Category Archives: Deb’s Blog

An Azura Cruise – part four

Tuesday 9 October – Gibraltar

Our final stop today, and we were docked before dawn.  As day broke it was obvious that the weather wasn’t too great, with heavy clouds that obscured the Rock all through our stay.  And we did get drizzled on while we were ashore, but nothing major – and the sun broke theough shortly before we left.

Lots of passengers were leaving the ship with small (and not-so-small) suitcases presumably to stock up on booze and ciggies, but we had no plans to do the same.  For the past few months I’ve been looking for a particular ceramic pot for our bathroom, and that was all we browsed for today.  Still no luck, so I’ll look again when we go to Germany in a couple of months’ time.  But we had a good walk to Casemate Square and along High Street as far as the Government building: by the time we’d walked back to the ship my foot and George’s knee had had a good test (we don’t stroll anywhere – we almost power-walk).

We spent the afternoon on our cabin balcony, just reading, dozing, and watching the world go by.  A nice way to spend a couple of hours.  We had dinner in the buffet again, and later watched a third comedian in the Playhouse.  Never known so many comics on a cruise!  And all different and very funny.

We managed to get a seat in the Planet Bar afterwards, but left after having one drink as the place was really packed out and it was taking an age to get served.  But as we still wanted another drink we stopped in the Glass House before calling it a night.


Wednesday 10 October – at sea

We were up before dawn and caught the most glorious sunrise over the Portuguese coast.  I took a photo of it, just hope it comes out.

This is the only lumpy sea we’ve had so far, with the ship pitching quite a bit.  Limited roll, though, which is good.

We had the Progressive Quiz, Battle of the Sexes and Vocalists’ rehearsal in the morning, and unusually for us we spent some money in the shops!  Shock, horror!  But Hardings are still running things on this ship, so we bought three tubes (buy two, get one free – love a bargain, me) of the ship-branded shortbread biscuits.  I swear these are the much-missed priory crunch that we used to get in the cabins, so we stocked up a bit.

It was a bit chilly through the day to crash out on deck, but the sun was shining and our balcony was sheltered, so that’s where we spent most of the afternoon.  Final formal night, so we went to the dining room.  But the Marco Pierre White menu really didn’t inspire us at all: are we supposed to be amazed and impressed with soggy beef wellington, asparagus or lobster?  Sorry, but his menus haven’t changed for at least three years and are now just plain boring.  The head waiter came around asking if we were enjoying his meal, but switched off the moment we said “not particularly”.  Why ask if you’re not prepared to answer negative comments?

After dinner we headed for Manhattan where comedian Rudi West did another show, and for rest of the evening we sat in the Glass House where we played trivial pursuit and chatted with a couple who joined us later.


Thursday 11 October – at sea

We woke halfway across the Bay of Biscay, with sea conditions much calmer than yesterday.  There were some folk out walking the Prom Deck this morning: we’ve not done that at all on this cruise as the deck’s not a wrap-around, and walking back and forth multiple times doesn’t appeal.  We’ve done plenty of walking ashore, though.

We’d expected to have our cruise feedback questionnaire by now, but asking at Reception about it I was told they’ve been stopped and it’s electronic only now.  Carnival UK obviously assume the whole population are internet-savvy and connected now.

Final day of the progressive quiz, and only the top three teams were announced.  Not us, so we probably came fourth (ahem!).  Them George went off for his final choir rehearsal and I had the final Battle of the Sexes, which the women won.  Apparently the whole Battle had been the closest it’s been for a long time.

After a late-ish lunch George got changed into black trousers and white shirt, and made his way to the atrium where the choir gave its performance.  I followed a few minutes later and got a great view, even though all the spots overlooking the atrium were packed.  So a good-sized audience.  And the performance was quite impressive, even though the ‘musical director’ on the electric keyboard drowned out the singing quite a bit – someone really needed to turn his volume down.

The buffet menu this evening didn’t appeal, so we ate in the dining room where we shared a table with three other couples.  Nice people, and plenty of chat.  Then it was the Headliners’ final show (“Reel to Reel”) in the Playhouse.  This group of singers and dancers have been superb every time – and I swear the lead male singer (David something – Barrett?  Bassett?) stripped off completely in “The Full Monty” sequence!  Impressive abs….

We had a final drink in the planet bar before returning to our cabin and putting our final suitcase out for collection.  The cabin was looking very bare now.  Our alarm was set for 7.00in the morning, but I had a feeling we’d be awake before then.


Friday 12 October – Southampton, disembarkation day

I was right – the usual lights and noise of docking woke us at around 6.00. and we were having breakfast shortly before 7.00.  As Baltic tier passengers we have priority disembarkation, but frankly it was a shambles. Our group was herded one way, then another, then a third: I think it was a tour. But we had no trouble finding our cases, our taxi arrived in double-quick time, and we were driving home by 9.30. Traffic was pretty heavy, and the weather was getting worse the further west we travelled, so it wasn’t a nice journey.
So that’s that, another cruise over. We’ve unpacked, started on the washing, and gone through the post. Time to relax now, and look forward to the next one.
Just two months wait!

