We arrived alongside the pier in Funchal around 6:30 am while it was still dark. Looking down on the pier, it looked as if it there might be a light drizzle as the ground was wet, but it was hard to tell if rain was still failing. If it was, it was very light.
Funchal is the main city on the island of Madeira. Madeira is part of Portugal and is located about 280 miles west of Morocco, Africa and over 500 miles southwest of Portugal. The climate is very similar to that of our hometown of San Diego as both cities are located around 32 degrees N latitude. Funchal has a population around 111,000 with the population of the entire island of Madeira being around 280,000.
While we were moored with our port side to the pier, the starboard side still had the preferred view. The city surrounds a shallow bay with most of the housing sitting on fairly steep hills as if on the sides of a huge amphitheater. They all have spectacular views, but have to suffer through steep, winding roads to get to their houses. Most of the houses have red tile roofs with white stucco walls.
By the time the sun was above the horizon, the rain was gone and the ground was starting to dry. I spotted the cruise ship “Aurora”, of P&O Line, off in the distance as she closed on Funchal. She would moor alongside, stern to bow, in about 30 minutes.
We left the ship around noon and the first thing we noticed was how steep the gangway was between the ship and the pier. The tide swing here is about 4 feet so they have to accommodate for that, but while the gangway was steeper than normal, it was still easily manageable. People with mobility issues probably needed assistance.
A shuttle bus was waiting for us on the pier leaving about 5 minutes after we boarded. While waiting we noticed that some local merchants set up a few portable souvenir stands for folks who wanted to do some last minute shopping.
In less than 10 minutes we were being dropped off in the center of town, which wasn’t all that far away and was quite walkable. There weren’t any restrictions about walking into town if you preferred as there were in some other ports.
Our plan was to take the cable car to the top of the mountain, look at the famous street sled ride starting point (we had no interest in participating) and return to the waterfront for some shopping and sightseeing as we made our way back to our starting point.
Once off the bus we headed off down the wide tree lined promenades bustling with tourists strolling past shops and cafes. The weather was perfect and being outside was an easy choice. Everyone was taking advantage of the beautiful day.
The starting point for the cable car is easy to find, simply keep walking east along the water for about ¼ mile until you see the cable cars heading up and down the mountain – and then there you are. The walk is level all the way over smooth concrete sidewalks.
The round trip fare to the top and back was 15 Euros and they take cash or credit cards. There wasn’t any line so in a few minutes we had our tickets and headed off to the loading platform one level up. There were about 10 people in front of us, but the cars came by about every 20 seconds so the short line moved quickly and we were on our way.
We climbed quickly over the city and enjoyed spectacular views in all directions. The top the mountain was still shrouded in fog from the morning hiding our ultimate destination as we watched the cable cars ahead of us disappear into the mist. Looking back toward the south, the Amsterdam and the P&O ship Aurora were the most prominent features along the waterfront.
The ride to the top took about 15 minutes and we were soon on our way walking down a narrow street at the top of the mountain toward the starting point for the street sleds.
The street sleds, or Tabagon’s as they are called here, operate out of a small shed on the side of the street, which remains open to cars and other traffic. The loading area outside their booth is level, but the street starts a gentle but steady slope immediately afterwards. Across the street from the loading area is a covered area that allows for a line of 20 people or so to wait under cover.
As we approached the starting area, we watched from behind as the sled with its two operators started their run down the street. We would wait about 15 minutes for the next sled as they must truck all the sleds and operators back up to the top before they start the process again. Once they get going, they launch a new sled with people about every 30 seconds to a minute, so the line moves pretty quickly once they get going. After they run out of sled operators, you have to wait till they bus them back to the top. They had way more sleds then they had operators, so I am sure waiting times can vary widely based on demand and the availability of sled operators.
Riding the sled of “Tobogan” costs 25 Euros for a single rider, 30 euros for two people and 45 euros for 3 person maximum. The ride is about 1.2 miles long and ends at a point far from the bottom of the hill. The only way to get to the bottom would be to walk or take one of the waiting taxis. If you are on a ships tour, they will have a bus available to meet you so you can continue your excursion.
The sled consists of a wicker basket mounted on two wooden runners. The operators must continuously push the sled down the first incline as it would probably come to a stop otherwise.
After watching the sleds start, I walked about 150 yards down the initial slope to the first turn. The operators would run behind the sled pushing all the way thru the first turn and beyond. We were told that there are steeper spots along the way toward the bottom where the sleds go faster and pushing is not necessary.
We watched for another 15 minutes and then we hiked back up to the top and took the cable car back down the mountain to our original starting point.
Once we left the cable car, we headed down to the first floor and out to the street. There was a flower festival in Funchal last week and we missed that, but we saw some of the left over exhibits that were still on display.
Retracing our steps, we headed back to the shuttle bus spot. Along the way we stopped at a tourist shop and picked up some post cards and other souvenirs.
The taxis here in Funchal are all Mercedes which tells you something about the local economy. We didn’t find out what they charged as we were able to walk everywhere except for the shuttle bus from the ship and the cable car to the mountain top.
The last shuttle bus was at 4pm and we arrived at the pickup point with 10 minutes to spare. The bus left promptly at 4pm and we were back on the pier in a few minutes.
Our final SailAway was from 4 – 5:30 at the Lido pool. They were serving cheese, lamb chops and some fresh carved prosciutto. House drinks were complimentary and waiters were wandering about with glasses of Sangria. The band Oasis, normally only seen in the Crows Nest, was once again on the mini stage next to the pool and doing a wonderful job of keeping everyone pumped up.
There was probably 250 to 300 people enjoying the fun at the peak and we all had a blast. People not normally seen dancing, including Judy and me, were seen dancing. Everyone was having so much fun that they extended the party until 6pm. When the band started to wrap up at 6pm the crowd started to spontaneously chant “We want more – We want more” and more we got as the band returned for one more song.
Dinner today offered the usual wide variety of choices, always making it difficult to pick just one. Well in this case, I had to pick two, the interesting Frango Piri Piri Chicken along with the Beechers Mac and Cheese. Judy and I shared the irresistible Snickers Cake for dessert.
Tonight’s show was an amazing performance by the Abba tribute band Abba Fab from Arizona. The show played all the usual Abba hits ending with an exciting rendition of Mama Mia!
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