June 11th – Embarkation day
Up early this morning but I am in no rush to do anything. I must drive to Southampton later and park at the Ocean Terminal. Time to potter around, make sure all the windows and doors are closed, empty the kitchen bin and put a clean bin liner in it. I have half a loaf to chuck out for the birds, I don’t want to return to a ball of green slime! There is also an unopened pint of milk in the fridge, I’ll take it round to the LGND’s mummy, I’m sure she will be happy to use it. I think I will go and put the car through the car wash it is filthy.
No Larry at 8 o’clock! I expect it will be put up just as I set out for the ship. I’ll have to check once on board, and I have got on to the ship’s internet. Just checked the weather forecast and there is a 45% chance of thunderstorms in Southampton at boarding time, I better put a jacket in the car just in case.
Just checking my email before I go, and I have two emails from P&O one telling me I have 0 days before my holiday and the second says 102 weeks before my holiday. Discounting this one I only have four more booked so where are the messages for the others!
I’m ready to go and there is a ring on the doorbell, it is the LGND and her mummy. Apparently the LGND wanted to say goodbye. Well, that’s saved me knocking on their door as I have an unopened pint of milk, a bottle of Tango apple juice and a packet of small Bakewell tarts I was going to donate as they will all be out of date before I get home. The LGND had on her new glasses, and I told her how nice they made her look. Her mummy mouthed ‘Thank you’ as she is supposed to wear them all the time but is reluctant. Anyway, she said, “Goody, I like fizzy orange.” We told her it was still apple juice and she insisted Tango was fizzy orange. I’m afraid she is in for a surprise. But she added, “Daddy likes Bakewells,” so that’s OK.
I plugged my phone in my car radio and CarPlay took over. I pressed the button on the steering wheel and told it, “Directions to the Ocean Terminal, Southampton,” and it gave me the option of going via the Itchen toll bridge or a toll-free route that was 10 miles longer, so I opted to pay the £1 toll and off I went. Then Google Maps gave me the route and said it would take one hour and nineteen minutes. There was little traffic on the road, and I was in no hurry, and I pulled into the place, opposite the ship where they check your car in one hour and 23 minutes later. I was just over an hour early for my 15:30 check-in. I dumped my case at the hole in the wall that said it was for Deck Nine forward and headed for the departures building. It was then I realised I had forgotten to pick up my jacket on the way out, I hope I can buy one on board if I need one.
Apparently, I was a naughty boy arriving early, and got put in a snaking queue labelled “Early Arrivals” with several hundred others. Ten minutes later, having moved down two lengths of the queue a voice started calling out, “Any 3:30 arrival this way please,” and I bye-passed the queue and went straight into the terminal and up an escalator to the check-in area. It was too good to be true as I joined another snaking queue, but this one was moving quickly mainly because there were about 50 check-in desks. The girl who checked me in was one for few words and said, “Good afternoon, boarding pass and passport port please.” She then checked the passport against a screen, stamped the boarding pass ‘OK to Board’ and said, “You can board now.” I reckon it took under a minute.
So off I trotted towards the ‘Embarkation’ sign, where there were a dozen X-ray machines and magnetic arches. Hand luggage goes into a tray along with my watch, keys phone, coins and belt. At least I didn’t set off the magnetic arch. As I strapped my watch back on, the lady who came through behind me said, “I wonder why you had to take off your watch when I didn’t.” She also had on a chunky metal necklace and dangling metal earrings and I was having to hold up my trousers with one hand until I could get my belt back on!
Then it’s down the slope of the air bridge thingy and onto the ship another check of the boarding pass, and I’m directed to my muster station, which is the Headliners Theatre. They scan the QR code on the pass to record you have been there and off to the cabin which is up three decks. Well I’m buggered if I’m walking up, walking down is a different thing, so I join the queue for the bank of eight lifts. It seems that everyone in front of me is doing down and the first lift to arrive is going up. Excellent.
