A Postcard From a Long Christmas Cruise, Part Five

18th December – Aruba

The ship picked up the port pilot around six this morning and after a very slow trip from Bonaire (it is only 125 nautical miles away) we docked around about 06:30 just as the sun was peeping over the horizon illuminating the high clouds orange. It’s a change of ship’s captain today, the old flies home for a Christmas break in the U.K. and a new one, Captain David Hudson, is flying in to take over. I bet the old captain will feel cold in the U.K.

We are docked next to a real old tub called MV Freewinds, I have no idea how old it is but it looks very old. There are no balcony cabins, open lifeboats and only one swimming pool. Gosh, I just looked it up on Wikipedia and I shall be avoiding it like the plague. It was launched in 1968 so is very old by ship standards and is now owned and operated by the Church of Scientology. They use it as a training centre and anyone who reaches the highest level in the ‘church’ has to go on a compulsory course on board. The public rooms are all discussion and meeting rooms, and the ship’s library contains only books by Ron L Hubbard. For good measure I read there have been accusations of abuse aboard. I bet Christmas is fun on board!

No excursion booked for me today. So, I shall shortly head down to Deck 6 and indulge in a leisurely fried breakfast and buckets of coffee before wandering ashore. The forecast is for it only to be 27° today, I expect the locals will all have sweaters on.

I was put on a different sharing table this morning, but three of the others I had breakfasted with before. I started with my usual Rice Krispies, but four people started with prunes. Something I definitely don’t need or would eat, even if I did need them. Then a mushroom omelette, fried bread and bacon. They seem to mince the mushrooms into tiny pieces. Very tasty, but you get tiny bits of mushroom between your teeth making it necessary to brush them directly after breakfast! Butter, toast and loads of coffee, very nice.

I took an early stroll off the ship before it started getting too hot. The only thing I want is a hat or cap and with all the tourist shops I am bound to find a good choice. Avoiding all the people hawking around the island tours and taxis to the beach, I made my way to the main downtown tourist shopping street. It’s Sunday and just like any tourist town the shops are open. A few bars and restaurants, plenty of tourist shops but I have never seen so many jewellers! Two out of every three shops are selling watches and jewellery. It makes me wonder how they can all make a living. Well, I got a fetching Aruba cap for a few dollars, at least it will keep the sun out of my eyes.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
A very peaceful Main Street, Aruba.
© WorthingGooner2023, Going Postal

Now, for a bit of a read before lunch. I think I might pop down to the restaurant and see what is on offer. They put the menu up outside and if there is nothing I fancy, I can always get the lift up to the poolside grill for a burger or hot dog or nip into the buffet. All the way down to Deck 6 and a quick scan of the lunch menu. Today the baguette is cheese salad and as much as I like cheese I know if I eat that I will be laid up for the rest of the afternoon with a migraine. However, they do have a breaded chicken breast in a bun and chips that proved to be rather nice. I noticed that on the menu for tonight there is, among many other things, beer battered cod and chips and steak and kidney pie in suet crust. Now I would call that steak and kidney pudding. Which shall I have, decisions, decisions! If I was like the glutton on our table, I would ask for both!

The direction in which we were docked today meant that there was no sun on my cabin’s balcony, but it did give me a lovely view over the pier and its approach down a shaded walkway, past a long row of kiosks selling tourist tat. The path then turned left for 50 yards before reaching the dock gate. Immediately outside the gate is a tram stop where, as the end of its route, there is a turning loop. Only one problem, the tram doesn’t run on Sundays and this is Sunday. Another 50 yards and you are on the main road and all its bars and shops, most of which, as I said earlier, are jewellers. But my balcony gave me a nice, elevated position to people-watch the comings and goings.

After a while in the warm air, I was feeling in need of a nap so I popped in for a snooze only to find a note from ‘The Food and Beverage Team’ personally addressed to me, had been shoved under my cabin door. It explained that on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the arrangements for dinner in the evening were being adjusted and that there would be two sittings for dinner in the main dining rooms. As the computer didn’t yet have a record of which sitting (17:30 or 19:45) or which MDR (Cinnamon or Saffron) I would like, please would I come to the Cinnamon restaurant between 08:00 and 12:00 or 14:00 and 17:00 to choose.

Basically, I realised that this was a load of balls. This letter is for people on ‘Freedom’ dining that allows them to turn up at one of those two MDRs at any time between 18:00 and 21:30 and be allocated a table. For convenience, on those two evenings everyone was being effectively moved to ‘set’ dining. I am already on ‘set’ dining and eat in the 3rd MDR, The Bay Tree at 20:30 (second sitting) every evening. So when I went down to dinner I mentioned the letter to one of the girls on the restaurant’s reception desk. She said, “Throw it away, it isn’t supposed to go to people on ‘set’ dining. The only part that is correct is that dinner will be at a different time on those nights. If you eat here, you will continue to eat here and on the same sitting.”

