December 1st. – Sailing day.
Well, I think I have done everything. Case packed, car filled with petrol, papers cancelled, all the paperwork printed off and in an A4 envelope in my hand luggage, passport in my pocket, parking permit on display, spare watch found, plants watered, foreign currency sorted, LFT passed and photo on phone, health declaration online completed, vaccination record printed off. I can’t think of anything else.
I delivered the LDND’s Christmas presents last night. She was very excited, but mummy has put the things away until the big day. I had a think about what she really likes so she has a chocolate Santa with her name iced on it and a personalised storybook about a little girl whose homework is to learn the alphabet with the help of a big box of letters. On her way home she meets a wizard who puts a spell on the letters and makes them magic. She then goes on a series of adventures where she uses the magic letters to rescue situations, like mending a hole in a bouncy castle and combing a lion’s tangled mane with an ‘E’. When she gets home mummy points out that the letters she used on her journey spelt her name. It really is lovely.
I have a one thirty boarding time and according to Apple Maps it is a one-hour seventeen-minute journey on the A27/M27 to Southampton’s Mayflower Cruise Terminal, so I don’t need to leave until after midday. It’s supposed to be all aboard for 16:30 and sail at 18:00 so I have plenty of time in hand. I think I am going to sit down and take things easy for a while, I may even write a bit more of Jinnie’s Story. This book is coming along nicely and is working its way towards its conclusion.
I managed to get all my stuff into a single (big) suitcase and my carry-on bag and was ready to go by ten, two hours early. So I sat down and watched the England cricket team belting the Pakistani bowling all over the place. I loaded the car and left about 12:05. The Sat Nat told me I would be there at 13:22 but I actually joined the queue to drop off my car at 13:25. Mind you, the queue moved very quickly and the lady who came to check my car in was there as soon as I pulled up. In the wall of the cruise terminal there were 3 points to drop off suitcases. One labelled ‘forward’, one ‘midships’ and one ‘aft’. My cabin is just over the line between midships and aft so I made for the aft drop point and my case went straight on the conveyor belt.
I joined the queue to check in and it snaked past the other two drop points where there were massive piles of luggage and non-moving conveyors. The queue moved quite quickly and I soon was at the first desk where all the paperwork and my passport were checked. A green spot is stuck on the embarkation pass to say you are OK. Now another queue for a second desk where you and your passport are photographed and ‘OK to board’ stamped on the boarding pass.
Now another short queue for the hand luggage to be X-rayed and the magnetic arch. So you have to take off your belt and your watch and put any coins, keys etc. through the X-ray machine. After getting dressed again it is up the escalator, over the airbridge and you are on the ship. But hold on, your embarkation pass has to be scanned which brings up the picture that was just taken so you are on the ship’s computer. One final stop at your muster point to check in there and it’s off to the cabin. Where the steward is hanging around to say ‘Hello’.
I always give them a tip at this point and tell them that if they look after me there will be more at the end of the cruise. My steward is named Willard (call me Will) and immediately asked me what time I went to breakfast. I told him that unless I was on an early excursion it was normally 08:00. He gave me a big grin and said, “Your cabin will be done while you are eating”. Now that’s just what I like.
No luggage yet, so I popped to the buffet for a late lunch. I made myself a lovely prawn salad, and washed it down with a much-needed cup of tea. Back to the cabin and my suitcase had arrived so I unpacked. It is much quicker unpacking than packing. I tried the TV, Sky News, Sky Sports News, BBC World, BBC HD, Sport24, Discovery, a few other channels I have never heard of and a lot of streamed films. We sailed at 18:10 by which time the fog had rolled in and you could see nothing as we headed down the Solent. I think I might have a snooze before dinner. I am on second sitting which means waiting until 20:30 to eat.