An Azura Cruise – part three

Sunday 7 October – Ibiza

We’ve not been here before and were looking forward to wandering around Ibiza Town.  There was a shuttle bus from the port which dropped us about half a mile from the entrance to the Old Town.  We walked part of the way round the old city walls (my foot and George’s knee told us when enough was enough!) from where we had fabulous views across the town and marina to the cruise and ferry port.  We turned down into the old city to explore some of the little shops there, though not much was open (Sunday today, of course).  There were quite a few bars and restaurants open, but the only cafes we found were packed, so we made our way back to the shuttle bus stop and returned to the ship.

After lunch (pizza from the poolside grill today) we stretched out in the same part of the ship as we’d found yesterday.  That didn’t last too long, though, as there was an annoying strong wind blowing.

The dinner menu and themed buffet didn’t appeal to us, so this evening we ate in the Beach House again.  Much busier than the other day – and much smokier too!  I feel sorry for the wait-staff, having to put up with that.

Jimmy James (without his Vagabonds) was in the Playhouse, but we’ve seen him before so didn’t rush our meal to get to his show.  In Manhattan’s there was a Bruno Mars tribute act: don’t like the real BM, so certainly not interested in that.  But we did go to the Syndicate Quiz.  However, that might be our last time there, as one of our team just won’t stop talking, even while the questions are being asked.  A shame, as the three others in our team are really nice, but she’s spoiling it for us.


Monday 8 October – Cartagena

We’ve not visited here before, tho’ we have been to the Catagena in Columbia – which is not nearly as nice as this one!

Another cloudy day, but still warm t-shirt and shorts weather.  Although we were in no hurry to go ashore, once we’d disembarked it was very easy to find our way to the two amphitheatres, one Roman and one modern.  They both look to be used for performances, even the old one!  Museums in the city are closed on Mondays, which limited our choice of places to visit a bit, but our plan was to go up towards the castle: the paths proved easy to find, and we made it most of the way up through the gardens (they were lovely, but must be spectacular in spring/early summer).  Fabulous views across the city and the harbour areas from up there.

We made our way back down to earth and wandered through the main shopping areas, eventually stopping at a cafe for coffee and churros (groundhog day!).  The churros weren’t as nice as the ones we had in Cadiz, but still great.

Three ladies sat down at the table next to us and ordered the same as us once they’d seen us tucking in.  We got chatting, but as their coffee and churros arrived one of the ladies managed to tip her entire cup of coffee into her lap.  She was soaked.  The waiters mopped it all up and brought her another cup while she went into the toilets to clean up a bit.  Fortunately she wasn’t hurt by the hot coffee, and the four of us had a good laugh at her expense.  And she saw the funny side too, so all good.

We spent most of the afternoon sitting on our cabin balcony, watching the city and listening to some Spanish guitar music.  I think it was a recording, as we couldn’t see anyone anywhere near actually playing.

It was the Peninsular drinks party in Manhattan this evening.  Several drinks, a chat to an electro-technical chappie – but no prize draw win.  But who uses photo albums anyway, in this day of digital imaging?

We opted for the tandoori buffet in Venezia for dinner: main dining room menu didn’t appeal, yet again.  Too many fish and seafood options now.  Fine if you like it, not so good if you don’t (George) or are allergic (me).  Following that, we watched another Headliners’ show in the Playhouse, this time “Electric Avenue”, based around the music of the 1980s.  Very good, even though we’ve seen versions of this one in the past.

Our evening ended in the Planet Bar, where videos of India were being shown and the High Tide duo were performing.  Must say, this pair are superb.

An Azura Cruise – part two

Wednesday 3 October – Lisbon

There’s something not right with the air-con in our cabin.  We’d had the setting on its lowest all night so the cabin should’ve been like a fridge this morning, but it felt pretty warm.  George reported it, and we had a visit from a maintenance officer who’s sending someone to investigate further later today.

We had a short swim this morning.  I was a bit wary of my toe, though that was okay, but George’s shoulder just wouldn’t let him do anything much at all.  He’s a hit hacked off about it, hut said he’ll try again, just kicking, which will help with his knee issues.

By the time we’d dried off and got changed, the queue for the shuttle bus had almost gone, so we got a ride to Restoration Square – passing two huge Royal Caribbean ships (Navigator and Independence of the Seas) which had just docked next to us.  Lisbon would be veeery busy today!

As has become our way when we visit this city, we walked down to Black Horse Square, stopping on the way for coffee and nata cakes on the way.  Well, when you’re in Portugal you just have to, don’t you?!  And I have to say, the coffee was the nicest I’ve tasted in a very long time.

We strolled back to the ship (took us half an hour from Black Horse Square, so not bad) in time for lunch, which today was from the pool-side grill.  And then we found a quietish spot on Deck 16, and crashed out with a book (me) and i-pod (George).  I only lasted half an hour or so as it really was hot out there, with no breeze to take the edge off.

