A Postcard From a Long Christmas Cruise, Part Seven

29th December – At sea

The ‘Phantom Door Banger’ was late this morning. I was up and dressed when ‘its’ door crashed at 07:20. Guess who forgot to put their clock forward? Mind you, having been used to waking up to a lightening sky, I do not like this getting up in the pitch dark, it reminds me I am heading home to January and winter. Another thing is that the outside air temperature is steadily going down. OK, it is only 07:30 and still dark but I am not accustomed to it only being 22°C! Maybe I should start having porridge for breakfast to get me prepared for the U.K.

The dining room was almost empty, but I sat with some regulars. Sea days are often slow for breakfast but add in the loss of an hour’s sleep and you get a very quiet first hour in the MDR. I junked the idea of porridge, instead I had the usual Rice Krispies and as I was not terribly hungry, I only followed that with a mushroom omelette, square toast (crustless slices of bread) and coffee.

Back in the cabin, the LGND’s mum had messaged me to answer my questions as to whether the LGND would like a cuddly fox glove puppet as a present from the holiday. Her mum said she thought she would adore it. So, I trundled down to the ship’s emporium to buy it. I got the fox and three giant Toblerone as they were on offer. I had intended only to buy two as presents, but there was a three-for-two offer on so the third came for nothing and will be my treat to myself. The shop had run out of paper carrier bags, so I popped Mr Ferdinand Fox on my hand and to the amusement of a couple he pushed the lift call button for me as my other hand was full of Toblerone!

Walking along with my hand up a fox’s bum caused several double takes and amused my cabin steward who opened the cabin door for me. Mr Ferdinand Fox is now my travelling companion until I reach Worthing when he and a bar of Toblerone will pass into the LGND’s possession. I suspect the fox will last longer than the chocolate!

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Meet Mr Ferdinand Fox.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

I spent a lovely peaceful morning reading, in the sun out of the wind until it was time for lunch. Some people hate sea days, but I enjoy them. I can relax and do nothing but read and shit post or join in one of the multitude of activities. There is everything from lectures on all sorts of things like the police or single-handed round-the-world sailing to deck quoits and giant jigsaws to have a go at. There is a movie every morning, dance classes, art classes and even cookery demonstrations, and that is a fraction of what is happening.

Lunchtime arrived and I went down the Saffron MDR on Deck 7. I had a good look at the menu before deciding to have an ‘American cheese and bacon burger’ without cheese and chunky chips followed by lemon sponge and custard. In losing the cheese somehow the bacon went with it. But the burger was excellent as was the sponge pudding.

Back to the cabin and a bit more reading on the balcony until I caught myself dropping off, so I came in and had the hour’s sleep I missed overnight. Five of us from the dinner table have a 7:45 booking in the Epicurean Restaurant and we have arranged to meet in the bar directly above for a pre-dinner drink. The Epicurean is, at a £30 supplement, the most expensive place to eat on the ship, but it is really a fantastic place to eat. The food, service and ambience are fabulous. Tonight, we started with an amuse-bouche of a tiny cup of delicious soup. Next, my starter was leek and potato soup and even its service was part of the show. A bowl containing crispy fried onions and slices of mushroom was placed in front of me by one waitress while another poured an individual jug of the absolutely wonderful soup into the bowl. Then came the main, I opted for whole grilled New England lobster, which was two halves and came with a side salad and your choice of any or all of asparagus, green bean chips or new potatoes. It was superb. Before dessert came a gin and tonic sorbet. My choice of dessert was coconut panna cotta and green tea ice cream. Finally, coffee and petit fours. A wonderful meal, we have all booked to return on January 3rd for a final treat before Southampton two days later. The restaurant manager told us that we were sensible to book now as for the last few days before Southampton they were always fully booked.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Epicurean Menu B.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal
WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Epicurean Menu B.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

30th December – At sea

The ‘Phantom Door Banger’ was back on schedule, if a fraction late this morning at 06:22. At first, I lay in the dark trying to get back to sleep but despite feeling sleepy and one or two big yawns, sleep eluded me. So, I put the bedside lamp on and read my Kindle which I have had on charge overnight ready for the day. The green light (indicating a full charge) is glowing so I will read until I get up and then top up the battery while I wash, dress and breakfast so it is ready for the day.

