they gave it a miss. Went on the local bus trip to Europa Point (£4.80 for the four of us!) as they'd never been to Gib before. Had a nice lunch at the Angry Friar, a walk down Main Street (a bit of shopping) and got the shuttle back to the ship. Another lovely day in Gib.

2016 and we're back on the Black Watch. A bit of shopping in Marks & Spencer and a trip to the Post Office/Philatelic shop, (I haven't mentioned that I'm a bit of a philatelist and Gibraltar is one of my favourites). I'd e-mailed them a few days before we came with an order but was told that I'd have to go to the office (didn't know where it was but do now!). When I got to the office they'd sent what I wanted to the shop just before but, no problem, I got what I wanted. Al Andalus is now, of course, non existent so had lunch in the Royal Calpe. Had lunched here before because it had a "garden" off the Main Street. Pretty good. A bus to the ship is now £2, we didn't need it but we may do next time!
5th. January 2017 and we're back on the Mediterranean Christmas Sapphire Cruise. Weather was beautiful, walked into the Town centre and found that Al Andalus was now a Pancake Parlour, wonder how long that will last in a side street. Had lunch outside at the Gibraltar Arms. We seem to now gravitate towards the Angry Friar (but this was in the shade) or the garden of the Royal Calpe (next door to the Gibraltar Arms) but as the Gibraltar Arms wasn't busy..... Never ate there before but had fish and chips and they were excellent although, with a bottle of wine, the lunch came to nearly £50. Actually got a bit sun burnt!
2018 and back on the Sapphire. I walked into town to buy some shorts (one pair of mine had split since we'd been on board!), got them in Debenhams (it really is like being in the Med but at home). Edna and Shirley came in later on a minibus and we walked to the Royal Calpe for lunch. A few kids in the garden so not as quiet as we'd like but very pleasant. Stroll back and I walked to Morrisons (we needed a few things that we couldn't buy on board) while Edna and Shirley went back on the minibus.
2019 and back AGAIN on the Sapphire. I walked into town again and Edna caught the mini bus and we met up in Casemates Square. Had our usual walk along Main Street but Edna was very disappointed that, when we looked for somewhere to have lunch, nowhere could she find a Lamb Tagine! A couple of places had Chicken Tagine but the variety of cuisine has diminished in Gibraltar (come back Al Andalus!) so we ate in the Square. Swordfish very nice but why is the wine so expensive in a duty free town? Edna walked back to the ship with me, it's a fair distance, and she was more than pleased when we got back!
2023 and, surprise, surprise, my first cruise for over 4 years (this time on the Spirit of Adventure) and the first stop was Gibraltar! Sister Ann just had to get off the ship for this stop and we walked into town for lunch and shopping. Had a nice lunch in "The Horseshoe" on Main Street (rough and ready, cheap enough and very eatable!), did our bit of shopping (mainly booze) and Ann caught the bus back to the ship while I walked. Not our most exciting trip but it was nice to be back.

Anyway, always said that we would like to stay at Gibraltar for a proper holiday so, in 2010, we booked for a couple of weeks in September at the Rock Hotel (the most famous and, arguably, the best). The holiday was better than we could have imagined (although we had some issues with the Hotel). Had visions of trips to Spain and North Africa but organised tours were expensive and we could buy 24 hour tickets on the local buses for about 80p so no contest! Did all the touristy things again and had the added bonus of Gibraltar Day being celebrated when we were there. A real outburst of National Pride, they are officially (I think) British but first and foremost Gibraltarian. This Nationalism was cemented by the Spanish closure of the border which created a sort of Siege mentality (not the first time Gibraltar has been under siege). More power to your elbow Gibraltar!

Trafalgar Cemetery
Trafalgar Cemetery

2015 and we're back again for a fortnight. A big birthday and Gibraltar day. Could not book the Rock Hotel for the whole fortnight (fully booked the second week because of Gib Day so booked the Sunborn for the second week). If we hadn't been to Gib before this could have put us off completely! Sadly, after 48 hours in the Rock (where we had stayed in 2010) we wished we were in the Sunborn. After 24 hours in the Sunborn we wished we were back in the Rock!

