23rd December – St Kitts
I can hardly believe that this is day 23 of my cruise. Much like any other it started with me being woken by the phantom cabin door banger, who was a fraction early this morning at 06:17. Through my balcony glass doors I could see the sun coming up and a few minutes later the pilot boat arriving. We are currently manoeuvring very slowly into the dock backwards; I suppose it makes for an easy departure. It looks like it is going to be another lovely day and the navigation channel on the TV tells me that at 07:00 the outside air temperature is already a very pleasant 26°C. I suppose I could get out of bed and prepare myself for the arduous task of eating breakfast!
I enjoyed my breakfast of Rice Krispies, two fried eggs on fried bread, buttered toast and loads of coffee. I was joined on a sharing table by other people I have breakfasted with before and we had a nice chat. After eating I had a stroll ashore while it is still warming up. Unlike the last couple of days, there is very little breeze. I did a bit of window shopping and found nothing I wanted, so I found a seat in the shade and ‘people watched’ you do see some odd sights.
Next stop was a cold beer but I could feel the air warming up, so I didn’t linger long.
Back in the cabin, the TV now told me the air temperature was up to 30°C, but there was a nice shaded corner on the balcony, perfect to sit in and read my Kindle until lunch. I popped down to the MDR and had a look at the lunch menu at the entrance. Smoked mackerel baguette, smoked mackerel salad, it was all smoked mackerel and not being a great lover of smoked mackerel I headed up to the hot dog and burger grill by the Deck 15 pool. The lift I used meant I had to walk through the buffet, and I spotted a big tray of prawns and shrimps as I passed by. I had an immediate change of mind, a prawn salad began to call my name. So, I had lettuce, cucumber, grated carrot, pickled red cabbage and a huge helping of prawns. That should keep me topped up until dinner time. Back to my book in the shade and maybe a snooze.
Dinner was to my liking tonight. I started with a bowl of chicken and mushroom soup. Then moved on to honey roast gammon, spinach, peas and roast spuds. One of the table companions said he was going to have the rice pudding as it was particularly nice last time it was on the menu. When I ordered it, the waiter said in a surprised voice, “No ice cream tonight?” So, I had both, and the rice pudding was very good. It was Liquorice All-sorts with the coffee! Very generous, there was one each.
24th December – Christmas Eve – Road Town, Tortola, BVI.
It was fortunate I looked at my excursion ticket for today before I went to bed last night. The trip went at 08:00 and not 09:00 as I had thought. That is a bugger as I won’t have time to eat breakfast in the restaurant and will have to go to the trough (buffet). Anyway, fortified with my Rice Krispies (I have finally located them) and egg, bacon, sausage and fried bread I made for the meeting point, arriving a good ten minutes early as requested. Only two arrived after me. We were loaded on open-sided taxi buses and the tickets collected. Seventeen people on board but only sixteen tickets led to much confusion, but one man was a guide for a blind man and travelled free, not needing a ticket. After much confusion and soothing by a P&O excursion specialist we departed.
Tortola is an extinct volcano and the largest of 60 islands that make up the British Virgin Islands. Not to be confused with the US Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island, as well as several dozen smaller islands. As usual, the British islands are the nicest, mostly covered in lush green rain forest. The bus crawled up and then down the very steep mountain roads stopping every so often for photographs, over to the west side of the island where the beaches are not so good, but the surfing is better.
Then a halt at Pussers Landing. It was still too early for most of the places to be open and, in the few that were, breakfast was doing a roaring trade. Having had mine I went in the supermarket, bought a bottle of water and sat in the shade watching the activity on the loads of expensive boats tied up there. A couple joined me. They hadn’t been up in time for breakfast and had purchased an enormous egg, bacon and sausage bap that had been cut in half and proved plenty for two. They said it was delicious.
Back to the ship on the coast road again stopping for photos. A lovely island and an enjoyable trip. On the ship by 11:30, and the temperature was up to 30°C, so it was sitting in the shade with a cold drink and reading until lunch. A main dining room lunch today for a chicken salad baguette, followed by fresh fruit salad.
This afternoon I have been alternating in the sun on the balcony and in the cool of the air-conditioned cabin. Reading my Kindle, doing a bit of posting on GP and having a snooze, it was far too hot to go wandering ashore this afternoon. About 17:15 it was announced that the ship’s radar had picked up a UFO heading our way at high speed. No, it wasn’t a cruise missile but ten minutes later it was confirmed it was Santa on his way. Much to the delight of the 47 children on board he landed on the funnel at 17:30, and has been allocated a cabin to sort out the kid’s presents which will be delivered when they are asleep tonight.