Wandered down to dinner and found a huge queue. People were being greeted at the restaurant door and being guided to their allotted table which slowed things up a bit. But the queue moved quickly and I was soon seated at a table set for ten with one lady. We pondered if we would be joined by a full table, and that was just what happened. Over the next five minutes, we were joined by two more women and six more men which is a little odd. I have never before been on a table for dinner where men outnumbered women. Every single one of us is over retirement age. I was ready for my dinner and enjoyed tomato soup, roast lamb and sticky toffee pudding. Coffee and mini shortbread to finish. It was ten thirty when we left the dining room and I headed to a bar for a nightcap. There are ten bars open of an evening so I shall have to try them all and pick a favourite!
2nd December – At Sea.
I woke up and checked my phone for the time, 07:22. I had slept like a log. Yesterday the captain had said the sea state would be generally calm, but when we enter the Bay of Biscay, two-metre swells were forecast which is nothing for a ship of this size. Opening the curtains revealed the most beautiful sunrise that I had to take a picture of. Only after doing so did I realise it was on my phone and I can’t get at it until I get home as I still can’t get the internet on it. Silly mistake.
My first P&O breakfast of the trip. I must say it’s something they do well. Rice Krispies, two fried eggs, three rashers of bacon and lovely crispy fried bread. Toast and marmalade and loads of coffee. I am now set up for the day. A snack at lunchtime should see me good until dinner this evening. At eight when I went to breakfast there was hardly a soul there and I was shown to a table immediately, 3/4 hour later when I came out there was a queue of 50 or so waiting to enter the main dining room.
I popped back to the cabin to pick up my iPhone as there is a help desk this morning for people having problems with the MyHoliday app. As I mentioned it works on the iPad but not on the phone. About four couples in front of me and three people helping so a very short wait. The girl who I got struggled a bit, and was on the right track as she knew it was the VPN that was causing the problem. It constantly changes your internet address and the MyHoliday app (which is really an on-ship website on the ship’s private internet) can’t cope with that. Every time she turned off VPN it turned itself back on. In the end, she called a male Indian officer who said, “That’s easy to fix, it’s McAfee virus protection turning it back on.” He turned off McAfee and it all sprung into life. He then set up two shortcuts, one to the app and one to get straight to the internet without having to mess with the app first.
We are just entering the Bay of Biscay and the ship is moving a little. Nowhere near enough to bother me but a couple of people in the lift commented that it was rough. I didn’t say a word but thought, ‘If you think this is rough you could be in for a shock.’ The sun was on the balcony so I settled down in a corner with my Kindle to read a newish John Grisham – Sooley. So far very different for him as it’s not about the law as yet. Instead, it’s all about a South Sudanese basketball player and is a bit PC.
In the middle of the morning, I heard an announcement for, “The stretcher party to the main pool deck,” and took it to be a drill. However, when I went to get a hotdog and fried onions for lunch an area close by was cordoned off with crime scene tape and ship’s security people stood guard. I am intrigued. Have I got the makings of a new story? ‘Murder on a Cruise ship’? I shall have to keep my ears and eyes open for clues.
I wanted some drinking water for my cabin, really to take my various pills with and asked the steward if I could purchase a bottle. Apparently, it now comes in cans and if you order six you get 15% off the purchase price. As I’m on for a long time I reckon six would be OK and it was duly delivered and I popped it in the fridge. Really cold water when it’s hot outside is a joy.
A pleasant afternoon reading and snoozing. A perfect way to relax. At six in the evening the captain came on the Tannoy to say he hoped we had all had a nice day and that during the night we would be passing through a storm front and the sea could get a bit choppy. But the weather was improving on the other side of the front and warming up. Said it was 6° when we left Southampton was now 9° and after the front would be 12° or 13° going up to 21° in Madeira. That cheered everyone up.
At dinner we all shifted around and got someone different to sit next to and chat with. Tonight, I had mushroom soup (very tasty), roast beef, mashed potato, cabbage, braised onion, carrots and a single pea. I think the pea was an intruder from a different dish, but the beef was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. I couldn’t decide between fresh fruit salad and cream or ice cream for dessert so the waiter brought me both. Coffee and mint creams to finish.