We went to the MDR for dinner, sharing a table with two other couples we’d not met before.  Fabulous service tonight.  The Planet Bar was showing videos of India tonight, which brought back some memories, especially of the Chinese fishing nets in Kerala, though we didn’t stay long as we noth really needed to doze in the cabin for a while (trying to catch up with lost sleep…), before joining the others for the Syndicate Quiz.  Our team were dire tonight, oh dear.


Thursday 4 October – Cadiz

Slightly better sleep last night now we have separate duvets on the bed.  But still not great.

Our air-con hadn’t been sorted (which probably had something to do with not sleeping) and was reported – again – this morning.  After breakfast George went to the gym while I had a swim.  Got talking in the pool to a lady who was there with us yesterday, and as a result I’ve promised to come out retirement and teach her frontcrawl.  I must be mad – I gave up swim teaching eight years ago!

Cadiz is somewhere we’ve visited many times, so there was nothing on our must-go-and-see-that list.  Instead we walked through the city to the covered market and did a bit of shopping, and on the way back to the ship stopped for coffee and churros.  Feedback on the churros: best I’ve ever tasted!  A huge plateful, all beautifully soft inside and crispy outside, and with plenty of sugar to sprinkle over – gorgeous!  One plateful was enough for the pair of us, and cost just €1.50, so a bargain, too!

Back on Azura we grabbed a salad lunch and then found a lovely quiet spot in the shade to read and doze for a couple of hours.  Plenty of people were sunbathing, but like yesterday the lack of a breeze made it too hot for us.  Dangerous, too, if we’d fallen asleep.

Our evening meal tonight was in the Beach House.  The food and service were up to the standards we’ve experienced on other ships, but it’s a shame there’s no outdoor eating area – especially as the smoke from the sizzler plates and lava rock steaks had nowhere to go.

Our lack of sleep over the past few nights has finally got to us, and we planned an early night.  First, though, we watched comedian Tony Wallace in his second show, in the Manhattan show lounge: very good, once again.


Friday 5 October – at sea

At last we both got some sleep!  Didn’t wake up until 8.00 this morning – oops.

After breakfast (just a slice of toast each – still full from our meal last night!) we hit the gym before it was time for the Progressive Quiz.  Today this was themed on ‘travel’, and was an absolute stinker.  Ah well.

George had choir practice and I had the Battle (men now leading by five points), and after lunch we crashed out in the sun for an hour.  Bit breezy today, but barely a cloud in the sky, and the thermometer on our cabin balcony was showing 24oC this afternoon.  Is it really October?

Second formal night, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the high percentage of passengers adhering to the dress code.  Sadly that’s not been the case on the ‘evening casual’ nights, when there’s been a lot of men in shorts and vest-tops, showing off their tattoos.

We watched a show in the Playhouse Theatre by a pair calling themselves Livewire.  He played guitar while she was on fiddle, and both sang a bit.  Very enjoyable show, with an excellent version of “Riverdance” to finish.

Once again, our evening finished in the Syndicate Quiz, where our six won – no tie-break needed this time!


Saturday 6 October – Barcelona

Before we sailed we said we’d spend today in the Spanish Village on Mont Juic.  However, with the reported massive increase in criminal gangs working around the city (much more than we’dbeen warned about on previous visits), along with recent and planned demonstrations by the Catalan Separatists, we changed our minds.  Just a bit too much of a risk, we felt.  And it’s not as if we’ve not been here before – this is our tenth visit, I think.  Another time, maybe.

So instead we had a lovely relaxing day on the pretty deserted ship.  It was warm and the sun was out, and after having a swim we found a quiet spot on deck near the Oasis Pool.  Which is where we stayed until late afternoon.  Lazely? Yes.  Waste of a port visit?  Probably.  But tomorrow we’ll be in Ibiza which is a new stop for us to make the most of.

I managed to win the Individual Quiz again (with a really shameful score of 12/20.  How did that happen?) before we went up to the Venezia buffet where the themed dinner was country and western.  George had that typical cowboy meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pud.  Of course.  At least mine was sort of Tex-Mex, and included burritos and corn bread.  But I think calling it country and western was stretching it a bit.  Nice though.

There were two shows on this evening that we wanted to see.  First we headed to the Manhattan Lounge where a comedian – Rudi West – was strutting his stuff. Quite funny, but a bit rude really, considering there were children in the room(jokes about sex, and some quite bad language).  Then we made our way to the Playhouse Theatre to see the new Headliners’ show, ‘Astonishing’.  This was a mix of song, dance, and magic, and was very good indeed and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it.

An Azura Cruise – part one

Saturday 29 September – leaving home

Yesterday I did some damage to my right foot and was hobbling around with a multi-coloured and swollen big toe.  That put a bit of a dampener on things, but I was okay as lkng as I didn’t try to rush anywhere.

