It’s a week now since our suitcases were put outside the cabin and our adventure was coming to an end.
Deb and I have lived in a bit of a dream since we came home, as life began to revert to normal. The washing is completed, the suitcases put away in the loft, the cupboards have been restocked with food, and the freezer is filling up. We have bought seeds and Deb has just about filled all the available space in the greenhouse with pots and trays of flowers and vegetables for the summer.
There is still a list of things that need doing such as digging the vegetable plot, getting rid of a forest of weeds that have appeared, empty last year’s compost bin and spread its goodness on the soil. The water butts need to go back to their proper places and connected up so they gather the precious water for the dry (hopefully) moments during the summer. The lawns need another cut and then be given a first dose of ‘weed and feed’ to turn it back to dandelion less and green delight.
Turning to more major projects, the shed needs to be re-roofed, and the greenhouse is scheduled to be changed for a glass one rather than the noisy plastic panelled one we have at present. We want new carpets in the bedrooms and the dining room, the settees need replacing, and we want a fence and gate across the gap at the bottom of our front garden.
On my personal ‘to do’ list there are three outstanding book projects in various stages, plus of course the book of the world cruise needs to be started, while it is still fresh in my mind.
Sadly Deb and I can only get on with our lists a little bit at a time. We have both got annoying colds since our return, but more importantly, our minds are still in cruise mode, and memories are far too vivid to shove to the back of our brains for a while yet.
So, how can I summarise those 104 days, those 30 or so different countries, those 50 or more cities that we visited, those hundreds of amazing memories, and thousands of smiles and laughs?
There were bad moments, and this blog has probably captured many of them, but are they what I will remember most, and will they sour the experience?
Was this a good cruise? …Yes of course it was.
Was it a very good cruise? …Yes for most of the time.
Was it better than the first world circumnavigation five years ago? …No, the buzz and excitement of the experience wasn’t so intense.
Would I do it again? …Yes in a flash, but I don’t think it will happen, and I believe the experience would be even less exciting, and become what I noticed on several faces of those who repeat the winter world cruise as a habit. They don’t see it as an adventure; it is just what they do to avoid the winter.
I will try and break it down now.
The experience of sailing into and away from exotic countries and cities, is still amazing. Only on a cruise ship can you savour the sights of a cityscape, and only on a world cruise can you drool at the first glimpses of iconic bridges and buildings in the morning twilight, and see them disappearing into the distance in the evening dusk as your floating home moves onto another city or country, or even continent. It is not like a Mediterranean cruise, you can go on these several times each summer and revisit cities and island, if you have the money and the time. A world cruise opens up the possibility of seeing places that are thousands of miles away and British-based ships rarely venture so far away.
Yes of course you can go by plane and experience the culture of the far east, the fun of Australasia, or the excitement of California, but you can never squeeze in so many different places with the comfort of a floating hotel.
On this trip I enjoyed our first visit to Malta near the beginning of the cruise, but I wasn’t so enthused generally about the first couple of sectors. Jordan was amazing for the ruggedness of the desert. The cocktail party and the water display in Dubai were sensational, but the city itself has become too glitzy and too big, in my personal belief. We saw a lot of what I can only describe as dirty cities and countries. India is a rich country with ambitions to be big and successful, but there are so many poor people, in poor towns, who seem to be ignored while the richer city centres get glitzier and bigger without thought for the less well-off, and less able people a few miles, or just metres, away.
The cruise was described as being a Heritage Cruise to remember 180 years of P&O sailing around the world, and yes we saw a great deal of history, with colonial buildings built as the trade routes expanded across the Indian Ocean. But the majority of these buildings are being forgotten for what they were, and if not modernised behind the original facades they are being allowed to decay, or simply pulled down and described by the guides as the site of a once-famous and important historical landmark.
Then we reached Singapore. This is a city that remembers its history, and modernises those colonial buildings whilst keeping their appearance. At the same time the city is growing, and is mixing glass and steel amongst its brick covered past. It is clean, vibrant, and fantastic. And it was like a turning point on the cruise. The two days in Singapore cheered us all up and the next three sectors were exciting and stimulating.
The majority of the cities we went to were clean. The people were friendly and generally looked to be comfortable with life. And yes, virtually everyone spoke English.
The island of Indonesia provided a wonderful tour of Buddhist temples and traditional ways of life. Its busy population and packed roads meant travelling in convoy and having police cars with blue lights and sirens everywhere we went but we quickly got used to it. Sadly we had a real tropical shower that lasted nearly an hour. It turned green and beautiful forests and fields into floods of muddy water. We realised just how volatile the tropical weather can be. The only real disappointment of Indonesia was the Port of Semarang which stank of something no one could recognise, but everyone felt concerned by it.
From there we moved onto Bali. This was a place where we had bad memories of our visit in 2012. We couldn’t forget, or forgive, and stayed firmly close to the ship.
After quite a period at sea we arrived at a run of ports in Australia. I will always be excited at the smiling happy people, and a country that I once thought I would never see beyond the pictures on the television, or in books. Now I have been there twice, and seen several of its beautiful major cities, plus the enchanting Kangaroo Island that was both a surprise and a delight. I love the country and will always feel proud and amazed that I ever got there.