The key card for my cabin door is in the rack and I have beaten my suitcase. This is a big cabin with a sofa that converts into another bed, a huge TV, in fact it is probably the biggest cabin I have ever had. A few minutes later the cabin steward arrives and starts telling me where everything is, this is my 21st cruise I already know how things work and where they are. So, I tip him and tell him if he looks after me there will be more at the end of the cruise, I find this works well. A quick look at my watch tells me it is 3:00 so I am well ahead of myself. I am thirsty so it’s up to the crow’s nest on Deck 17 (by lift) to wet my whistle.
I have literally just sat down, and the waiter arrives, so I order the first beer of the holiday. It is then that I realise it’s pouring with rain outside! I wondered why so many people were indoors, loads are usually outside on deck getting a feel for the ship. Should I have another beer? I decide I better go and see if my case has arrived as I would like to unpack before dinner. As I walk past the service lifts my cabin steward sees me and tells me he has delivered my suitcase. I’m sure if I hadn’t just tipped him, he would have ignored me.
Why does unpacking take a quarter the time it takes to pack? I even get the chance to look at the news on the TV and chuckle at Wee Krankie being arrested. So, it’s off to dinner. This ship is all ‘freedom dining’ meaning that you can book a time to eat in any of the restaurants, or just turn up on spec. I prefer fixed dining where you have a set time and eat with the same people. Still, I land up on a table for eight and everyone is quite pleasant, I would be happy if put on a table with any of them again.
A quick scan of the menu and I decide on tomato soup with basil oil and croutons for a starter followed by herb-crusted roast lamb. The thick slices of meat were absolutely delicious. I choose berry pavlova for dessert and the waiter whispered, “Would you like some ice cream with that?” So of course I said, “Yes, vanilla please.” It was excellent. Coffee to finish up but no petit fours. I wonder if P&O have found another money saver.
Back up to the Crow’s Nest for an after-dinner drink. It is about half as full as it was earlier. I guess people are eating or have gone to one of the shows. I did spot a queue outside the main dining room as I came out and perhaps half a dozen waiting outside the Six Street Diner as I walked by. I’m not sure I want burger and fries for my main meal of the day. Mind you some of the alternative places to eat look OK. For example, the Quays, where they offer, fish, chips and mushy peas, roast beef and veg in a giant Yorkshire or a speciality that varies by the evening, Chinese one night, sushi another. And as you are serving yourself you can mix it up and have, say, roast beef and chips.
Well not a bad first day, I have booked myself into the Meridian main dining room for waiter service breakfast in the morning, I am not eating in the buffet unless I absolutely have to. The ship’s clocks go forward an hour to European time overnight. I wonder if my watch, which is supposed to work off a radio signal, will adjust itself to the signal out of Berlin? Well, I have another watch with me in case I have a problem.
June 12th – At Sea
The clocks were changed to European time overnight rendering my watch an hour out as it must still be receiving the British signal, time to drag my old watch out of the safe. We are only down opposite the Channel Islands, so perhaps it will put itself right tonight, when it gets its update at 3 am, we will be deep into the Bay of Biscay, heading for La Coruna. The ship’s Wi-Fi is on the blink this morning. It runs off an onboard app that doesn’t appear to stay up for more than a few seconds at a time. This is a bit of a bugger, you need the My Holiday app to do just about anything on board including book a restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
The only problem with my cabin is that it is at the opposite end of the ship to the main dining room and it’s a long walk! It is however handy for the Crow’s Nest as it is directly above me, even if it is seven decks up! But the bank of eight lifts helps. I did wonder how hard getting a lift on a ship this size was going to be but so far, I have not had to wait very long. Mind you I have probably spoken too soon.
So, I’ve had breakfast on a sharing table for eight, but one empty space. Two people on their first cruise, but one man on his 52nd. I doubt I will live long enough to rack up that many. I ordered my usual Rice Krispies. I followed them with egg, bacon, sausage, fried bread and half a grilled tomato (unasked for as I detest them) which I left. Then I amused the lady next to me by asking for ‘square toast’, which I had to explain was a slice of toasted bread with no crust. She then ordered her full English with fried bread (it’s not on the menu) and square toast. Her daughter proceeded to pinch her mother’s toast saying it was so much better than the ordinary triangular stuff and how did she know to ask for it!