As is our normal way, we’d booked the stay-and-cruise package at the Holiday Inn close to Southampton docks.  We left home shortly after midday as part of our route on the motorway was closed this weekend and the “official’ diversion would have added an extra 50 miles to our journey.  But we’d been advised by a local of an alternative which turned out to be fine if a little busy, and we were checking in before 4.00 pm.

We had an evening meal in the hotel, then settled in our room with the TV and a bottle of red.  Hopefully we’d get a reasonable night’s sleep….


Sunday 30 September – embarkation day

We didn’t get a good night’s sleep.  As always in a hotel room, we were too hot and alert to the strange noises around us. Never mind.

After breakfast we went for a bit of a walk to kill time, get some fresh air, and test out my toe, which was less stiff and painful this morning.  Our taxi to the ship was booked for 11.30 but was 15 minutes early, so by midday we had checked in and were already boarding.  Never been so early!  We had a few glasses of cava at the Peninsular Club welcome lunch before finding our cabin, where all our luggage was waiting for us.

The cabin is fine, starboard side forward on Deck 12.  The bathroom is pretty tiny (no bath, just a shower), but we’re used to that.  The ‘wardrobe’ is an open hanging space which really seems to work for us – nice idea – and with the cupboard space provided we had no problem finding homes for our stuff.

After we’d finished unpacking we set out to find our way around the ship.  We tried to be methodical about it, following the little map deck by deck, working our way from one end of the ship to the other, but gosh this is one BIG lady!  I think it’s going to take quite a while to get our bearings.

We were expecting flyers, notices or something in the ‘Horizon’ paper about the Ultimate All-Inclusive drinks package that P&O have been trialling on here.  But there doesn’t seem to be anything at all.  Curious.

Muster drill was the usual boring half-hour or so, followed by sailaway that a lot of passengers seemed determined not to miss, judging by the rush to the outside decks.  We’ve seen it often enough that we don’t bother.

We’d been allocated Freedom Dining.  However, for dinner this evening we opted for the themed buffet in the Venezia restaurant.  Gosh it was busy!  Think we might have to ration our visits up there in the coming days.  But we had a lovely chat with the ladies who joined us at the table, so all good.

In the Playhouse Theatre this evening the entertainment team put on their ‘welcome on board’ show.  We didn’t recognise any of the Headliners, but we’ve sailed several times with the Ents Manager (Leon de st Croix) and two of his team (Coral and Alejandro): always nice to see familiar faces!

And that was our day, really.  We were both so tired that after a drink in the Planet Bar that we went to bed.


Monday 1 October – at sea

Another night of not sleeping well, again because the duvet is just too hot and heavy.  At home I’ve only just changed up to a 5-tog one, so the 10-tog duvets that hotels and ships use as a default level just boil me alive.

The sea was pretty calm as we rounded Ushant Point this morning, but the sky was grey and the clouds didn’t lift all day.  There was a bit of  movement around the ship, nothing much tho’ the pools were netted over.

We had breakfast in the restaurant.  Monday is eggs benedict day!  We shared a table with six others, and spent a sociable hour or so chatting with them.  Later, we joined in Day One of the Progressive Quiz: that might have been a mistake as we didn’t get off to a great start and there are some serious quizzers around!  Nothing else took our fancy.  The port talk was on Lisbon, which is somewhere we’ve visited so often that we could probably have done the talk ourselves!

All the dance-type classes seem to be held in the atrium, which (a) snarls everything up in one of the busiest parts of the ship, and (b) is far too public when you are learning.  So that didn’t appeal either.  Add in the guest speaker who we’ve heard before (and didn’t enjoy particularly), and we struggled to find anything much to do.

But at midday George went to the first Vocalists session, while I added my weight to the ladies’ team in the Battle of the Sexes – which we won, just.  Meeting up afterwards, we tried the buffet in Venezia for lunch.  Words fail me.  Chaos, and not even organised chaos.  Long queues at every servery, no logic to the ‘flow’ through the service area, and nowhere to sit when you’d managed to find something to eat.  We ended up with a small plate of salad each which we took out to eat by the pool as that was the only free seating.

Was the other buffet, Verona, any less busy?  Um, no, even though there seems to be more seating there.  But the service area is TINY.  I think we might be eating lunch in the restaurant, or grabbing a sandwich or burger on deck.

The afternoon, much like the morning, found us searching for something to do.  There was a music quiz, but from our perspective little else as we’ve never taken to the deck sports that seem to dominate the activity programme on this ship.  But as a fan of Zumba I really wanted to join in with the Dancercise class: I lasted just five minutes – my sore foot just didn’t want to be confined in a trainer, so sadly I had to stop.

We went to the Peninsular restaurant for dinner, which was a vast improvement on last night’s buffet.  Then after a drink in the Planet Bar we moved down to a crowded Manhattan where a comedian called Tony Wallace was performing.  A bit of a confusing start, but we were both quickly into him – really funny.  Someone to watch again, for sure.

Back up in the Planet Bar for another glass of red, we sat listening to High Tides, a duo who perform reggae and country-rock numbers – Bob Marley, Shania Twain, Dolly Parton, and the like.  They are very good, much better than many house-acts we’ve seen before.  And walking past Malabar we heard rock music: the group was called Next Step and are on our list to listen to properly at some stage.

