I have been looking forward to getting back on board a cruise ship for some time now. Covid has caused the cancellation of 3 cruises for me so far (June 2020, Christmas 2020 and June 2021). Consequently, I have been preparing for a long time, sorting out summer clothes, trying on my dress suit (yes it still fits and hasn’t shrunk in the wardrobe), finding where I put my deck shoes, replacing my travel alarm clock and getting my suitcase out of the loft. But this year is rather different in that we now live in Covid times so I have had to keep an eye on travel restrictions. I shall be flying to Barbados to pick up the ship so not only do I have to obey the cruise company rules but also the rules associated with flying.
P&O cruises demand all passengers are double vaccinated, then they will do an antigen test at the airport before allowing passengers to fly to the ship in Barbados. You are also expected to wear a face mask in public indoor areas on the ship, this excludes restaurants, cafes, bars, your own cabin and balcony and the open deck areas. So I have secured loads of masks to take with me. The airline demands a “fit to fly” PCR test taken in the 3 days prior to travel, the government wants a day 2 PCR test when you arrive back and you are supposed to quarantine until you get the all-clear. Then in the last weeks we have the added imposition of another test in the 48 hours before flying home. You must also complete a passenger location form in the 48 hours before flying home with details of where you will be quarantined and details of your day 2 PCR test booking. I nearly forgot, as you are supposed to wear a face mask on the flights, you have to make sure you have sufficient with you on the plane. As you are not supposed to wear one for more than four hours, I am not sure what happens if you fall asleep and miss the four-hour deadline, does the stewardess wake you up? I guess I will find out.
Consequently, my preparations have started early with booking tests and filling in forms, but with just over two weeks to go before my flight I had got most of the paperwork in hand, including prints of my vaccination record just in case my phone or iPad loses signal at the airport.
The cruise I am going on is a big ship, P&O Azura, so half the 3,100 passengers fly out to Barbados on day one and the other half the next day, day two. So if you fly out on day one you overnight on the ship in port in Barbados and sail the following evening when the rest of the passengers arrive. In reverse, at the end of the cruise, those who flew out on day one fly back on the day the ship arrives back in Barbados. The day two arrivals stay on board overnight and fly home the next day. When I first checked out the cruise it said departures on 24th and 25th December 2021. Not really wanting to fly out on Christmas Day, I opted for the Christmas Eve departure.
The travel agent explained that if I wanted to fly from Gatwick, my nearest airport, I could only do so on Christmas Day, the Christmas Eve flights departing from Birmingham and Manchester only. So Birmingham it was, but the next problem was the flight took off at 09:45. I decided to drive up the day before and book into a hotel overnight. That was easiest done at Ibis airport hotel and I soon had a room booked. Now I needed a car park. I was shocked to discover the cheapest I could find wanted £28 a day, that’s the problem with going away over Christmas and the New Year, everyone wants to rip you off!
Before booking the car parking, I thought why not check the trains. On the day before Christmas Eve, I could get an advance purchase off-peak return ticket for only £58. Being a cheapskate I opted for the train, but tickets for the return weren’t yet on sale as the timetable hadn’t been published. The lady in the station booking office asked what day was I coming home. When I said Saturday 8th January she said it was no problem as I could get an open ticket allowing me to travel on any train as Saturday was off-peak all day. The flight was scheduled to land at 04:35 so I don’t expect the trains to London to be very full. Only after booking and paying for the ticket did I discover that there were no Southern trains out of Victoria that Saturday due to track work between Victoria and East Croydon. I guess it’s a walk from Euston to St Pancras to get the Thameslink, or a cab to London Bridge.
My final problem was getting through to P&O to book and pay for onboard internet. This is something that you can only buy directly from P&O over the phone or onboard the ship. Unlike most “extras” you can’t buy it through the travel agent or online, but if you buy it in advance you get a 20% discount. P&O just didn’t answer the phone cutting you off after telling you they were very busy “due to Covid”. In the end, I had a good moan on their Facebook page and after nearly two weeks I got a phone call from them and got my discount.
Day Minus 5
I have received a long list from P&O of things to have with me at the airport. Not just the obvious ones like passport and ticket. But you have to download an embarkation pass and print it off, as well as luggage labels and proof of vaccination. What a little old lady who isn’t computer savvy would do I don’t know.
Day Minus one, December 22nd
Today was scary as it was PCR test day. The test was booked for 11:00 with the results promised before 09:00 the next morning. My train to London is at 12:30 so it should arrive before I travel. The little girl next door’s daddy has volunteered to drive me to the station saving me a taxi.
Today I finished the packing and sorted out one or two bits and pieces, like cancelling the papers while I’m away and setting up a timer to turn lights on at night. But I also had to make a health declaration to P&O and print it off and make an online customs declaration for Barbados and print off the email from Barbados Customs to say I had successfully submitted the form.
Then the little girl’s mummy asked me to take in a parcel, the little girl’s daddy’s Christmas present. I was already storing daddy’s present for mummy so I could hardly say no. It has today been relocated to their garage. The parcel arrived mid-afternoon and two men lugged it in from the van! It is blocking up my hall! The little girl’s daddy is driving a friend up to Gatwick early tomorrow morning so she is asking her father to come round and help move it. It is a treadmill and she thinks he could do with getting fit.
I have been emptying the fridge, I have now just my dinner for tonight and stuff for tomorrow’s breakfast. If I prove positive for Covid I am going to starve over Christmas or break quarantine and stock up madly at Tesco! I wonder if I can get a deliveroo on Boxing Day?
Day Zero, December 23rd
An anxious wait for the PCR result email to come through. My phone pinged just after 05:00 waking me up. I had to read the email twice, it was negative and I had a “fit to fly” certificate. So the first step of my holiday was on. I am off to Birmingham for a night in the Ibis hotel at the airport, excited I am not. Plans have changed, the Little Girl Next Door’s daddy is driving me up to Worthing station and is coming at 12:00 to get me there for the 12:35 train so his treadmill will be moved then. At 11:00 my doorbell rang and the LGND’s daddy wanted to know if they could use my fridge while I was away. I said yes and he came back with a turkey breast roll, big beef joint, huge gammon joint, butcher’s sausages, 2 big packs of bacon and two big rolls of sausage meat. He asked me why I have a treadmill in my hall! I told a white lie and said I needed to get fit.
The train to Victoria was nearly empty, just 4 people in my carriage. I couldn’t face the Underground to Euston so I grabbed a black cab. Big mistake, it got me there in plenty of time for the train to Birmingham International, but cost me £21! The next train was packed, I think everyone wanted out of London. The train was bang on time at Birmingham International and I used the free transfer shuttle train into the airport proper, and walked the 2 mins to the Ibis hotel. Room was clean and basic, bed, TV, kettle for tea and coffee and a bathroom. I went down to the “restaurant” for dinner full of hope for a big juicy steak. No such luck. It was a choice of two types of pizza, 2 lasagnas (one was veggie) or two types of panini, I had chicken and chorizo which came with crisps and salad leaves. It was microwaved and is best forgotten.
As I had to be up at 04:30 for an antigen test at the airport. No, food allowed before the test and I was not even allowed to clean my teeth. I went to bed very early and put the TV on, there were about 20 Freeview stations. I started watching something, I have no idea what. I woke up with a jump a couple of hours later sitting up in bed with the TV still on. At least I was warm and the bed was comfy!
In Part 2 – The holiday begins.
© WorthingGooner 2022