As I closed the cabin door, Will the cabin steward is in the cabin opposite and called that my cabin will be next and done while I was at breakfast. Down to breakfast in the MDR and I meet my regular breakfast companions. I am not terribly hungry having had such a cracking meal last night, so it was only Rice Krispies, followed by a mushroom omelette, buttered toast and coffee this morning and a good chat.

Back from breakfast and for the second time this holiday my key card fails to open my cabin door, just flashing red at me. I had a look for Will the cabin steward but he is not to be seen so off I trotted to the reception desk. “Have you had your card next to your phone, Sir?” asked the Indian receptionist. “No, it let me into the cabin last night OK and I placed it on the dressing table. My phone was, and still is, on the bedside table.” Off he goes and comes back a few minutes later and tells me my card checks out so he can’t understand what is wrong. “I can, the lock needs reprogramming and it was only done last week and a fresh battery put in it.” “But, but, but, but I have made you a new card,” said the Indian motorboat, “Please try it.” Useless still flashing red. Will came along, “Good morning, again Sir, I am sorry your door lock has failed again, and I can’t get in to clean it. Nor can my supervisor, he has called for the man to reprogram it.” The only one who knows what he is doing seems to be the cabin steward! Thirty minutes later I am in, and Will has the cabin all spick and span. Will they ever change the lock? Will it fail again before the end of the cruise? Stay tuned for the next thrilling instalment!

It is a bit dull and cool on deck, I might have to do my reading indoors today! At least if I read in the cabin, I can set the air conditioning to a level that suits me and I have Mr Fox to keep me company until lunchtime. I forgot to mention I showed Judy, one of last night’s dining companions, a photo of Mr Fox and she is off to get one for her granddaughter this morning! Perhaps I should ask the shop for commission.

I went to the Saffron MDR for lunch and as usual asked for a sharing table. Initially, I was joined by a couple and then a woman and her ancient mother-in-law. Well, all but the MiL moaned the whole time. Nothing on the ship was any good and the food was horrible. Oddly they all managed to eat their way through three courses and not leave an iota. The woman with the MiL, proceeded to tell me that the Epicurean was awful, the food terrible and the service abysmal! I said I had been twice, and the food had been magnificent and the service impeccable. She snorted and said I obviously had not had the lobster, her’s had been inedible. I countered with the fact that four of our party had last night and we had all agreed it had been outstanding. She changed the subject to moan about the entertainment. Obviously, a born moaner. All the while the MiL wanted to talk about the places we had been and how much she had enjoyed the trip and DiL kept cutting in complaining. I was delighted to finish my coffee, wish them happy cruising and make my escape.

As the day has gone on the temperature has gone down and the sea got a bit choppier. I suspect that tomorrow is not going to be a pleasant day at sea before we reach the Azores on New Year’s Day. This isn’t really a surprise to me as I have been there twice before, and it was cold and wet both times. Why should this be any different? It was also another change of clock tonight, so we will only be an hour behind you tomorrow. That does mean an almost empty dining room for breakfast.

I’m off for my dinner. I haven’t seen tonight’s menu as we were in the ‘posh’ restaurant last night so it’s going to be a surprise. Well, I choose my favourite tomato and basil soup and followed that with roast lamb, then sticky toffee pudding with vanilla sauce. A very British meal, but it was cracking. It was also Alister’s birthday today so we had a bottle of Champagne to celebrate which he appreciated. It is a big meal tomorrow for New Year’s Eve!

31st December – New Year’s Eve – At sea

I got a lay-in this morning as the door banged at 06:26. It was still pitch black out there having put the clocks forward another hour during the night, meaning we are only one hour behind GMT. Apparently, we are catching the southern edge of an Atlantic storm with the rollers hitting the ship on the side causing it to roll from side to side. It’s a very different type of movement from the pitching we suffered earlier in the cruise and the sick bags have been deployed in the stairwells.