We ended our evening at the first Syndicate Quiz.  Only four teams tonight, and we came second.  Not bad.


Tuesday 2 October – at sea

Still didn’t sleep well.  I’m finding the mattress a bit too hard, and the weight of the heavy duvet is making my poorly foot hurt.

Straight after breakfast (in the Venezie buffet today – less busy than we expected) we tried out the machines in the gym for half an hour (as much as my foot could take, followed by a walk outside around Aqua deck (deck 16 – this is a huuuuge ship!).  I’m wondering how they are going to do the charity Trek the Deck walk later in the cruise, as there’s no obvious outdoor ‘circuit’ to follow.

Day 2 of the Progressive Quiz, which was much less well-attended than yesterday followed by a session of getting-ready-for-the-Ligurian/Baltic-lunch, which was held in the Oriental restaurant.  Our table was hosted by the Housekeeping Manager, and besides ourselves there were one other couple and an old guy travelling alone who was very deaf.  Geoge did his best to ‘interpret’ for him, but sadly he spent most of the meal one question/subject behind the rest of us.  Never mind, he seemed to enjoy himself – as did the rest of us, though that might have been partly because of the copious quantities of wine and bubbly drunk!

We asked the Housekeeping Manager about the Ultimate All-Inclusive drinks package.  He said it was a two-month trial, now ended, which is being assessed before a decision is made as to whether or not to make it a permanent thing.  So that explains things.

Our table broke up at around 1.45 and George and I went straight to Manhattan to hear the port talk on Ibiza, one of just two stops on this cruise that are new to us.  The Port Presenter spoke very fast (the talk was over in less than 30 minutes), but with both of us struggling to stay awake we didn’t really learn much – not that she said anything at all about Ibiza Town, where we’re docking.  Hey ho.

Formal night tonight, and the Captain’s Gala Bunfight.  We just grabbed a couple of glasses of prosecco each and went straight into dinner.  We opted for a table by ourselves, as we were still stuffed from lunchtime and didn’t want much.  We’d finished and gone before 7.00 pm.

There was a Headljner’s show this evening – “Curtain Up”, a version of the West End musicals tribute we’ve seen in the past.  Tonight’s was quite different, and very good – as are the Headliners themselves.

After a drink in the Planet Bar (fast becoming our favourite watering hole) we joined the four others we met yesterday for the Syndicate Quiz again.  Tonight we won, after a tie-break.  So that’s a bottle for the table tomorrow!

Deb’s cruise diary – May 2018

Wednesday 2nd May – Southampton

We arrived in Southampton yesterday afternoon after a reasonably quiet journey down, and checked into the Holiday Inn.  We left the four biggest cases in the secure room behind Reception (why drag them up six floors only to have to drag them back down again) before finding our room.  We both had a quick bath and returned to the restaurant on the ground floor where we each had a plate of pretty decent fish and chips.

Then a bit later we were joined by an old school-friend of mine, John, and his wife Trish.  They live near to Southampton, and we’d arranged to have a drink and a bit of a catch-up with them.  It was a really nice couple of hours.

We neither of us slept especially well, which is par for the course in hotels, and when we finally got up the next morning the weather was looking a bit grim.  From our room we could see Cunard’s ‘Queen Victoria’ at the QE terminal, but we didn’t catch sight of ‘Aurora’ until we went along the corridor to go to breakfast.  To our relief, she was there, ready for us!

As we were eating breakfast it was clear that the weather wasn’t going to improve any time soon, so our plans to wander into West Quay and do a bit of shopping were looking a bit doubtful.  Sure enough, an hour or so later when we attempted to go out we didn’t even get across the hotel car park before beating a retreat back to our hotel room, all shopping forgotten.  But at least we got to watch some strange daytime telly for an hour or so!  Every cloud!

Our taxi collected us and delivered us to the Mayflower terminal, and we were on board by 12.15, so all good.  We were pointed in the direction of the Alexandria restaurant for our Peninsular buffet, where we shared a table and several glasses of champagne-ish with a couple who were booked in a suite.

Cabins were ready, and all our suitcases had arrived by the time we left the restaurant, so we spent the best part of an hour deciding where to hide our stuff for the next fortnight.  I’ve never quite understood how we manage to find homes for all our various bits and pieces, but we do.

We had a wander around the ship until it was time for muster drill, which was in the Curzon theatre for us.  That’s half an hour of my life I’ll never get back.  But at least we have our favourite captain in charge – Neil Turnbull!

There was a sailaway party out on the Terrace Deck, but we just sat up in the Crow’s Nest drinking our free fizz and watching Southampton Water disappear around us.  Then it was time for our first sitting dinner, where we had a table with two other couples who all seemed moderately sane and friendly.  Bodes well, I think, though we did warn them not to expect to see us too often as we intend using some of our On Board Credit in the Select dining venues.  Well, it seems rude not to!