When I got back to the cabin there were six more cans of water waiting by the kettle for me!
3rd December – At Sea.
I woke at almost the same time as yesterday and, yes, the sea is a bit lumpier. The ship is moving a little but I slept well. Down to the MDR for breakfast. Same routine as yesterday. Few people around. I asked for a sharing table and the man on the desk tapped on his keyboard and said, “It looks like I will have to open a new one for you.” I was led to a table and swiftly joined by six other people. One couple were retired coppers and a lady asked them if they were going to the lecture this morning by an ex-policeman on ‘Interrogation Techniques’. “Not likely,” said the husband, “it’s all too woke these days, gone are the days when you could get anything out of a prisoner, they all have a lawyer as soon as they are arrested.”
I ordered and enjoyed the same breakfast as yesterday. Once again a big queue was waiting as I came out of the dining room. We appeared to have cleared the front and the sea is calmer, no white horses to be seen, beautiful clear blue sky and according to the TV 14° air temperature. Back to the sunny corner and my Kindle I think. The air is definitely warmer this morning, I am quite comfortable without a pullover.
Right, that’s book number one finished, this is where a Kindle comes in handy. I must have a dozen or more loaded on it ready to read. Mind I do have a single paperback to read. It is a self-publication by an old friend and he sent me it to read and keen to have my opinion. He has always been a dog lover and I suspect he has written about the fate of wildlife. I will give it a go. I somehow think I might have to lie and tell him it is wonderful.
It’s our first black tie do tonight, Celebration Night. So, it’s dress suit and bow tie this evening. At least I have been given a voucher for a free glass of Champagne or elderflower pressé. I will give you one guess which I choose.
I always forget to pack something. I have a packing list and tick of items as I put them in my case. I can distinctly remember going into my bedroom to pick up a can of shaving gel. However, I have no shaving gel with me. I do, however, have two lots of toothpaste. The new shaving gel and toothpaste were stored next to each other so it looks like I have picked up the wrong item. It’s a good job that there is a little shop in the ship’s atrium that sells all those little things that get forgotten as well as sweets, baseball caps, giant Toblerone and souvenir tins of shortbread.
I must say tonight’s dinner was worth putting the dress suit on for, my choice was, amuse-bouche, gravlax, cock-a-leekie soup, crusted turbot and pecan cheesecake. Every course was a delight. Of course, I had a problem choosing from the various options, shoulder of lamb, sirloin steak, and beef Wellington were all considered and disregarded as mains, fresh fruit salad with cream and ice cream as desserts, minestrone soup and a warm mushroom tart were all possibilities. I am stuffed.
4th December – At Sea.
I was rudely awoken from my slumbers just after 05:00 this morning by a ship-wide announcement for a Pamala Downs to contact the ship’s reception desk immediately. As it didn’t concern me I turned over and tried to go back to sleep. But my mind was racing. Who was she? Was she a troubled soul who had gone overboard? Was she a wife or girlfriend who had gone off with someone she had met on board? Was she a teenage daughter who had not got back to her parents yet? Was she slumped in a corner drunk and incapable? Had someone been taken ill or died and she wasn’t in her cabin to tell? I guess I will never know. I went back to sleep.
I woke at ten past seven to a strange sunrise with lots of clouds on the horizon but none overhead. But the two-metre swell of yesterday has gone and the sea is really quite smooth. In his daily announcements last night, the captain said we had 560 miles to run to Madeira and we were making a steady 26 knots. At that speed I reckon we will arrive in Funchal early! I bet to myself he slowed down. Well, I was right. I have just checked the navigation channel on the ship’s tv and we are down to 15.6 knots. But the good news is the outside air temperature is up to 15°.