During the night my watch has stopped, obviously needs a new battery, but they are unobtainable onboard. Good job I brought a spare watch with me, but it is on GMT and is highly complicated to adjust and I don’t have the manual with me. I will just have to remember that my watch is an hour adrift until we change the clocks again probably on Monday or Tuesday.

I went down for breakfast in the restaurant at my normal time of 07:55 and found it virtually empty. A 500-seat restaurant and I counted five other people in there. The waiters were standing around chatting or looking at the sea out of the windows. I was quickly joined by Sue 1, but we ate alone on a table for six. It was the usual Rice Krispies but today I followed it with two fried eggs, bacon and fried bread. The eggs slid around on the plate as the ship rolled! Buttered toast and coffee to finish. I am being very good and not putting marmalade on my toast, too much sugar. When we left the MDR there were no more than a dozen diners in there.

It’s much cooler this morning, only 15°C outside so I shall not be sitting on the balcony to read today. It’s going to be either the comfy chair in the cabin, in a bar or lounge. As I’m about early, getting a seat somewhere shouldn’t be a problem, but I suspect it might be difficult later. Shorts are disappearing and long trousers are replacing them, I have even started to see sweaters being donned. I expect I will be putting a jacket on for tomorrow’s excursion on the Azores. The midday announcement from the bridge tells us we only have 320 miles to go to the Azores and by the time we get there we should have passed the worst of the weather with the wind dropping right down and the sea state going from rough (four-metre swell) to calm.

I joined a table for eight for lunch and we discussed all sorts of things over our food. I had a ham salad baguette and treacle sponge and custard. We all agreed that we had never been on a cruise with so many whingers. It was a delight to be on a table where no one was complaining. I hear that on the first morning of the trip there were over 150 complaints that beds hadn’t been turned down and that there was no chocolate on the pillow. That was a service discontinued over three years ago!

Right, I am going to watch the live footie on the cabin TV, Man City v Everton. Plus they have promised all the goals, from all the other 3 o’clock kick-offs, as they go in and then it’s over to the Brighton v Arsenal game. That’s a better service than in the U.K.

Well, I must say that was an excellent set of football results; Man City draw, Newcastle draw, and Arsenal win. Now for a shave and a shower and it’s time to don my dress suit for the big New Year’s Eve dinner. I have photos of the menus for you to drool over, but for the record I started with the amuse-bouche (tomato and cucumber) which was not my favourite. Next came the starter, I had duck terrine and then it was Scotch Broth which was pretty good. Then a Champagne sorbet before I went for the duo of fish, fillets of turbot and halibut, which were terrific. For dessert I had tropical fruit salad steeped in Bucks Fizz. Little bits of Christmas cake came with the coffee.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
New Year’s Eve Menu.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal
WorthingGooner, Going Postal
New Year’s Eve Menu.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

Then it was the birthday of the Harry Hill lookalike on the table behind us and his wife had ordered a big chocolate cake for him. Well, they had two slices and passed the rest to our table to finish it off. We failed miserably and two slices were left over! I hope the waiter and his assistant finished it off.

1st January 2023 – New Year’s Day – Praia da Vitoria – Azores

This is the last island of this cruise and the coldest! When I was so rudely woken by the door banger at 06:20 this morning, it was still pitch dark outside and we were just off Praia. We came into what is a commercial port and turned through 180° so we are pointing out to sea. I put the Navigation Channel on the TV and it told me it was 10°C outside, that is bloody cold compared to the Caribbean. As it got light, a pretty little town was revealed on a very green island. Fortunately, there was only scattered cloud, and the sun was trying to come out, however, I will definitely be taking my jacket on my excursion today.

As it’s an early trip I must eat breakfast in the trough. Fortunately, it is pretty empty, so I was able to pick up fried eggs, bacon and fried bread without too much hassle. Back for coffee, toast and butter. Not bad, but I prefer to be served and I missed my Rice Krispies! Back to the cabin to pick up my iPhone, jacket and ticket, then down to Deck 4 where the gangway is located today. A rare treat, the excursion coaches are parked bang at the bottom of the gangway, no long walk down the pier and across a car park. Another first, the coach departed ten minutes early.