Several people standing behind me had also got similar letters. Obviously a pretty good cock-up. Later several of the reception staff and catering offices went round to every table to say if you got one of these letters, please ignore it. Two on my table had received one the rest hadn’t. Anyway, the important thing is the food, we now seem to be repeating earlier menus with small changes. Steak and kidney pudding of two weeks ago has morphed into steak and mushroom pudding. I had tomato and basil soup, beer battered haddock, chips and mushy peas, followed by ice cream and very nice it was too!

19th December – At Sea

A lovely morning, warm with a few fluffy white clouds but a slight breeze making the sea move a little. As usual I was woken by the 06:20 door slammer. I do wonder where they are going that early, are they a gym bunny, off to run around the open deck before it is busy or just maybe they want to be at the buffet for a very early breakfast when it opens a 06:30?

Anyway, it gave me a while to lay in bed, and do a bit of reading, before washing and dressing and heading to breakfast at just before 8:00. Of course, I chose a sharing table and joined Sue 1 who was already there. Very quickly we were joined by other people we had breakfasted with before. As usual I had my Rice Krispies and followed that with two fried eggs on fried bread.

I got back to the cabin to find a note in the letter rack by the door. Apparently one of the ‘carts’ (I use their terminology) of the trolley train I was due to ride on in Roseau, Dominica tomorrow had ‘suffered a mechanical failure’ and they have got to split the trip in two. Consequently, my departure time is now 08:30 instead of 14:00. That means another buffet breakfast – yuk!

Book 5 of Jinnie’s Story is almost complete, I think I can tie up many of the loose ends, in what I think is going to be its final chapter today. Then I will put it aside not to be touched again until I return home where I will read through it with a fresh eye and no doubt edit big chunks. Once finished I will dive back into my Kindle which I have somewhat neglected and read some more of the books I have downloaded.

Yet another black-tie dinner so I have to get dressed up for dinner again. Still, it means a decent dinner. Tonight, I started with an amuse-bouche and followed that with gravlax. Then a choice of minestrone or chicken & leek soup, I like both, so I went for minestrone as I had chicken & leek earlier in the cruise. The soup on board has been consistently excellent. For main I had beef wellington. The waiter said, “Would you like that medium, Sir?” I like my meat medium rare, so that is what I asked for. I recognise that the more you cook meat the tougher it gets, so when it arrived nice and pink I was delighted, and it was beautifully tender. One lady who asked for well-done moaned it was tough.

For a change, I had fresh fruit salad and cream for dessert. A nice hot cup of coffee and coffee creams to finish the meal. It was most enjoyable.

20th December – Roseau, Dominica

This is one of the islands on the cruise that I haven’t visited before. As we docked at 06:30 it was just getting light and was dull, overcast and drizzling. The island is an extinct volcano, and the slopes are very green and the peaks hidden in low cloud. However, in the distance the sky is breaking and there is plenty of blue heading the ship’s way. As I mentioned yesterday, my trip on the ‘Trolly Train’ has been advanced to 08:30 so if I go for breakfast in the main dining room, I am likely to be late, so I went for breakfast in the buffet. Although you can get all the same things there that you get in the MDR it is not my idea of fun. I much prefer being served and not having to fight for a seat. A waiter topping up your coffee is much better than getting it for yourself out of a machine. Anyway, I had eggs, bacon, fried bread and black pudding, not bad but it would have been better if I had been served.

The ‘Trolley Train’ was exactly the same as you would see in any British seaside town running along the prom, except this one ran on the road. The drizzle turned a bit heavier as the train set off through the streets, with the ‘conductor’ (as it said on his hat) giving a running commentary. All the usual stuff, ‘On the left is the Prime Minister’s residence.’ ‘On the right is the sewage works.’ Only a few things stuck. Children start school at 3 1/2, they get 375 inches of rain a year and there are 365 rivers on the island. First stop was the Catholic church. It was a much smaller version of Paddy’s Wigwam in Liverpool! Then on past the cricket stadium which the ‘conductor’ proudly told us could hold 11,000.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Paddy’s Caribbean wigwam, Dominica.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

A photo stop by the river and then on to the botanical gardens where the highlight was a tree that had fallen and squashed a school bus in hurricane David (2017?). The bus was only two weeks old and fortunately empty at the time, because it is now about a foot high! A complimentary rum punch (reasonably strong) and back on the train to the head of the pier where the ship was docked. Rather than go straight back on board I had a wander, did a bit of window shopping and as the sun had come out found a bar for a cold one.

Back on board for lunch, I headed for the restaurant after being forced to use the buffet for breakfast. A bowl of asparagus soup and a (very, very small) crab salad which the menu said came with toast. You got two pieces of toast, each the size of a 50p piece. No chance I have spoiled my evening meal.