Popped down to the Saffron Restaurant for breakfast. It is one of the ship’s three main dining rooms, Cinnamon and Bay Tree being the other two, but it’s the only one the ship’s paper says is open for breakfast. The alternative is the buffet up on deck 14, but I refuse to have breakfast or dinner there unless there is a very good reason. I have paid for waiter service, and I shall have waiter service. As usual at eight o’clock it was easy and I enjoy my breakfast with pleasant company on a ‘sharing table’ for eight, including one of the ladies (Sue One, there are two Sues) from my evening dinner table. When I left at ten to nine there was a massive queue waiting for a table. Every other ship I have been on has opened two of the MDRs for breakfast, with only one on this ship I’m hardly surprised at the queue.
At dinner last night we were only nine on our table for ten, one of the two Derecks was missing. The lady on my breakfast table tells me that he was stopped at the entrance to the MDR and not allowed in as he was improperly dressed for a formal night. He was tie-less. I guess he ate in the buffet where almost any form of attire seems to go. Mind you I would have nipped up to one of the shops and purchased a tie or bow tie.
I have just been checking out today’s shipboard activities in the daily “Horizon” bulletin. Being Sunday there is a service and the normal assortment of painting, yoga, exercise and dance classes which don’t appeal to me. There is a ‘walk-in’ footprint analysis session, which rather tickled me as to have your footprints analysed you would really need to be able to walk in. But best of all is the advert for the ship’s barber, £20 for a haircut or £49 for a shave. For nearly £50 I would expect a full back, sac and crack job! Needless to say, I shall not be attending.
The captain has just been on the Tannoy to explain that due to the large low-pressure system we are about to pass through with 50 mph winds forecast it has been decided to put arrival in Madeira back until 10:30 tomorrow morning from 07:30. My 08:45 excursion is now leaving at 14:00!
I made my way to the Exchange bar before dinner to watch the footie on one of the huge TVs. As we are still on UK time. It was a seven o’clock kick-off and as dinner was at 8:30 I had been hoping that it wouldn’t be a close run thing meaning I would have to stay until the final whistle and miss the sitting. I could, of course, go to the buffet where the food is the same but you serve yourself.
As 8:30 approached and we were winning 3-0 so I went for dinner and it was excellent once more. Ham hock terrine; battered haddock, chips and mushy peas, followed by bread and butter pudding and custard. The fish was superb, white and flaking with a lovely crisp batter. Several of my companions had steak and kidney suet pudding and all declared it delicious.
5th December – Funchal, Madeira.
As the sun came up we were off Madeira, sailing very slowly in a calm sea. I’m not sure why we couldn’t dock on time, I guess the captain’s weather forecast had been off. We have now sailed past the island and are beginning a slow turn back. It is a very pleasant 19° on deck and when I have had my breakfast, I think I will find a spot in the sun to read until lunch. I finished my second book last night and will have to decide what to read next. It’s a hard life. I think it might be a Dale Brown, it is a long time since I read one of his yarns.
I was placed on a table of six for breakfast. Three people were on their first cruise. It seemed a little strange to me that anyone who had not cruised before would choose a 35-night cruise as their first. If you hated the experience, you are stuck onboard for a long time! Surely a four or seven-night taster first would have made sense. Still, they were all enjoying the experience. One lady had been eating breakfast in the buffet but had decided to try the MDR. She said it was like chalk and cheese and would be back in the MDR tomorrow.
Twenty-five past nine and we have slowed to a walking pace and are heading straight at Madeira now. We have docked starboard side to the quay, so from my cabin, I have a lovely view of the pretty town of Funchal which clings to the hillside. The only problem is that my balcony is in the shade. So, I am off to find somewhere in the sun to people-watch and read until lunch.
Loads of people going ashore, many catching the ship’s shuttle buses into the centre of town. I found a lounger on the promenade deck (deck 7) and settled down for a couple of hours people watching and reading. It wasn’t long before one of the men, Warwick, from my table passed by and we had a chat. He told me that he had breakfasted in the same dining room as we eat in at night which according to the daily bulletin is not open for breakfast. However, in an attempt to reduce the queues at the single MDR that is open for served breakfast, it has been decided to open a second MDR, but only to those on fixed dining who ate there in the evening and to not advertise it.