Gosh, it is quiet, hardly a car on the roads and no pedestrians to be seen. Everywhere is shut up, not even the tourist tat shops and the cafes are open. I suppose that’s because it is only 9 o’clock on New Year’s Day and it is a Sunday. I am on a tour around the south of the island, and we stopped at a number of viewpoints giving views over the volcanic island. Lots of extinct volcanoes (we were told the last eruption was 2,500 years ago) and tiny fields enclosed by dry stone walls. On the slope of the hills there are loads of pine forests, some of which are very dense. Loads of cows and bulls grazing in the fields. In fact, we were told there are 50,000 people on the island and 65,000 cows! Obviously, milk, butter and cream are major exports.

On to the town of Angra for a stop which would have been very nice if the shops had been open. There was one little cafe open opposite the church and as three coaches arrived within ten minutes, they were making a killing. However, it was very cheap, only €0.70 for a coffee. The only other place open was the Catholic Cathedral but as Mass was taking place I didn’t bother to stay. At least it was warming up and a big sign said it was 11:10 and 16°C. Back to the ship in time for lunch. A prawn salad baguette and chunky chips went down very well.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Angra Botanic Garden.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

Back to the cabin to lose my jacket as its not necessary inside the ship. I popped the TV on to see that Totteringham Hotspurts are drawing nil-nil with Aston Vanilla at halftime so I stayed to watch the second half. Oh dear, the Spuds concede twice and lose at home. What a shame, I don’t think they are going to finish higher than the Gunners this year.

In the captain’s six o’clock sailing announcement tonight he did his normal ‘Everyone is back on board, and we will shortly be sailing for Southampton’ bit. Then he added that if he sailed the normal line of northeast from the Azores to the Channel the ship would hit some very rough weather in the early hours of the morning. So instead, he was going to head due east towards northern Spain and then turn north to miss the worst of the weather. I am writing this about 10:30 at night and the ship is moving only very slightly, but I can hear the wind. I wonder if we are going to get it rough?

There wasn’t a huge amount I really fancied on the menu tonight. There was chicken Kiev but last time it was on it didn’t look very nice, so I decided to give it a miss and stick with dishes I know and trust. So tonight, it was tomato soup, a medium rare sirloin steak and chips, followed by ice cream for dessert. You can’t go wrong with that menu. Coffee and chocolate peppermint creams to finish off with. Most enjoyable.

2nd January – At Sea

The captain’s idea of heading more east than north seems to be working, the ship is moving a bit, but we have been through rougher seas earlier on this trip. Of course, it might be early days and we could be in for worse yet, but he did warn about it getting bad overnight and if it did, I must have slept through it. I suppose I better get up and ready for my Rice Krispies.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Choppy and Misty.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

I wandered down to the Bay Tree Restaurant for breakfast which was once again almost empty at 8 o’clock on a choppy sea day. As has become normal for the last fortnight, I was allocated table number 100 where a minute later I was joined by Sue 1 from my evening table. Another two minutes and we were joined by a very pleasant couple from Immingham. While we were having our order taken, I heard Sue 1 say, “Oh no,” and we were joined by a couple who we know are on their honeymoon. This is both of their second marriages, and they must be in their 80s. She is very loud and has awful table manners and I suspect he has had a stroke and is terribly slow and hardly speaks.

Sue 1 invariably has a tomato juice and eggs benedict and toast & marmalade. The couple usually both have porridge and a banana, which they share, sliced up in the porridge, then fruit salad, before toast & marmalade. I invariably start with Rice Krispies, but I like to have different things to follow and the waiter likes to try and guess what I am going to order. I won hands down this morning with a mushroom omelette, bacon and black pudding. He guessed two fried eggs on toast!

I have got my kindle on charge, so I took my iPad and found a seat near the Costa coffee outlet on Deck 7 where the wi-fi is particularly good. It is cold and windy on deck. I posted a bit on GP, checked my emails, had a look at Farcebook and then picked up the book I am reading in my Kindle, on the Kindle iPad app. Electronics is clever when it works.