It is now sunny and warm, the cloud seems to have retreated from the coast. It would be lovely sitting on the balcony reading if it weren’t for the extremely loud reggae versions of Christmas carols being belted out by a band at the end of the pier. Anyone got any earplugs?

I braved it and sat on the balcony, watching the clouds building over the mountains, and to the north and what looked like more rain on the way. An ambulance arrived on the pier to take someone from the ship to hospital. There seems to be one or two taken off at every island. I suppose that with such a long cruise it is mainly the retired who can spare the time so the average age on board is high and there are loads of electric buggies, wheelchairs and walking sticks in abundance. Unsurprisingly many suffer illnesses and have to leave the ship.

What is not evident is a lot of Covid. On my summer trip it was around and I heard of people going down with it every day. None of that yet on this ship, to date I know of only three people. A lady who almost certainly came on board with it as she was diagnosed on day three of the trip before we had stopped anywhere. She was clear the day after we left Madeira but she had already passed it on to two friends who both recovered before we reached Barbados. The islands don’t appear to be hotbeds of Covid and you see very few mask wearers on shore or around the ship. There is the occasional fanatical wearer on board who is convinced that by wearing a mask they are saving the world.

Anyway, moan over, I sat on the balcony in the warm, humid air, and watched a couple of heavy downpours drive the reggae band away. I finished Book 5 of Jinnie’s Story, it runs to 32 chapters so that’s another 32 weeks you will have to put up with a weekly dose of her and her sister’s adventures and life. It is now tucked to one side and will not be opened again until I give it an initial proofreading when back in the U.K. It is then that I find I have screwed up a timeline, changed a character’s name halfway through or maybe used the wrong there or their.

Only five on the table for dinner this evening, with the numerous alternative places to eat on board it is hardly surprising. One of the BrIans’ says he is only going to eat in the MDR on formal nights as he struggles to get to a show at 10:30. I really can’t understand what he is on about, we had finished coffee by 09:45 tonight. This evening I started with my old favourite, tomato and basil soup. It is made on board and really good. Then loin of pork that was delicious and finished off with three scoops of coffee ice cream. Really good dinner tonight.

21st December – Guadeloupe

Once again I woke at 06:20, to a nearby cabin door banging shut. I didn’t really mind as I had to be up early for an 08:15 excursion departure. We were tied up alongside the cruise terminal when I hit the buffet for breakfast at 07:00. There is an ‘omelette station’ there where a man cooks you a fresh omelette of your choice. I had a mushroom one and grabbed some bacon and fried bread to go with it. Toast and coffee to finish off.

Back to my cabin to clean my teeth and pick up my hat. Big problem, my key card didn’t work! The cabin steward tried his pass card and that refused to open the lock either, it just flashed red at every attempt. He called housekeeping whose master card also failed. The lock was then reprogrammed and seems to be OK now. So off I went to the gangway in plenty of time for my trip, but the Frogs were being bloody-minded and took ages to clear us to go ashore. Eventually the clearance came at 08:30 and the coach left at 08:45, 30 minutes late for my ‘Death in Paradise’ tour.

First stop was the beach where the Inspector’s house is located. Lovely beach but no house, apparently it had been dismantled at the end of filming the last season and will be rebuilt when filming restarts. On to the fishing village that is Honour in the series. Pretty little place. We visited Catherine’s Bar on the beachfront, onto the pier, the real police station, the church and the fake police station that stars in the TV show. A woman demanded €10 to go inside the police station. I am still not sure whether it was a bit of privateering or a mix-up. But the courier told the woman her fortune and we all went in for free. I must say I thought access was included in the trip.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
The fake police station.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

Next stop was a call at Eagle beach the longest one on the island. It was advertised as an hour but the courier wanted us back in 40 minutes, to try to get us back to the ship on schedule and in time for lunch. A woman sitting in front of me went off on one, moaning and whinging like Meghan. As I walked to the fabulous beach I saw her having a go at the courier. Three-quarters of the people were back on the bus after 40 minutes, but the rest, including the woman in front of me, took another 20 minutes. Apparently, she had made the courier phone her boss who agreed to staying for an hour. The only problem was that only about a 1/4 of the people on the bus were told about the last-minute change. The woman announced loudly that it wasn’t her fault we weren’t told, but a man told her it was because of her whinging that we had to sit and wait for 20 minutes. She shut up.

The bus trip back to the ship then got caught in a traffic jam caused by an accident so it was 14:00 by the time we got back to the ship. It was too late to eat lunch in the restaurant, and I refuse to go to the buffet unless forced by circumstance, so I enjoyed a hot dog and French fries on deck. Back to the cabin and I sat on the balcony reading my Kindle. Ninety minutes later, cramp in my leg where it was resting on a footstool woke me up!