From there we continued to New Zealand. There was more rain but sensational places to visit, starting with the southern Fjords before sampling both the South and North Island. Just as five years ago, the local people were eager to please and show us their homeland.
Aurora moved eastwards across the Pacific, for a day on the island of with Fiji. Finally we had sunshine and true heat on a beautiful tour. Next was Apia (Samoa) and once again the weather smiled on us as we explored another delightful Pacific Island.
Now we had a long run of sea days until Honolulu in Hawaii where we climbed a volcano to see the island from above.
It was all so wonderful and the sector ended in San Francisco where once again the weather cleared to make our two day stay superb. OK we didn’t get to Alcatraz as we had hoped to, but had a sensational time exploring on our own as well as an open top bus tour. We also had the most amazing experience of an organised trip on a restored vintage train along the Napa Valley. It included wine tasting and a delicious lunch. It cost more than we have ever paid for a tour and we thought carefully before we booked it. ..But it was sensational.
From San Francisco we had a series of stops beginning with San Diego before leaving the USA for a visit to Mexico at Cabo San Lucas. After that was Guatemala. We stopped at Puerto Quetzal, which was perhaps not the nicest of ports, but where we had a really good tour to an Orchid farm and a Macadamia plantation.
Now came the transit of the Panama Canal that was still as exciting and spectacular on our second visit.
Aurora was now in the Caribbean and we had a call at Cartagena in Colombia. This was a bit of a let-down. We had a tour that showed us many intriguing places but the fast pace and the guide made it less than interesting. We had the ship’s tour lecturer with us, and she shouted regularly at the guide to slow down, and rescued what could have been a disaster.
Onwards and we visited St Lucia. Here we experienced another first and had a tour on a catamaran to see the Piton Volcanoes and finally had a swim in the Caribbean Sea. Oh, and we drank rather too much Rum Punch, and got a little sunburnt.
The next day it was Barbados and our last taste of sunshine before the long crossing of the Atlantic towards home. There was just one more stop in the Azores where the sun had lost its heat, but which was still a lovely day.
The final days were not nice. We had a three-day storm to remind us that we were returning home for the last few weeks of winter. Those days were disappointing, but could not spoil a superb couple of sectors. The passengers were visibly happier and smiling more as we enjoyed the sunshine and some wonderful ports.
So how about the things that makes a cruise special?
The entertainment was not as good as we remembered from five years ago. There were far too many vocalists, including at least four female ones that described their act as a tribute to the Divas. I am sure many people enjoyed them but we prefer something to laugh at or be surprised by occasionally. The comedians, and speciality acts – magicians, conjurors and ventriloquist were superb, but many jokes and tricks were repeated. The on-board entertainment team were a let-down. Not because they were bad, but because there weren’t enough of them for a major three month cruise. For the first few days after San Francisco we had two trained hosts plus the DJ along with two absolutely brand-new girls. This pair had to be trained and prepared by the others before being let loose on their own. It meant we had no special events and even the Syndicate Quiz ran with just one host.
…We deserved better!
Finally I will talk about the food.
This is the 18th year we have been cruising, and generally we have always enjoyed the majority of the meals served in the main dining room…but not this time. A new menu was introduced last summer (2016) and everyone seemed to be raving about it. Personally we found it boring with far too much fish on the menus, which were obviously not easy to repeat and keep the interest. The vegetables were tasteless, and featured the same things over and over with just subtle changes. Mashed potato featured regularly but never tasted right. Topping it with cheese, or mixing it with herbs, did not help.
Passengers were being forced to go to the speciality restaurants, but not as a treat, but as a change to excite the taste buds again. I hadn’t realised just how boring the menu and taste of the food was until we got home and my taste senses exploded with simple home cooking.
So after a lot of negative thoughts, how can I possibly say that the cruise was a sensational experience and worth the small fortune we aid for it?
Well, the ports of call and the cities were amazing. Even the places we have seen before were special because we made the most of what was on offer. We explored some cities on our own, but also had some wonderful organised trips.
We also enjoy life on a ship – well maybe not the rough weather – but generally we find the days at sea and the evenings of organised fun, plus the pampering is a real treat.
And we made some wonderful friends. The six of us who turned up on the first evening at the dinner table gelled. It took a day or two but we quickly shared our evenings together, and chatted or laughed as if we had known each other for a lifetime. We were comfortable with each other. Now the six of us have gone our own ways, but we will be meeting again in two years’ time for another winter away on a cruise ship.
In January 2019 we will all be departing Southampton on Aurora again for a trip to the Amazon and Caribbean, and we have all tagged on a second cruise at the end going to the fringe of the Arctic Europe. It will be over 10 weeks at sea, and maybe things won’t prove to be as good, but hopefully we will resurrect our friendship and the food will improve, and the entertainment will be more varied as we plough the Atlantic Ocean again.
In three months Deb and I are off again with a sort cruise on little Adonia. In the meantime we will be travelling around the country to see friends and family, so I will be posting about our other adventures.
Thanks for taking the time to read these adventures of Deb and George as we sailed around the world. It has been sensational and I would truly jump at the chance to go again, but as I said at the end of my first book about world cruising – There is an awful lot more of the world to see yet.
So that is the end of this blog. It will remain on the website for people to read, and you are welcome to drop us a few comments…but not about Viagra or Advertising other website please.
Bi for now