I had a nice easy morning interrupted a couple of times by people I have met earlier on the cruise stopping and chatting and a mid-morning coffee. I headed up to the cabin to leave the iPad before I went to lunch and put the iPad on charge. Down to lunch where I was seated on a table with two couples I have eaten with separately on other occasions. Strangely both the husbands were ex-policemen, one had done 35 years and ended up a desk sergeant, the other twenty years most of them as a dog handler. An interesting lunch with lots of laughter. Oh, I had an Asian fried chicken burger and chips with salted caramel ice cream for dessert.

Back to the cabin for a quick post-lunch nap. When I woke up the ship had changed its heading a bit and was heading more northerly. The weather had also changed, the sea was less choppy with a more long, slow swell, but it was also very misty and as the ship rolled gently it creaked. I put on Sky Sports News to see what the lower-division football scores were while reading and playing with the iPad. Then it was time for the Brentford v Liverpool match on the TV via Sport 24.

Back from the most chaotic dinner of the cruise. After taking the orders for our meal our regular waiter and his assistant informed us that they were taking part in a waiter’s dancing act at 21:30 and that they would be relieved by another pair partway through the meal. Well, it all started off OK. We all got our starters, and they were cleared away and the mains were served to everyone except the man who insists on having a fish course which he got.

Then the replacements arrived and from that moment things fell apart. The man with the fish finished it quickly, well it was only a small fillet of fish and sat waiting for his main course of roast lamb. It was sitting on the side waiting to be served but nothing happened. The rest of us finished our mains and still his main sat on the side. We all tried asking the waiter for it, but he simply did not understand and brought the man a dessert. That might have been OK, but it wasn’t the dessert he had ordered!

After 25 minutes they realised it was his dinner on the side and served it, but it was stone cold. The waiter said he would fetch a fresh one, but the man said just bring me my dessert and they brought back the wrong dessert. He said, “Bugger it, I’ll eat it anyway,” and just as he raised his spoon the plate was whipped away and the correct dessert arrived. It would have made a good episode of Fawlty Towers.

However, my food was excellent, Pate to start, then beer-battered cod, chips and mushy peas with ice cream for dessert, then coffee and shortbread. Now it’s just time for a nightcap and an early night as we lose an hour’s sleep with the clock going forward at 2 am.

3rd January – At Sea

My human alarm clock woke me at exactly six twenty this morning by my array of timepieces; iPhone, iPad, travel clock and watch. Having lost an hour in the night I dozed until almost seven and didn’t put the bedside light on until then. I have decided I had better start packing this morning. Not that it’s going to take too long as I only have one case to worry about, I just want to be able to do it slowly and methodically.

Down to breakfast for Rice Krispies and a mushroom omelette with the normal people and enjoyed a nice chat putting the world to rights. It’s amazing how many people have the same views as me, I suspect that a cruise is not for the left wingers of this world.

Back up and it is packing time. I could leave it until tomorrow, the last full day of the cruise but there is not much exciting going on so today is good. It always amazes me how much quicker it is packing to go home. It’s probably because most things have been used and if they are just chucked in the case what does it matter? By lunchtime, I have got almost everything in the case, and it still zips up!

A quick lunch, chicken salad baguette and chips, and my stomach has started to complain so it’s back to the cabin. Seven visits to the bog later I was feeling a little drained, so I decided that getting dressed up in my penguin suit and bow tie for a really posh dinner in the Epicurean would have to take a miss. Instead, I had absolutely nothing to eat and an early night.

4th January – At Sea (last full day)

I woke at the normal time and turned over for another 30 minutes. I feel a lot better this morning and I think I could face some breakfast, so I got down to the restaurant just after the normal time of five to eight, to be greeted by the receptionist telling me that my normal breakfast companion, Sue 1, hadn’t arrived yet so if I’d like to go to the normal table, No.100, she will save a place for her. Sue arrived a couple of minutes later, followed swiftly by our regular breakfast companions from Immingham. I took breakfast very gently and only had Rice Krispies and a plain omelette!