We were supposed to be all aboard at 17:45 and sail at 18:00, but the French authorities had other ideas. Despite everyone being back, the Frogs decided to be Frogs and cause problems. The Captain announced, over the Tannoy, that they had produced additional last-minute paperwork to be completed, we eventually sailed 40 minutes late. If I were running P&O I would tell them that if they wanted P&O ships still to call at Guadalupe, raking them in hundreds of thousands of tourist Euros, then they need to extract the digit.

I have been looking forward to tonight’s dinner main course ever since I stepped aboard. I know that a least once a cruise we are served lamb shank and tonight’s the night. I started with vegetable soup this evening, and got a shock. It was boiling hot! I’m used to being served soup on board that is hot but not that hot, it came as a huge surprise. Then the lamb shank with carrots, cabbage and roast potatoes. Gosh, it was good, the meat fell off the bone. There were a lot of very happy diners. The lemon panna cotta for dessert was pretty good too. One of the really good meals to savour. It makes up for a tour that was disappointing in parts but actually pretty interesting, and I got some lovely photos of the town and beaches. If you ever visit Guadeloupe I suggest you swat up on your French, they hardly speak any English.

22nd December – Antigua

The 06:20 door slammer was two minutes early this morning! We just were approaching Antigua in a downpour. As we entered the port the rain eased to a drizzle but it is grey and grotty. However, the forecast is for it to become sunny and warm as the day progresses, mind you it is warm already with an outside air temperature of 25°C at 07:30. My excursion today is an afternoon one to Betty’s Hope, The Devil’s Bridge and Parham so the sun has got a chance to come out before then.

I have plenty of time to have a proper breakfast served to me in the restaurant. A sharing table with four other people I have eaten breakfast with before, so it was quite convivial. I went back to my Rice Krispies and then had a mushroom omelette, fried bread and bacon, it was delicious! One lady ordered a four-minute boiled egg and the waiter said, “Medium?” She replied, “I suppose so.” Anyway, she received four medium-boiled eggs! Her face was a picture. That’s what happens when English isn’t the waiter’s native language.

They are going to high-pressure wash the balconies on my side of the ship, port (or left for land lubbers) this morning so I may have to go and find a spot on deck to read my Kindle. At least it is no longer raining, and the sun is trying to burn through the cloud. I fully intend to sit on the balcony until forced to abandon it.

As this afternoon’s trip departs a 13:00 and you need to be on the dockside ready at 10 to, it means you have to start looking for the lift at about 20 to. No time to get a proper lunch so it was a hot dog and French fries for the second day running. The sun has come out and it was baking waiting on the dockside. We were divided into two groups and loaded into two 22-seater coaches. Off we sped, passing all the highlights these people love to point out. The law courts, the new hospital, the isolation hospital, the university, the old cricket stadium and the brand spanking new Sir Viv Richard’s cricket stadium with his golden statue out front.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
The statue of Sir Viv Richards.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

Then on to the small town of Parham and its church. The interesting thing is the roof is made from a maze of exposed beams. The story goes that the timbers came from a wrecked Spanish galleon. Who knows if it is true, but the beams are made from a tree native to Spain that does not grow in the West Indies. Then on to Betty’s Hope which was a sugar cane plantation for hundreds of years. Most of the buildings were wrecked in a hurricane in the 1980s but there are lots of pictures and it was very interesting. There were loads of West Indian sheep wandering the grounds, they look very much like goats, but sheep tails go down and goat tails go up!

The final stop was the Devil’s Bridge on the Atlantic (north) side of the island. It is a natural formation in the rocks where the bigger Atlantic rollers rush in under a rock bridge and spurt up a blow hole in a spectacular plume of water. On the way back to the ship the bus drove in the open gate of the cricket stadium and right up to the Sir Viv Richard statue so we could get some decent pictures. A pretty good excursion on a baking hot afternoon.

There were only four of us for dinner tonight. I know that of the original 10 on our table, one has left to eat with his new shipboard romance. Another is only eating with us on formal nights because it, “Takes to long and he might miss the beginning of the show,” and a third has decided he wants to eat when he wants and has opted for “freedom” dining that lets him eat basically when he is ready. Judy has gone to one of the posh pay restaurants tonight but what has become of the remaining two is yet to be discovered, maybe they have joined Judy in the Epicurean restaurant.

So tonight, I had that good old standby tomato and basil soup, then a medium rare sirloin steak that was cooked just right. Before I ate any I removed a thin line of gristle that ran along one edge and then it was lovely and extremely tender. I didn’t fancy the apple crumble and custard, tonight ‘British dessert’ as I’m not a huge fan of cooked apple, I had a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream that was delicious. Finally coffee, and lemon flavour chocolate creams.

In Part 6 – St Kitts, Tortola and Christmas at Sea.

© WorthingGooner 2023