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Snake charmers? Harems? Visiting Morocco on a cruise

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

A snake charmer threatens to wrap a cobra around my neck.

La shokran!” (no thank you) I manage to squeal.

The town square pulsates with activity – acrobatic entertainers, fortune tellers, Berber musicians. It feels like one huge carnival.

From the square, a labyrinth of narrow alleys fans out into the souk (market), which brims with brassware, pyramids of colored spices and pointy beaded shoes.

On a Morocco cruise, you can visit Marrakesh and see spices in the souk.
Spices for sale in the Marrakesh souk

I’m visiting the medina (old quarter) of Marrakesh on a Morocco cruise, while on a shore excursion.

Our ship, the Seabourn Odyssey, is sailing from Lisbon to Barcelona, calling in at Madeira, the Canary Islands and Morocco.

Visiting Marrakesh on a Morocco cruise
Marrakesh is everything I dreamed it would be – a heady mix of intoxicating sights, sounds and smells

Spoiler alert! Contents of this Morocco cruise post

Our luxury Morocco cruise with Seabourn

Best places to visit in Morocco – Marrakesh or Casablanca? Which is better?

One day in Marrakesh (and where to stay in Marrakesh)

Seabourn surprise

Things to do in Tangier and Tetouan

Other cruises that visit Morocco

Our luxury Morocco cruise

Morocco cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey
The Seabourn Odyssey cruises to Morocco on several itineraries

Our two days in Morocco are the most exotic part of this itinerary.

And while it’s thrilling to get a taste of such a different culture, I’m ready to shed the sensory overdose when we return to the luxury and calm of our ship at night.

Recommended reading: What’s it like to cruise the Canary Islands?

Best places to visit in Morocco

Our Morocco cruise ports are two of the most popular places to visit in Morocco: the cities of Casablanca and Tangier.

Our first port-of-call is Casablanca. There, I could tour one of the world’s largest mosques, the Hassan II Mosque.

What to see in Casablanca? The Hassan II Mosque
Completed in 1993, the modern Hassan II Mosque is the 5th largest mosque in the world

But how could I give up the chance to see Marrakesh?

Luckily in Tangier, our second port-of-call, I don’t have to make a choice about what place to visit. Our full-day excursion takes in both Tangier plus Tetouan, a lesser-known but very historical city.

The minaret is 60 stories high and features a laser that points towards Mecca

Okay, back now to the port of Casablanca – and the beginning of our visit to Morocco…

Casablanca or Marrakech?

Most visitors say that, apart from the Hassan II Mosque (which is said to be gorgeous), there’s not too much of interest in Casablanca.

Driving through Casablanca – a busy, ordinary-looking city with grimy white buildings –  I’m glad we’ll be spending  the day in Marrakesh instead.

One day in Marrakesh – magical!

From Casablanca, the three-hour bus ride to Marrakesh (also spelled “Marrakech”) is admittedly long. But it’s comfortable on a high-speed highway.

And the almost biblical scenery – farmers herding sheep with sticks and donkeys pulling hay-filled carts – keeps my face glued to the window.

Visiting Morocco
A common sight: Push-carts, motor scooters and other contraptions carry farm produce

La Mamounia:

Entering Marrakesh, we pass the famed La Mamounia.

A former centuries-old palace, it was once the vacation haunt of Winston Churchill, who declared Marrakesh the “last paradise on Earth.”

Though it’s now one of the world’s most exquisite hotels, its façade is relatively unassuming; I wish we had time to peek inside.

Marrakesh Medina:

Visiting the Marrakesh Medina on a Morocco cruise
An entrance to the Marrakesh Medina

And then, we see it – the huge red brick walls of the medina. They stretch almost 12 miles around the old city, soaring up to 40 feet high.

And those holes in the walls? “Some say they were formed by canon blasts,” says our guide. “But the holes were actually made to allow the walls to breathe.”

Whatever the explanation, it’s obvious pigeons like to roost in them.

Bahia Palace:

Bahia Palace, Marrakesh
The 19th century Bahia Palace is undeniably one of the top Marrakech tourist attractions

Once inside the Marrakesh Medina, our group leaves the bus for the 19th century Bahia Palace.