Back from breakfast and the cabin door lock has failed for the third time this cruise! This time even reprogramming it fails and the deck officer has to go and get a real key! Once in, he changed the batteries, but that made not one iota of difference. After about 20 failed attempts at reprogramming, he called maintenance, and I was stuck waiting for them to bother coming. If I leave the cabin, I will not be able to get back in until they sort it out. Good job I hadn’t got anything planned for this morning!

The steward has been in to tidy up and make the bed. He says mine is an easy cabin to do as I keep it neat and tidy. He is a good lad and has earned a decent tip tomorrow morning. It is now 11:50 and I am still waiting for maintenance to fix this bloody lock. They don’t deserve a tip, exactly the opposite. It is getting perilously close to lunchtime and if I leave the cabin, I will not be able to get back in. Perhaps I should phone reception and demand free room service!

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
My Liquid Soap.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

One day before the end of the holiday and the cabin steward has decided not to replace the P&O tablet of soap in the bathroom as he normally does when it starts to get small. Instead, I have a dispenser of the ‘White Company’ liquid hand wash in addition to the remaining soap. This is besides liquid body wash and shampoo in the shower. As I don’t think I will have any reason to start the hand wash I think it might be accompanying Mr Ferdinand Fox home in my hand luggage. It has a floral scent, not one I would normally purchase but the cleaner will love using it as the carbolic-smelling one in the kitchen is almost finished.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
My Handwash.
© WorthingGooner 2023, Going Postal

Three hours later and I am still waiting for the maintenance man and it’s time for lunch, so I phone reception and politely complain. The receptionist takes a note of the cabin number and promises to have someone come immediately. Five minutes later he arrives apologising that he has only just got the message from reception. It seems the deck officer had done absolutely f. all. I am getting a completely new lock, so I take the opportunity to get a hot dog with double-fried onions for lunch. Thirty minutes later there are bits of lock mechanism all over the floor and a moaning maintenance man, apparently the screw holes don’t line up!

Twenty to two and the new lock is in place, but it needs to be programmed. Five to two the man with the lock programming device arrives and it still refuses to work. They change the batteries again and it still refuses to work! This is becoming a farce. The maintenance man thinks the programming machine is buggered; the programmer thinks it’s the lock. I just want it fixed. So, the batteries have been changed twice, to no effect, the card reader has been charged, still nothing. After a discussion, they decide the only original part is the battery holder and a little girl arrives with a replacement and bingo it works. That five hours to fix it that are lost and gone forever.

Well, an easy afternoon reading, it’s cold out on deck so the lounges are busy. Most of my packing is done. I have my duty-free booze to collect before 17:00 and that will go in the hand luggage with my washing kit and a few other bit and bobs like medication. Once showered and changed into my clothes for the evening (I will also wear them to travel in tomorrow), I put my suitcase outside my cabin door. The cabin stewards from nearby were all gathered a few yards down the gangway, loading cases into luggage cages and taking them down to the bowels of the ship in the service lifts.

The last meal with the table gang. It was a near repeat of a menu from a bit back. I enjoyed tomato soup, a pork loin steak and ice cream. I was being careful to eat a fairly bland meal as I don’t want to set my stomach off again.

5th January – Southampton and home

I woke early as we were heading up the Solent and lay in bed watching the coast slip by, it was too early for breakfast and in any case, it was going to be the dreaded buffet this morning as the staff from the MDRs were on luggage duty. We passed the cruise terminal and swung through 180° in the turning basin before moving back to the terminal. I had a couple of fried eggs on toast for breakfast before going to grab my jacket and hand baggage before heading to the theatre which was my disembarkation point.

We were supposed to disembark at 08:30. But nothing happened. At 08:45 they announced they hoped to start in another 15 minutes. It was finally another 40 minutes before I was disembarked and in the baggage hall. I found my case and trudged through a deserted customs and out to the car park. Finally, I got to the car just after 10:00. The trip home was easy, I expected extra traffic due to the rail strike, but it didn’t materialise and I was home by 11:20.

One last little bit to add, the LGND came to see me when she got home from school and Mr Ferdinand Fox was an immediate hit. However, he is now Timmy Fox.

© WorthingGooner 2023