I forgot to mention everyone on board has been given a gift from P&O. A miniature bottle of Tidal rum, as distilled on the new P&O ship Arvia and a lime soda mixer to go with it. We also got an engraved Christmas tree bauble! The Captain is going to read “The night before Christmas” to all the kids this evening. No, I will not be going to listen. Later the ship’s officers will be singing carols in the atrium and Midnight Mass is at 23:30.
Tonight, is a special Christmas Eve dinner menu and I had a look at it when I came out of the MDR after lunch. I have picked out my choices and will tell you later what I have. You never know, I could change my mind between now and then.
Tomorrow we are at sea, so it should be a nice relaxing day. If I remember rightly, last year we were all given buck’s fizz (the drink not the group) with our breakfast. It’s a formal dinner tomorrow so I will try to remember my iPhone to picture the menu for you lot. It’s also 3/4 hour earlier than usual. Boxing Day we are in St Maarten, one of five cruise ships in port that day. It’s going to be bedlam in the port, thank goodness I have a trip booked.
Right, I’m off to the sail away party for a drink and then dinner. Just before heading up to Deck 15 for the party, I walked onto the balcony to see if the rope handlers had arrived. But instead, I spotted something moving in the sea on the other side of the pier. At first, in the gathering darkness, I had trouble working out that it was a large turtle swimming close to the surface. As I watched, instead of just taking a gulp of air it was sticking its head out of the water and watching as the ship moved sideways away from its mooring and then backwards into the bay. I don’t know if I were more interested in it or it was more interested in watching the ship manoeuvre.
It was a special Christmas Eve menu tonight and for the first time on this cruise prawn cocktail was on the menu and it was very well received by me. Next, I chose French onion soup which I would venture to say was delicious. For the main course I struggled to decide between roast goose and whole Dover sole. In the end, I chose the fish, and it was superb, it absolutely fell off the bone. I had a chocolate concoction for dessert, two disks of chocolate sponge with whipped cream between them soft meringue (Italian?) on top and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Coffee and Christmas cake to finish up the most enjoyable meal. I had a quick look at tomorrow’s menu over the shoulder of Brian No 1 (he is lactose intolerant and gets to order a day early so his dishes can be prepared without butter, milk or cheese). All I remember is some of tomorrow’s mains. There were three main dishes I can remember, turkey and all the trimmings, fillet of turbot with tiger prawns or fillet steak. I have all day to decide.
25 December – Christmas Day at Sea
Merry Christmas and good morning everyone. The phantom door banger was at it at 06:20 this morning, I think he or she, or even it, must be a fanatical jogger or fitness freak to be up at such an ungodly hour every day. Still, it gave me a chance to get on the internet and message a few people before the system got busy and slow. I exchanged messages with a number of friends and relatives before 07:00 (11:00 GMT) but struggled to get on GP, was Swiss Bob having a Christmas lie in I wondered.
Down to breakfast and two complimentary glasses of bucks fizz to perk me up, just the thing to wash my pills down with. Today, for a change, I had a bowl of Rice Krispies! Next came fried eggs, bacon, black pudding and fried bread. Then buttered toast and loads of Coffee. That should keep me going until lunchtime. Back up to the cabin to catch up on this postcard before finding a quiet spot to read. Lots of people appear to be taking advantage of a sea day to have a lie-in. Will, the cabin steward, had been in and done my cabin while I was eating so I found him and gave him some Dollars as a Christmas present, it pays to keep people like him sweet. I find that a cash tip goes a long way on board. The steward tells me he has time off tomorrow afternoon and he intends to use some of the tips he has received to video call his wife, son and daughter in India to wish them a happy Christmas. As I mentioned before he is contracted to be on board until August!
Got on GP this attempt and exchanged a few messages with some of the regulars. I now need to look at my emails, only 13 since last night, probably all junk, people trying to sell magic onions and the like. The ship is going very slowly as we only have 180 miles to go to the next island, which makes sitting on the balcony very pleasant as there is hardly a gentle breeze. So, I had a lovely easy morning reading, shit posting on GP, talking to friends and relatives on messenger and a few on Facebook.