Let me explain. In 2010, when we stayed in the Rock, we had a pretty good room with a huge balcony. The Hotel was a bit tired but had a certain class. In 2015 we booked a junior suite, more expensive but hey..... To me a suite has a separate seating area. To the Rock it just means a large room, no extra seating, no extra storage space, just a large room. The balcony? Small! Not good. However, the Hotel had been refurbished since we stayed there before. Not good. It had lost it's charm and was now just a "4 star hotel". Nothing more, nothing less. Anyway, after a few hours we noticed that our feet (yes, we walk around bare footed in "Quality Hotels") were absolutely filthy! The floor of the room was faux wood and was covered with dirt. We told reception but, to be honest, nothing much changed. Then there are those little things that annoy, no flannels in the room after it was serviced. No towels in the room after it was serviced! There were other niggles but never mind.... hang on I was just going to move on. One evening, on my birthday, we had a drink in the bar and Edna ordered a rose wine. It was awful! Not cheap (no surprise there), just awful. Let's be thankful that we've only booked one week in the Rock and let's get to the Sunborn.

The Sunborn (5 star). Excellent reception and a smashing room. Small balcony (we had the best room, below suite level), just big enough for a couple of chairs however, no sun after about 9 am! Not to worry, there was a pool area. Pool area? Tiny (about 12 sun loungers - no chance of getting one of those). Some comfy seats etc. around the pool bar. Not to worry, we'll sit on a comfy chair and have a read. People sitting around chatting, having a drink, reading (us) or sun bathing (those few lucky enough to have grabbed a sun lounger). Music playing away in the background (a bit thumpy but not too bad). Then, someone decided to turn the music up! Why? It was now intrusive (there was intrusive music at breakfast but we could have accepted this). Went to the other end of the "ship" (yes, the Hotel was, allegedly, built like a cruise liner). A small area with another few sun beds (thankyou). We had a lie and a read. Next day we ignored the pool area and went straight to the sun bathing area. Set up for a wedding! Nowhere to sun bathe. OK, we'll go to the pool area. Wedding guests filling it! Nowhere to go! This is not a hotel to spend a relaxing holiday at. It's geared up for weddings and other events (read on). Before we moved from the Rock we saw that there was a "Music" Festival over the weekend (in my day Music Festival meant classical etc. This was what we would have called a Pop Festival). Madness, Kings of Leon, Duran Duran, Paloma Faith, Kaiser Chiefs etc. (these are those that I'd heard of - would like to have seen Madness!)

The Friday we arrived they were obviously rehearsing (it was only a few hundred yards from the Sunborn). Got off the balcony, shut the windows. Saturday and Sunday it went on until God knows what time! On the Sunday night we were woken by people returning (presumably from the Festival) at 00.30 (not too bad), 02.40, 03.45, 04.40 and 05.45. Who are these people? Who are these ignorant people who come back to their hotel rooms on the 5th. deck (where we were) and think that there loud, drunken voices cannot be heard by anyone else? Who are these people who have to have a loud conversation outside their rooms before they go to bed? If I had known I would have knocked on their doors at 07.00! Perhaps it was you, you ignorant ****.

This hotel is NOT a static cruise liner. The space outside is woefully small for the number of guests and inside is nothing like a ship (Edna visited the ballroom. Carpeted! One doesn't dance on a carpeted floor. Typical of the whole "faux" cruise). I have stayed in lots of hotels throughout the World and this is (probably) the only one I can honestly say that, I wouldn't stay here if they paid me! (Try me Hotel Sunborn).

Having said all that, the worst thing on the holiday was.... The Al Andalus restaurant has closed! Disaster! Perhaps I'll give my opinions of the others we visited next time.

Everything was not negative. Gibraltar Day was wonderful, even better than in 2010. The main ceremony had been moved to Casemates Square and, with large screens, we could see and hear the whole show. Couldn't see the balloons go up (from where we were) but saw them sailing away. Another magic day. Will just leave you with one of the residents who doesn't seem over excited.


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