Commissioned by Si Moussa, a slave who became a sultan’s powerful Grand Vizir, the palace is a mind-boggling tangle of some 160 rooms.

Where to look?

At the intricate ceilings with their painted inlaid woodwork?


The name Bahia means “brilliance” in Arabic, and the ceilings of the Bahia Palace are certainly brilliant!

At the floors? They’re decorated with hand-made tiles, colored blue, mustard, green and white to represent the four seasons.

At the trickling fountains and gardens blooming with orange trees?

Touring the Bahia Palace is one of the best things to do in Marrakesh
Lace-like arches open onto tropical gardens with orange trees

Off one courtyard, four doors lead to four rooms, one for each of the wives of Si Moussa’s son. I note that the favorite wife’s room is bigger and has a higher ceiling.

If only the furnishings were still around; unfortunately, when Si Moussa’s son died, his wives and sultan snatched the art and valuables to adorn their own palaces.

I’d like to dawdle and soak up the atmosphere but lunch awaits.

Bahia Palace
The rooms are bare of furnishings, leaving your imagination to wonder how much more splendid they must have looked

Dar Rhizlane:

We’re escorted to Hotel Dar Rhizlane hotel for lunch in its fountain-filled garden courtyard.

I feel like Scheherazade as we dine on course after course of salads, couscous, fragrant lamb tagine and almond delights, finishing off with mint tea.

Dar Rhizlane
A guest walks through the grounds of Dar Rhizlane

Berber pharmacy:

After, we’re taken to a Berber pharmacy to sample genuine Moroccan oil skin and hair products.

Then we’re given some free time to wander the souk on our own. That’s where I encounter the snake charmer.

Thankfully, our guide had given us some Morocco tips – one being, do not show any interest in the snake charmers (or risk wearing a snake around your neck and having to pay for the privilege).

Marrakesh souk
This part of the souk looks quite civilized!

Where to stay in Marrakesh?

So you’re thinking you might just like to return to Marrakesh and stay for a while? Good idea!

Two of the best hotels in Marrakesh are La Mamounia and Dar Rhizlane.

La Mamounia:

For more information, see the hotel’s website.

Dar Rhizlane:

Dar Rhizlane has just 20 rooms in two honey-colored villas, set amid manicured lawns, white bougainvillea and ponds with floating lilies. The rooms are beautiful; each boasts its own private garden or terrace.

When not exploring the charms of Marrakesh, a zellij-lined swimming pool, surrounded by cushioned sunbeds, is perfect for chilling in the heat of the afternoon, mint tea in hand.

Dar Rhizlane
A luxury boutique hotel, Dar Rhizlane is one of the best places to stay in Marrakesh

Pssst! If you book Dar Rhizlane (or other hotel) on Booking.com through our site, we’ll earn a small commission – at no cost to you. Thanks!

A Seabourn surprise

Returning back to the ship, Jen, a fellow passenger we’ve befriended, finds her cabin stewardess has drawn her a hot bath, sprinkled with rose petals, and left her a sweet note: “Welcome back. I thought you’d like this after your long day.

Not unusual on Seabourn.

The line, which is famous for its unlimited complimentary champagne and caviar, is also known for its exceptional service.

On Seabourn, you can choose the scent of your body wash from a selection of Molton Brown products

Jen tells us about her surprise treat the next morning as we leave for our tour of Tangier (our second Moroccan port-of-call) and Tetouan.

Things to do in Tangier and Tetouan

In Tangier, we first drive past villas owned by Arabic magnates – eye-popping in their opulence – then stop at the Caves of Hercules.

What to do in Tangier? Visit the Cave of Hercules
The Caves of Hercules are one of the most popular places to see in Tangier

Caves of Hercules:

According to Greek mythology, the demigod Hercules is said to have rested here in these caves after finishing his 12 labours.

An astonishing large gap in the rock wall is the highlight of the main cave.

It’s perfectly outlined in the shape of a reverse Africa; looking through, I marvel at the breathtaking view of the blue sea beyond.

Cave of Hercules
The outline of this sea window is shaped remarkably like the mirror image of the map of Africa

There are also fascinating inscriptions made by early Phoenicians on the rock walls, believed to be maps of the surrounding area.