There were two shows on this evening, both of which we’ve seen before – Victor Michaels, a classical/swing singer in the theatre, and Caravan performing in Carmen’s.  Instead, we parked ourselves in Champions and joined in two quizzes – didn’t disgrace ourselves but didn’t win the bottle of paint-stripper either.  Sadly, one bloke tried to ruin the first quiz by loudly shouting out answers, simply because he objected to Ents Host Alex switching off the football match.  Don’t know what Alex said to him, but he shut up after that.

And that was the end of the day for us.  We were pretty tired, so just went up to the Horizon buffet to check out the late-night hot chocolate (absolutely fine!) before turning in.


Thursday 3rd May – at sea

A relatively smooth overnight crossing, up until about 5.30 this morning when we rounded Ushant Point.  Things got a bit bumpier then, and when we eventually got up George was (as usual on the first day of a cruise) really feeling the motion of the ocean.  But we had a light breakfast in the Horizon and went straight out onto Prom Deck and walked a mile.  The weather was best described as ‘bracing’!  But at least the sun was out.

We sorted out the internet package and booked a couple more tours before joining a quiz about musical theatre and film in Champions.  Gosh, it was hard!  We managed just 5/20, and the winners only got 11 right!

After lunch we had a Facebook group meet in the Crow’s Nest.  Only about ten of us there, but a nice 20 minutes or so chatting together and putting faces to e-names!  We followed that with the Battle of the Sexes in Champions, where I managed to NOT be ladies team captain (done it three times in the past year, and enough is enough!), and the ladies thrashed the men by 200 points to 140.  We’ll see how things pan out in the coming days.

It was the first formal night today, and the Welcome On Board bunfight.  We spent 20 minutes or so chatting to the 2nd Officer before Neil Turnbull did his bit.  It was nice that he recognised us, but I have to say his jokes haven’t changed!

We went to see the Headliners’ show after dinner as it was one of our favourites – “My Generation”.  We sat at the front (so George could stretch out his recovering knee), but the “atmospheric smoke effects” affected my throat, so we won’t be making that mistake again!  Oh well, lesson learned.

After a drink in Andersons we started a table at the syndicate quiz and were soon joined by two other couples to make up a team.  We didn’t think we’d done too well, but out of 10 teams, six were in a tie-break (wow!), including us.  Didn’t win though.


Friday 4th May – at sea

There seems to be an awful lot of men with beards on this cruise.  One or two women too…

I hit the breakfast buffet early this morning as I had an appointment in the spa for 8.00 – eyelash and brow tint, something I’ve not had done for quite a while.  Meanwhile, George was walking a mile and we met up afterwards for coffee and an individual quiz about capital cities – didn’t do too badly, considering!

The men gained on the ladies in the Battle of the Sexes in the afternoon, though we’re still 40 points ahead of them.  Won’t be at tomorrow’s Battle as we have the Baltic/Ligurian lunch and both are at midday.  So the ladies will have to do without me!

We spent most of our day sitting on our balcony, reading.  It was a lovely sunny day, but there was a bit of a cool wind blowing which meant sunbathing on deck was a no-no.  The Crystal pool was still netted over, and although the Riviera pool was open it was a bit turbulent in there, to say the least!

I managed to win the individual quiz before dinner, and in the evening we watched a comedian in the theatre, Phil Melbourne.  We’ve seen him before, though I barely remembered him.  Very good.

His show overran, so we were too late to watch/listen to Caravan and their Bee Gees show, so we went back to the cabin until it was time to go up to Vanderbilt’s for the syndicate quiz.  TBH, I was tired enough that I would have happily given it a miss, but we’d promised our team-mates from yesterday that we’d be there.  And not sure it was worth it in the end as we only came fourth – though we did have a good laugh.


Saturday 5th May – at sea

George has been having trouble in the trouser department.  And no, not THAT kind of trouble!  For most of the year so far we’ve not walked or worked in the garden nearly as much as we normally would, partly because of the weather and partly due to George waiting/recovering from his knee operation.  As a result, his waist has -ahem – grown a bit and he’s bought some new (larger) trousers which are here with us.  And guess what?  He now seems to have gone back to his regular size and the new trousers are too loose!  But just for once the on-board shop came up trumps with a pair of smaller ones – but it’s frustrating knowing he has several pairs the right size back home.  Good job I hadn’t given them to a charity shop….

We were up relatively late for us as we lost an hour in the middle of the night.  And we had a busy morning as we wanted to join in with the 10-lap Trek The Deck walk for the Teenage Cancer Trust.  Good fun, but much lower-key than the half-marathon we did on last year’s world cruise.  Got a t-shirt and certificate out of it, anyhow!  And by the time we finished, there were almost 40 people registered, with more still arriving, so it’ll be interesting to see how much money was raised.