I only had a light lunch, prawn salad and ice cream. Then it was off to watch the pantomime put on by the ship’s officers. Aladdin, with a very over-the-top Widow Twanky. Very funny, lots of innuendo and political comments, I did wonder what anyone who wasn’t British would have made of it. And of course, it worked on two levels, the kids loved it, but many of the jokes went over their heads. Back up for more reading and a snooze. I mustn’t forget dinner is 3/4 of an hour early tonight!
Everyone was in their finest for Christmas Day dinner. I was on second sitting which was timed for doors open at 19:45, but as I stepped out of the lift, at bang on time, I stepped into a crowd of people. People were milling around the lobby and up the stairs, while the lifts delivered more and more people. It seemed that the first sitting had overrun as people were still coming out! It was 19:55 when we were let in and I headed for my table where three of us arrived together. There were crackers for everyone containing the usual little trinkets, paper hats and rotten jokes. My cracker contained a slot-together cardboard bell to hang on a tree and two jokes. What do you call a snowman in the summer? And who is never hungry at Christmas? Answers tomorrow. I think my cracker was faulty as it didn’t contain a hat!
Anyway, I’m sure what you really want to know is what did I have to eat. I started with an amuse-busche. Next came a tiger prawn cocktail but there was also pate, smoked salmon, a cheese tartlet and other things. Then a choice of my favourite tomato soup or bubble and squeak soup. Next was a champagne sorbet before the mains. As mentioned before there was the traditional turkey dinner, fillet steak, turbot and prawns and also roast lamb and a couple of veggie options that I totally ignored. In the end, I and several others had the turbot as a fish course and then the fillet steak. My steak was medium rare and delicious, not a scrap was wasted.
The dessert menu had the traditional Christmas pudding trifle, ice cream sundae, ordinary mixed ice cream and several other items I forget. I had ice cream, not being a lover of Christmas pudding. Then coffee, chocolate truffles, stollen, mince pies and brandy butter. I was stuffed. Oh, I forgot to mention Sue 1 and I shared a bottle of white Pinot Grigio. A highly enjoyable Christmas meal and Christmas Day.
26th December – Boxing Day – Phillipsburg, St Maarten
The Captain had warned us it was likely to be a busy call as, including Ventura, there were going to be five big ships in port. As we slid alongside the pier, only Celebrity Silhouette was in port. As I ate my Rice Krispies and mushroom omelette with fried bread and bacon for breakfast, I could see other ships heading our way, but as I was on an 09:30 trip I was gone before they docked. However, I know the first one was a Carnival ship from the distinctive shape of its funnel.
I’m on a ‘panoramic tour’ today on an open-top double-deck bus. We had hardly got out of the port complex when it started to rain, fortunately the bus had a sliding canvas roof, and it was whizzed shut. Five mins later the rain stopped and the roof was opened! On our trip to the far side (French) of the island, it rained three times! A stop for photos at the French capital and back on the bus and more rain. By the time we got to the famous Maho beach it had stopped raining. Maho is where the island’s airport runway takes planes right over the beach. I got a photo of a jet whizzing in to land!
Then a rum distillery with no limit on the number of samples you could try of the 50 flavours they make. Only a thimble full at a time but it soon adds up. Spiced was ok, tamarind horrible. Chocolate very nice, as was mocca, I could have that poured over vanilla ice cream. Lime was pretty good too, but by far the best l tried was coconut. I went back for more, several times. The final stop was at a cheese store. I like cheese but as I have mentioned on GP several times it doesn’t like me, it gives me migraine, so I sat this 15 min stop out.
Back to the ship bang on time. We now have been joined by Carnival Magic, Celebrity Reflection and a ship I can’t see the name of, as it is tied up behind us. The area around the piers where all the tourist shops and bars are, is manic. There are so many people milling around it is almost impossible to walk without bumping into a yank. I think I will have a hot dog for lunch I am still full of Christmas dinner! As least I can sit on the open deck as the rain seems to be gone.
A beautiful afternoon reading and people-watching in the warm sun. Not too busy on board as a lot of people must still be ashore. Just before 4 o’clock I fancied a cuppa, so the question was going to the buffet or making it myself in the cabin. The cabin won mainly because I fancied using a proper china mug and a packet of the French cookies supplied there, but the Arsenal match was also on the TV. We were due to sail at six but with five ships in port the Captain announced it would be nearer seven, we are to follow the Carnival Magic which is on an adjacent pier. Just after seven we backed out, did a 180° turn in the ship’s own length and off we went. I went off for a shave and a shower and to put on some decent clothes for dinner, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt are frowned upon!