We were then joined by another of our dining companions, Sue Two, and we chatted on until Warwick decided the rush ashore had thinned to a trickle and off he went. Sue headed off to some activity or other and I settled back into my book in the warm sun until lunch. Just a hot dog with onions and a beer today.
I boarded the tour bus at 1:50 and it left promptly at 2:00. A very informative guide told the 2/3rds full coach about the island, its history and people. I didn’t know Madeira meant ‘Wooded’ and when discovered the island had been densely forested. Apparently, Funchal is derived from ‘fennel’ which grew there in abundance. Anyway, first stop was the farmer’s market. Monday afternoon is not the best time to view it as the local farmers only occupy the large open section in the middle of the market on Friday and Saturday. In addition, the fish and meat section mostly packs up at lunchtime. But the fruit, vegetables and flowers were spectacular.
We were led to an upstairs area where samples of the island’s fruits were laid out for us to try including black passion fruit, banana, mango, tabaibo, and araçá. Then a man came around with samples of their dried fruit including ginger. We were then free to wander and purchase if we wanted. Back to the coach and up to a viewing point high above the town and harbour, then on to the Botanic Gardens which had started life as private gardens to a house owned by the Reid family who had made their fortune from the famous Reid’s Palace Hotel in Funchal. An interesting stroll around where I met up with two more single travellers, a lady originally from the west of Ireland who had been an officer in the RN but had retired to Plymouth and a younger lady who had a guesthouse on the Antrim coast road near the Giants Causeway.
Back to the ship and time for a shower and shave before dinner. But not before seeing Funchal all lit up for Christmas. It was quite fabulous, I don’t think my photo does it justice.
A full table for dinner tonight. I had asparagus and hard-boiled egg for my starter, a sirloin steak (medium rare) and treacle tart and custard. Then along came the coffee and chocolate mints. A most enjoyable meal.
6th December – At Sea.
During the night the clock went back an hour. I guess this will be the first of several changes as we cross the Atlantic. I swapped my watch to my second one as it is simple to adjust the time on. Then I changed my travel clock, my iPad and iPhone. After that lot, I needed a rest!
I headed for the restaurant I normally dine in at night and as Warwick had said it was open for breakfast, but only for those who dined there at night. I saw a couple being turned away. It was nice to be able to eat in a quiet, unhurried way, served by waiters who were not having to rush and could offer an excellent service. I had Rice Krispies, of course, and two poached eggs on fried bread. The waiter was a little shocked and said, “Not on toast, Sir?” I confirmed I wanted fried bread and that is what I got and it was cracking. I will be back tomorrow morning.
It is grey and overcast this morning, but the air is warm, the TV tells me it is 20° and we are steering a course of 245° across the Atlantic. There are five swimming pools on board ship but the one that is proving popular at the moment is under a glass dome so is protected from the wind. Needless to say, I will be using it until we hit much warmer weather.
By 10:30 we had moved from under the cloud and the sun was on the balcony and it was a great spot to read. The sea was relatively flat, according to the midday announcement it is a ‘rolling swell’ of about two metres, which is quite calm, and the nearest land is 180 miles behind us.
I made for the burger and hot dog place for lunch. No queue, so it was a freshly cooked burger with lettuce, onion and tomato with fresh chips. As I tucked in, one of the Brians from the evening dinner table joined me and we ate our meals, got a cold beer and chatted about nothing in particular for an hour or so. Then it was back to my book.
This evening the internet connection was strong and I was able to get onto GP for a while before dinner. I was sorry to hear it was cold in the U.K. while the air temperature here is raising with every passing day. Only eight for dinner tonight, Judy has gone to Sindhu, the Indian restaurant and Warwick to the epicurean where he said he had been told the lamb cutlets are extremely good. Tonight I selected tomato soup, pork sirloin and the most delicious chocolate fondant pudding served with salted caramel ice cream. Tomorrow is a formal night so it’s a five-course menu. But it’s time for a nightcap before bed.
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