Then at midday today we had our Baltic/Ligurian Tier loyalty lunch.  And joy of joys we were back on table 228, which was our table for last year’s world cruise, though no sign of our waiters from then (was I surprised?  No).  there were three other couples on the table, and the Chief Electro-Technical Officer who’s in charge of the internet connections, among other things.  He took a bit of ribbing, as you can probably imagine!  But as is usual with these events, the food, wine and service were superb, and we had a good chatty table (including one couple who were on the 2012 world cruise with us).

The rest of the afternoon was spent recovering and trying not to fall asleep.  Every time we have one of these events to go to I promise myself that I won’t over-indulge this time – and every time I do just that!

We roused ourselves to go to the individual quiz, before going up to the Horizon for a light buffet dinner: really didn’t want/need a full MDR meal.  Victor Michael was performing in the theatre again, but we avoided him and watched the Headliners’ “We Will Rock You” show in Carmen’s instead.  We’ve see it countless times in the past, but it passed an hour.

We finished our strange day in the syndicate quiz, where our team-mates didn’t show up but we managed to finished just one point behind the winners, so not bad.


Sunday 6th May – Alicante

A new port for us, so we’d booked a “scenic history” tour and were up and breakfasted in good time.  We joined our coach, and were initially dropped off close to the Old Town from where we had a walking tour.  This lasted about an hour, and showed us the monastery, cathedral and town hall, where we also saw sections of the Moorish city walls which are preserved behind glass.

From there we drove up to the Moorish Castle of Santa Barbara which is perched high on a hill about the city.  The views are spectacular, and to make things even nicer we were all given glasses of sangria and bowls of nibbles while we enjoyed the scenery.

Our tour guide took us inside one of the castle buildings and talked us through the history of what is really a fortress – she was certainly very knowledgeable.

Our final stop (after our driver managed to extricate the coach from the tiny parking area at the top of the castle!) was at the beach area, where another drink awaited us.  This was an almond-milk concoction called ‘horchata’ – nice, but a bit too sweet for our tastes.

Back on board, we grabbed a light snack before I dipped into the Riviera pool for the first time: well, I had a new cossie and goggles to try out!  I had the pool to myself so managed a few lengths without annoying anyone by doing tumble-turns, and I was pleasantly surprised by the water temperature – cool enough to be able to swim properly without gasping for air.

I won the individual quiz again, and for dinner we ate outside at the Beach House which was lovely as always.  And as is often the case, we didn’t make it to the dessert course – too stuffed!

The theatre show this evening was Phil Melbourne again, and this time I recognised his act.  Maybe we missed his first performance last time we came across him.  Or maybe I’m just getting senile!

There was a music quiz in Champions later which wanted us to name the title and artiste for 30 Motown introduction pieces.  Quite funny, as many people actually sang along – including singing the titles!  We followed that with the syndicate quiz: Carol and Neil joined us again, but we didn’t do too great so afterwards we all went up to the Horizon for hot chocolate where we sat putting the world to rights for half an hour or so.


Monday 7th May – Barcelona

We hadn’t been sure what to do in Barcelona – we’ve wandered up and down las Ramblas many times in the past so felt we ought to do something a bit more structured this time.  So we ended up booking a tour that revisited some old haunts, and new ones, too.

We started off with a walk through the Old City to the Cathedral.  I’d been here before, on a cycling tour, but this was the first time George had seen it.  I was pleased to see that there are still a flock of geese in the Cathedral cloisters – though probably not the same geese I saw 12-15 years ago!

We then had a drive through areas dominated by buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi and his fellow ‘arts and crafts’ architects, and were dropped close to another of his designs – the Sagrada Familia.  We’d not seen this close up for a good decade or so, and it was quite an eye-opener to see how much nearer to completion this iconic building has come in that time.  Still got another eight years before they reckon it’ll be finished, though!

From the Sagrada Familia we travelled up to Montjuic for a visit to the Spanish Village.  We’ve been up the mountain before (even walked up it once: didn’t plan to, but the funicular railway was out of action that day), but never been in the Spanish Village.  We really liked it – loads of examples of Spanish architecture from the various regions of the country, many of which are now artisanal shops.  And the views across the city from the very top are spectacular.  It’s a shame we didn’t have more time here, but at least we can plan a whole day’s visit next time we call at Barcelona (and there’s bound to be a next time!).

Back on board we had a late salad-lunch followed by an hour toasting ourselves up on Deck 14.  There was only a dozen or so of us up there, which was surprising as most of the sunbeds by the pools were occupied.  Many less-frequent cruisers haven’t found Deck 14 yet?  Or perhaps they’ve read that ladies can sunbathe topless up there and think it might be compulsory!  (Just for the record – no I didn’t!)

After the individual quiz we joined our table-mates in the Alexandria restaurant for dinner.  Thought we’d better show our faces or our waiters will forget who we are!  The Headliners were in the theatre this evening, with their “New Romantics” show, which is one of our favourites as the music reminds us of the time we were raising our young children and all the worry and joy that entails.

The rest of the evening we spent on our cabin balcony with the bottle of cava we’d brought with us.  The view wasn’t great (the terminal!), but the evening was warm and the fizz was cold!