Just before 8 o’clock, I noticed we were heading back into Philipsburg. Apparently, there is a ‘medical emergency’ on board. We tied up at the same pier we had sailed from shortly after eight. I expected to see an ambulance waiting on the pier for us, but no, it is an anonymous black van and a fully covered stretcher was loaded onto it. I guess they didn’t want to lug a corpse all the way over the Atlantic. We didn’t sail again until 21:30, probably lots of paperwork to do knowing the Frogs and deaths in their jurisdiction.
Back to more ordinary fare for dinner this evening; tomato soup, roast Lamb and creme caramel. Simple but very nice. The lactose-intolerant man on our table had the fish (sea bass fillet) as a fish course and then the roast lamb. Everyone else who had the lamb declared it to be excellent, but L.I. said it was tough, full of gristle and virtually inedible. It is strange that at every meal his meat is tough, and he moans. Perhaps he needs some new false teeth! Coffee came with chocolate mint creams this evening, at least LI didn’t complain they were tough!
I haven’t forgotten to give you the answers to my cracker jokes from yesterday. The first one is ‘a puddle’ and the second one ‘a turkey, because it is always stuffed.’
27th December – At sea
The clocks went forward an hour at two this morning, so I lost an hour’s sleep. It didn’t stop the door banger, he put in his usual 06:20 performance. I had hoped he/she/it would have a lie in the morning, but no such luck. The main dining room was virtually empty for breakfast, four of us on a table for six were the only diners on the waiter section we were sent to. I have breakfasted with the people on the table before, and they are good company with decent table manners. It grates with me when some people display awful manners, playing with their phones, diving into their food as soon as it is put in front of them instead of waiting until everyone is served, reaching across the table instead of asking for something to be passed. My pet gripe is one person I breakfasted with who used the spoon in the sugar bowl to stir his tea and then shoved the wet spoon back into bowl. Fortunately, I don’t have sugar in my breakfast coffee or on my cereal, but I pity those who do.
The noon announcement from the bridge (only on sea days) came on and told us some good and some bad news. We have travelled 280 miles since leaving St Maarten, leaving 2,400 miles to run to the Azores. The sea state is moderate, but we are heading bang into a force 8 wind and the wind speed over the open deck is 48 knots, however the air temperature is 26°C. Because of the ship’s movement the pools have been emptied. However, it is actually quite pleasant on the balcony in a corner out of the wind. The good news is that the sea state is expected to improve overnight.
Which reminds me, one man I was chatting to in the bar was complaining that the new ship’s captain doesn’t make announcements over the Tannoy. When I said that was strange because I heard them regularly. He said that the previous captain’s announcements used to come through in the cabin. I explained that this one’s still do, you just must have your TV on and tuned to channel 21 and you will get all the announcements including the midday one on sea days and the six o’clock in the evening one on shore days. He proceeded to tell me I was wrong and didn’t know what I was talking about. So, I just changed the subject.
I read my book until lunch and then wandered down and joined a sharing table for lunch. Today I choose a chicken and egg salad baguette and chips which, as a woman on the table said, was ‘jolly good’. It is amazing how rumours are propagated on board. Yesterday I was chatting to someone who told me about a cabin a few down from her that a man from ship security had been stationed outside. Today at lunch a different person asked if we had seen the local police marching a man off in handcuffs yesterday adding that they had heard he had been accused of rape and confined to his cabin until we reached land. Of course, someone put the two stories together. I must say I have no reason to doubt the story of the security guard outside the cabin but as for the rest, I don’t know if it is true or imaginary.
I think I might see if the Chelsea – Bournemouth match is on TV this afternoon. I can lie on my bed and watch. That way if it is a rotten match, I can have a doze to make up for the hour I lost last night. Which is exactly what I did, I dozed for around an hour and woke up refreshed and ready to go!