Back to my cabin to sit on the balcony to read and update this log. The ship’s Wi-Fi is still down, so lunch is going to be fun as you can’t book anything. It is causing all sorts of other problems; the cabin steward says he couldn’t clock on at the start of his shift. The cabin phones are all down as they are Wi-Fi.
I decided to not bother with a big lunch and headed for the 16th deck where there are several pools and I guessed there would be a fast-food outlet and I was right. Next to a pool was a place to pick up burgers, hotdogs, pizza, street food and chips. I grabbed a hotdog and chips, found a poolside table in the sun coming through the skydome roof and ordered a beer. The skydome is a retractable glass roof over the pool and surrounding area that makes the pool usable 365 days a year. In the evening the pool is covered, and a huge screen can show films. There is also a stage for performances.
Back in the cabin the ship had moved out of what is technically the Channel and turned south across the Bay of Biscay and the sun has hit my balcony. So, I took to a chair with my Kindle. The cabin phone came back up around 15:30, but the My Holiday app is still not working.
On sea days the captain of the ship always says a few words over the Tannoy at six in the evening. Tonight, he apologised for the broken My Holiday app and explained that fixing it was beyond the capabilities of anyone on board! He said all the ‘brains’ back in the Southampton head office were working on it and a specialist was flying out to meet the ship in La Corunna tomorrow. But for tonight if anyone had made a restaurant reservation before the system crashed, they would be honoured. But all the restaurants would otherwise be operating on a first come first served basis tonight.
I went down to dinner with trepidation, but although there was a queue it moved quickly, and I found myself on a sharing table of eight strangers. Very pleasant company and everyone seemed to get on. I tucked into mushroom soup which was very tasty, a medium rare sirloin steak and chips and apple strudel with custard and ice cream, all washed down with a large glass of chilled house white which was quite decent.
Tuesday 13th June – La Corunna, Spain
Good morning from a grey and grotty La Corunna where it has been raining and the forecast for today is thunderstorms. I have been here several times and it is quite a pleasant port on the north-western tip of Spain at the extreme south of the Bay of Biscay and the closest European port to New York. There are some nice local beaches, one within walking distance from where we have docked at ‘Transatlantic Quay’, but I can’t see them getting much use today.
I have booked a trip this morning for a coach ride and a visit to the ‘world famous’ aquarium. When I got back from dinner last night a note had been posted under my cabin door saying that all signage in the aquarium was in Spanish and Galician and there was a strict no-photography rule. If this had been made clear when I booked the trip, I might well have chosen something different but it’s a bit late telling me at 11:30 at night!
My trip isn’t until 10:15 so I popped down to the Meridian Restaurant for a waiter-service breakfast. I was the first person seated on a table of eight and was quickly joined by a couple from South Wales. The waiter gave us the breakfast menu, which I know off by heart, and asked the usual question, tea or coffee, the couple both asked for tea, and I asked for coffee. However, when I took a sip, it was tea, hot and strong as I would normally drink it, so rather than complaining I just got on with it. I ordered Rice Krispies followed by two poached eggs on toast and asked for ‘square toast’, which arrived after a few minutes just as some more people joined the table and the waiter plonked my square toast down in front of them and they grabbed it saying, “Oh, look different toast to usual,” and me thinking that was mine so I had to order more.
I really can’t understand why a table for eight gets set up with the same size jug of milk, and the same amount of butter and marmalade as a table for two. If three people have cereal the milk is all gone, the butter might do three and the marmalade two. We were forever asking the waiter for more! Perhaps it’s a way to save money as some people are reluctant to ask for more. It’s like the plated evening meals. There was a large man on my table last night, I don’t mean fat, but he was at least 6’ 6” and solid. He and his wife were on their first cruise, and he was complaining that the portion sizes were too small for his appetite so I suggested that he ask the waiter for an extra-large portion of the roast turkey he said he was going to order. He did so and was delighted to receive what looked like a double serving which he demolished. People don’t seem to realise that they can ask for more, I have seen people have three starters, no main and two desserts and the waiter not turn a hair.
