How to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira

Madeira is a port I have been fortunate to call into many times when working onboard P&O cruise ships.  It was also the port of call I was most looking forward to during our recent family cruise around the Canaries and Mediterranean.  Anyone who has visited the Portuguese island of Madeira will understand why.  Simply put, the island of Madeira is stunning.  An island of paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Located near the Canary Islands and off the coast of North West Africa.  The island has so much to offer for visitors which makes it difficult to know how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira.

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira

P&O Cruises Ventura, sailing out of Funchal Harbour in Madeira

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira view point

P&O Cruises Ventura from the highest view point in Madeira

I have written this article to give future cruise ship passengers into Madeira a little helping hand!  During my three years working onboard cruise ships I experienced many of the most popular attractions and excursions in Madeira.  A jeep ride through the mountains, afternoon tea at the famous Reid’s Palace Hotel, a whale/dolphin spotting adventure on a high-speed boat…

I can honestly say, these experiences are all truly memorable.  If however you are visiting the island for only one day there are five experiences that you absolutely CANNOT miss!  Fortunately, if you are visiting onboard a P&O Cruises ship you can book a tour via your shore excursions department which includes all five of these experiences!

1. A scenic cable car ride up to Monte

Our four-hour excursion started with a short drive to the Funchal cable car station.  We then jumped on a cable car, (similar to a ski lift) for the 12,000 foot long, 15 minute ride which rises over 1,800 feet to the peak of Monte.

The views from the cable car are breathtaking.  My boys loved ‘flying’ over Madeira and excitedly pointed out the dramatic mountains, colourful gardens and banana plantations.


The instagram image above shows Funchal Harbour from Monte.  The harbour is known for being one of the most spectacular in the world.  Apparently it is now common to see four cruise ships in port at any one time.

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira cable car

2. A thrilling toboggan ride in a wicker basket

In complete contract to our relaxing slow ride up to Monte, the two-mile ride down the hillside was exhilarating!  The sledge drivers you see below are known as “Carreiros”.   They wear all white, a straw hat and most importantly, rubber soled boots to run behind the toboggan, pushing and steering along the curvy roads, using only their boots as brakes!

Our second port of call during our Canaries and Med cruise with @pandocruises was into #Madeira. I have always been a huge fan of this stunning island and I was keen to let my boys experience the famous toboggan ride! I had actually forgotten how quickly the wicker baskets travel down the two mile road being stopped only by the rubber-soled boots of the toboggan drivers! I spent the whole ten minute experience screaming, my youngest went really quiet and held on tight to me and his fav teddy, whilst my husband and eldest son laughed all the way down the hill! It was great fun and you have to give it a go if you are ever in Madeira! I have photos of us mid way down but I look like a mad women so they are not being shared on here 😂 #inspiringtravelpics #tobogganing #funchal #shoreexcursion #cruise #ftb100 #familytravelmoment

A photo posted by Travel Loving Family (@travellovinfam) on


Our Carreiros expertly dropped us off at a cafe half way down the hillside. The atmosphere at this meeting point was contagious, everyone excitedly discussing the curvy roads, the skill of the drivers and the smell of heated wood created by the friction of the basket against the road.

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira toboggan ride

3. Experience views over Madeira from 6,000ft

The panoramic views from Pico dos Barcelos are incredible. We were able to view the Funchal bay and city, with the Desertas Islands in the background.

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira


4. Tasting the famous Blandy’s Madeira wine

Of course it would be rude to visit Madeira without trying its famous wine!  Our excursion included a short tour and wine tasting at Blandy’s Wine Lodge which was a perfect way to end our morning.  The wine lodge has a gift shop where we picked up a bottle as a souvenir of our time at the island.

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira wine lodge

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira wine

Enjoying a glass of souvenir Madeira wine during a sailaway party from Lisbon!

5. Take a stroll in Funchal to people watch and soak in the atmosphere

The last not to be missed experience, for making the most of a cruise ship call into Maderia, is a stroll along the cobbled streets of Funchal.  We enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere, people watching and searching for souvenirs in the many craft and flower shops.

Madeira is famous for its flowers and it is worth noting that the local flowers, including birds of paradise and flamingo flowers, can be packed into special boxes for safe transport home for cruise ship passengers.

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira sightseeing Funchal


Booking a shore excursion verses exploring Madeira independently

You can of course explore independently and enjoy these five unmissable experiences in Madeira without booking through the ships shore excursions department.  However, to attempt to replicate this excursion independently would involve paying for the cable car, toboggan ride and wine tasting, the inconvenience of arranging several taxi rides, hunting down the toboggan ride meeting point and Blandy’s wine bar all without the experience and knowledge of a local guide.

The cost of the P&O Cruises Cable Car and Toboggan shore excursion is £49 per adult and £25 per child (over the age of 3).  As an ex Shore Excursions Manager for P&O Cruises, I firmly believe this offers good value for money and most importantly, ensures passengers make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira.

Pin for later – 

how to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira

Disclaimer – We travelled as guests for our tour of Madeira in return for this honest review.  All opinions and words are, as always, my own.

Copyright – All images are copyright Travel Loving Family 


36 thoughts on “How to make the most of a cruise ship call into Madeira

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  9. Emma Raphael

    It looks like a really beautiful place! Those carriages! That must be really fun! I like the idea of someone being in control of your “sledge”, here on the mountains, they are usually very much out of control! 😀 #citytripping

  10. Wander Mum

    Great suggestions. I’d never have thought of visiting Madeira but it sounds wonderful….although the ride down the mountain slightly hair-raising! The views from the top of the cable car are fantastic. Thanks for linking #citytripping
    Wander Mum recently posted…City Tripping #55My Profile

  11. Cathy (MummyTravels)

    I can’t believe somewhere the size of Madeira has room for four cruise ships at a time! Lovely to see how much there is to do – I knew about it mostly for its nature and wildlife, but that basket descent would be amazing. And the wine, obviously, #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted…City Tripping #55My Profile

  12. Ruth

    I have read and seen pictures of Madeira before but I find your suggestions more interesting. It feels great to get recommendations from a person who has visited many times. I would love to do all five experiences. And, like you mentioned the excursion rises to the top of options if all these want to be done in a day.
    Ruth recently posted…Street Art in Dallas (Deep Ellum)My Profile

  13. Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me)

    I love the shot of all the Carrieros! This is a really helpful post even if you’re not on a cruise – as you say, you can book these highlights independently, and it’s good to know which ones are the must-dos. I’m growing to love the idea of a cruise experience though, where you get to see so many different exciting new places! #MondayEscapes
    Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me) recently posted…Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, LondonMy Profile

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