Down to dinner and I wasn’t particularly inspired when I looked at tonight’s menu. Still, I chose smoked duck breast as a starter, and it was delicious. I then had a pork steak, and it was tender and tasty. For dessert I thought I would try the lemon syllabub and it was excellent. I must say the only thing that let down dinner tonight was the shortbread that was served with the coffee, it was far too soft and crumbly, I prefer my shortbread firmer. Then the gentleman on the table next to us, who looks like Harry Hill, presented all the ladies on our table with a pretty little brooch and the gentlemen with a pair of P&O Ventura cuff links. Apparently, he and his wife own a chain of jewellery shops on cruise ships and in Britain. He and his wife were on board for Christmas and the New Year and we always chatted with them while other people had ignored them and he just wanted to show their appreciation.
Over dinner I heard a variation on the story of the man who was, supposedly, thrown off the ship yesterday. In this version, he had been seen indecently assaulting young girls in one of the swimming pools. The story said that whatever he was doing it was bad enough to be reported to the local police and dumped off the ship to find his own way home, with a lifetime ban on all Carnival Group cruises. I still don’t know what is true.
28th December – At sea
Another lazy day at sea with no rush to do anything. I was woken by the ‘phantom door banger’ as usual, but just lay there quietly for a while. The sea seemed to have calmed down considerably overnight and although it was still moving about it was nothing like yesterday. Suddenly there was a bigger movement and the ship creaked and groaned. Then it went back to the gentler movement. Just after seven it began to get light, and the sea state is a definite improvement on yesterday with only occasional white horses being seen. I suppose I better get up as I have agreed to meet Sue 1 at the MDR for breakfast.
I met Sue 1 outside the MDR as planned, she stepped out of one of the bank of four lifts just as I stepped out of another. When you go into the MDR for breakfast or lunch, the girl on the desk asks for your cabin number to check you off on the computer. This morning she knew mine without asking, I must either be famous or infamous! We were directed to the same table as the last three mornings where a couple of minutes later we were joined by the same couple we have eaten with for those three mornings. Anyway, after my Rice Krispies, I had a change of menu, I had scrambled eggs and bacon this morning and thoroughly enjoyed it.
As we are now heading northeast, I don’t get the sun on my balcony, but the air was still warm at 26°C so I shared my time between reading and shit posting on GP, while sitting in a corner out of the breeze. At around 12:30, I was getting peckish so I went down to lunch. I had a cheeseburger without the cheese and a chocolate brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enough to keep me going until dinner tonight. I headed up to Deck 15 and found myself a seat in the sun to read, but the wind on the open deck was quite strong so I only stayed for an hour or so before heading back to the protected corner on my balcony.
It’s a ‘formal evening’ so I will have to don my penguin suit again. It is getting plenty of use this holiday. Before dinner I am invited to the Peninsula Club ‘Party’ in one of the big bars where they normally have singers and comedians on. The Peninsula Club is for anyone who has sailed for over 15 nights with P&O before the cruise started. There are various tiers depending on how many nights in total you have cruised with P&O and you get discounts and extras depending on the tier you are in. I am currently in the Mediterranean level, but this cruise puts me in spitting distance of the Caribbean level and my next cruise in the summer will move me up a level meaning extra discount on onboard spending and other things like priority boarding.
Anyway, the party means free booze and canapés before dinner, so I popped along and managed three glasses of champagne in the hour. The party was in a bar located directly above the MDR I use, so when it opened at 20:30 it was easy to nip down one flight of stairs for my meal. On formal nights it is always a slightly improved menu so tonight I had an amuse-bouche followed by cauliflower soup, cauliflower isn’t my favourite vegetable but the soup was quite good. The starter was an odd bunch that didn’t really appeal so I had the least unappealing, a trio of smoked fish. The small portion of smoked salmon was pretty good, the smoked mackerel, OK, but I have no idea what the third fish was, but it was horrid and if I never have it again it will be too soon.
On to the main course, an ever-reliable medium rare sirloin steak and, as usual, it didn’t let me down. The LI moaner said I was brave having the steak as it was ‘always’ tough. But it’s not as far as I’m concerned, maybe it’s because I like my meat pink in the middle, and I am a firm believer that the more you cook meat the tougher it becomes. For dessert I went back to ice cream, vanilla and white chocolate. Tonight, it was mint crisps with the coffee.
The clock goes forward one hour at 2 am so I must remember to do my watch, iPad, iPhone and travel clock. It’s confusing all this messing with the time business! I think I will only be two hours different from GMT tomorrow.
In Part 7 – The Azores and Home
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