As requested, I was on the coach for my excursion by 10 o’clock and the courier announced we were three short, so we would wait until the advertised departure time of 10:15. Of course by 19 minutes past no one had arrived so off we went. I suppose a visit to the aquarium as sold was too much to expect, instead we made a 30-minute stop at the Tower of Hercules lighthouse which is OK if you have not been before several times! Then on to the aquarium where we were advised not to miss the shark in the basement tank or the 12:30 feeding of the sea lions in an outdoor pool.
I did wander around a bit but didn’t really know what I was looking at. However, the shark was a disappointment, it was only about 2’ long! There was a tank with what at first sight appeared to house a single seahorse, but on closer inspection there were hundreds of tiny seahorses about 2mm long. I did see a moray eel in one tank, nasty looking thing! So, I wandered outside for the feeding of the sea lions. At exactly 12:30 two keepers arrived on a floating platform in the open-air sea lion pond. Two sea lions appeared from the far side of the pool, were thrown a fish each and that was it, the keepers buggered off. I popped into the aquarium gift shop and couldn’t resist a cuddly toy for the LGND.
Back on the coach the courier wanted to know if we had enjoyed the visit. There was a general grunt in reply. No one wanted to say it was crap, sometimes we Brits are too polite for our own good. The trip then took the long way back to the ship ‘to show us the sights.’ They need not have bothered; I don’t consider the school that Pablo Picasso attended until he was 12 a highlight. Back to the ship arriving at nearly 2 o’clock, too late for lunch in the dining room so I headed up to the trough (otherwise known as the buffet). It was bedlam.
You would think people hadn’t eaten for a week with huge piles of food on their plates. I found the roast beef and horseradish mini baguettes. Very nice but could have done with more horseradish. I walked right to the far end of the buffet where it was almost deserted as it was a long way from where the food was being served. Got a coffee from one of the machines, real coffee (not instant), OK, but it is not a patch on the coffee served in the dining room.
Back in the cabin I find the My Holiday app is back working so I quickly book dinner tonight while I still can! I think it’s time to sit on the balcony and read my Jack Reacher book on my Kindle. I’m 20% through the book and he hasn’t killed or beaten up anyone yet. His standards are slipping.
My stomach is rumbling so it must be getting near time for dinner! Time for a quick shower and shave. The bathrooms on the ship are pretty modern and I rather like the perspex shower cubical. The one thing I don’t like is the mixer tap on the washbasin, it has some sort of spray attachment in the outlet, and it restricts the water flow making it take ages to get an inch in the basin.
Off down to dinner, and the girl on the restaurant reception asks the same questions, cabin number and do you want a sharing table. I always share as you meet all sorts of people. They have an electronic plan of the restaurant and know which tables are occupied and if sharing tables are full. They then have a waiter guide you to the table. Number 379 tonight, and the guide has no idea where it is! He leads me on a tour of the dining room before I spot it and say to him, “It’s over here.” It is a table for six and there are two people already there perusing the menu. We are swiftly joined by two others and then it’s into the standard routine, menu, glass of iced water, choice of bread roll, soft, crispy, brown, white, seedy, they have them all. Then the wine waiter pounces, I have a glass of house white, perfectly nice dry white, but the couple who were first on the table go into a long discussion with the wine waiter and land up with some flash white costing £14 a glass!
Then the waiter arrives to take the orders, the starters don’t really appeal so it is back to my old favourite tomato soup. The lady next to me had some sort of crushed avocado and tomato mixture with a ton of garlic in it, she said it tasted better than it looked! Next came herb-crusted loin of veal. It was superb. Three of the table had roasted breast of chicken and the last man had a sirloin steak. The only thing that was left on the plates was chicken bones! Mixed fruit crumble and custard for dessert, of course with extra ice cream. Then up to the Crow’s Nest for a drink or two before retiring, it’s vodka and lemon for me tonight.
In Chapter 3 – Two days at Sea and then Palma
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