Then we drive an hour through green hilly fields to Tetouan.

Drive from Tangier to Tetouan
Typical scene through the bus window on the drive to Tetouan

Tetouan Medina:

One of the oldest cities in Morocco, Tetouan receives far fewer international tourists than Marrakesh.

Stuffed with 40,000 shops, its souk – the Tetouan Medina – feels more authentic than Marrakesh’s Medina. (In fact, apart from our small group, I don’t see another Western face among the throng of locals.)

Tetouan medina
Guess who? Our guide has dressed me up in traditional garb to look like a Berber shopkeeper

Our guide warns us: “If you get lost, I’ll never find you!

And so we follow him single file, sticking to each other like glue as we navigate the souk.

A kaleidoscope of psychedelic scenes rapidly unfolds one after the other – live chickens, cobblers hammering shoes, sardines on ice, colorful veggies and even goat heads hanging on hooks.

Back on the ship…

Later that evening on the Seabourn Odyssey – over a fine dinner of Dover sole meuniere in the specialty Thomas Keller Grill restaurant, washed down with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, of course – I chat with my mother (and cruise companion) about our brief introduction to Morocco.

The excursions involved two long days. But visiting Morocco has been a highlight of our Seabourn cruise.

Now we look forward to the next day’s adventure.

About Seabourn

Seabourn is a luxury cruise line with five, small, all-suite ships. Seabourn Odyssey carries 458 guests.

Specialty dining, WiFi, liquor and 35+ premium wines are included complimentary in the rates.

Several of its Western Europe itineraries call in at both Casablanca and Tangier.

For more information, check out Seabourn’s website.

Like exotic cruises? The take a peek at this cruise! It’s all about sailing, diving and, oh my, Komodo dragons on the Alila Purnama

Other cruises that visit Morocco

Oceania Cruises:

Known for its excellent cuisine at sea, Oceania Cruises serves up Tangier on several European itineraries and Miami-to-Barcelona repositioning cruises.

Shore excursions include a 5-hour tour of Tetouan, as well as a half-day tour of Tangier.

Oceania tickles the palates of foodie. Read: The best cruise for foodies? Try Oceania Cruises

Cruising to Morocco: Tangier
Cruise ships often dock in Tangier on their way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean

Royal Caribbean:

The Independence of the Seas visits Agadir, Morocco, on various “Canaries and North Africa” cruises.

In Agadir, you can rock the 1541 kasbah (citadel) and visit the souk. See Royal Caribbean’s website for details.

MSC Cruises:

The line that gives you cruising with an Italian flair – MSC Cruises – includes a day in Casablanca on several cruises that dock in Spain, Italy and France.

MSC Orchestra, for example, offers 13-night roundtrip cruises from Barcelona in October; MSC Preziosa sails from Marseille on 9-night trips in November.

Useful Morocco guides

One or more of these Morocco guide books should be helpful.

Ultimate Africa guide

How to choose where to go on safari? What’s the best way to hike up Table Mountain in Cape Town? Where to stay in Victoria Falls?

Get the full scoop on planning a luxury trip to Africa, complete with fabulous itineraries, in our free Africa Travel Guide & Safari Planner.


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Best places to visit in Morocco on a Morocco cruise

Photo credits: 2, 6 to 10, 13, 17 to 19 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 3, 15 Seabourn


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Frank

Friday 19th of April 2019

I recently spent 5 weeks in Morocco. Lots of beauty. Unfortunately Casablanca isn't very impressive...catches a lot of people by surprise because you associate it with the movie Casablanca and all the romance that comes with that. And honestly I was disappointed by the Hassan II mosque - only because it's modern...and feels modern (completed in 1993). Lots of beauty in Marrakech. My highlight was the Bahia Palace. Looks like you had to contend with more crowds than I did!

Janice and George

Friday 19th of April 2019

We were surprised too by Casablanca. As you say, we had visions of the movie -- and thought it would be more appealing for visitors than it was. Your point about the Hassan II mosque is interesting. Apparently, it was quite controversial when built -- very expensive, and financed in part by locals who had to pay a "donation" (when perhaps the money could have gone to better uses). Anyway, we're glad we decided to get up before dawn for the excursion to Marrakesh!