Tuesday 8th May – at sea

We should have been in Cannes today, but repairs to the thruster shafts bearing had to continue through the night, and we finally left Barcelona at 6.00 this morning.  The CapTAYNE is on the PA system as I type this, and has just said everything now seems fine although the technicians are still on board with us, just in case.

I had a swim in the Riviera pool after breakfast.  There was no-one else about, just one or two people moving and reserving their sunbeds, as always.  Why do people do that?  There are plenty of beds to go round.

Before lunch we joined another couple for a quiz about Beatles lyrics – and managed to win it, just got a question about “Penny Lane” wrong.  Then in the afternoon was the return of the Battle, today being a round of guess-how-much-the-onboard-shop-is-selling-this-item-for.  Everything basically double what we’d expect in the shops at home!  But the ladies won (again) and increased their lead.

We ate in the Glass House in the evening.  The food and service were fine, but we were disappointed with the menu – not nearly so many choices as we’ve had in the past.  Not sure if we’ll go back.

Then we grabbed seats in Carmen’s for a magic show from a guy called Adam Heppenstall.  We’ve seen him before, but he’s very good and his act is pretty funny.  He’s on again in two days’ time.

And that was our evening done and dusted.  We’d agreed to have an early night, as we have to be up at 6.00 in the morning, ready to go to Florence and Pisa.


Wednesday 9th May – Livorno

Our alarm went off at 6.00 and we were breakfasted and ready to leave the ship just over an hour later.  It was raining quite heavily, but the coaches were lined up close to the gangplank so we didn’t get very wet at all.

We first had an hour’s drive to Pisa, which is somewhere we’ve not been before, and after walking us from the coach park to the city walls, our guide gave us an hour’s free time to explore.  The Piazza dei Miracoli (Miracle Square) was very close, and we spent most of our time wandering around taking photos – including the classic “holding up the Leaning Tower” shots!  Very nice, and not too busy as we had been the first coach to arrive – and there must have been about 50 of them when we left.  And by now the rain had stopped.

From Pisa we were taken to Florence where we were dropped off by the River Arno, and again walked to a meeting point close to the main attractions.  This time we had about 3½ hours to ourselves, and as by now it was lunchtime our first priority was to find somewhere to eat.

We ended up in a side-street trattoria, where we had a glass of chianti each and a plate of the most delicious pasta we’ve ever tasted.  All for 40 Euros, and worth every penny.

We walked passed the Uffizi gallery, and crossed the Ponte Vecchio, not to buy any gold or jewellery, but merely because we didn’t cross it last time we were here.  Some of the shops on the bridge (and over the other side, come to that) are very high-end, but that didn’t seem to put people off.

Next we bought ice creams – well, this IS Italy.  We each had a ‘small’ cone that were the size of the Olympic torches.  Huge.  Took us a good half-hour to finish them.  And as we licked our ices, we wandered through what is effectively an outdoor city museum.  By the time we had to get back to the meeting point by the Santa Croce church we’d taken in the giant Renaissance statues outside the Uffizi Palace (including Michelangelo’s statue of David with the enormous………hands), the Cathedral and Bell Tower, and the Bargello Museum.  So we kind of walked in a huge circle around the oldest part of the city.

By now it was very hot, and George’s knee/leg was complaining, and we still had a 90-minute drive back to the ship.  Most people on the coach slept a bit – it had been a very long and tiring day, but really lovely.

We were back on board just in time to shower and change before dinner (MDR tonight), but decided against watching the Headliners’ “Fantasy” show as (a) it’s not one of our favourites, and (b) George felt he needed to stretch his leg out which isn’t easy sitting in a theatre for an hour.

However, we went to watch the P&O version of “Pointless” and got picked to play.  Didn’t disgrace ourselves, losing out on the head-to-head and coming away with a travel clock for our efforts.  We followed that by finally winning the syndicate quiz, even though our team-mates didn’t show up so we were on our own.  But at least we don’t have to share the bottle of wine!


Thursday 10th May – Civitavecchia

We’d planned a lie-in this morning, but that went out of the window with the noises from our docking procedures at around 6.00 am.  Made worse by the juddering from the side-thrusters causing our wardrobe doors to start rattling (we hadn’t shut them properly – doh!)

Anyway, when we finally surfaced, several hundred passengers had already left the ship, bound for Rome, meaning the Horizon was pretty quiet at breakfast.

I persuaded George to take advantage of the quiet ship to join me in the pool – the first time he’s tried swimming since his knee operation.  We weren’t in long, and his knee was fine, but his shoulder decided it didn’t like the frontcrawl arm action so he did a lot of kicking on his back instead.  But at least he’s tested his knee now.

We had coffee and a long chat with Graham, the entertainment manager, before grabbing a sandwich in place of lunch, and boarding our coach for our tour.

We were off to a place called Montefiascone for a wine-tasting session.  The drive there took nearly an hour through the Etruscan region, and although the weather was hot and sunny when we left the port, as we approached the winery the heavens opened.  Fortunately it had eased off to a drizzle by the time we arrived, and stopped completely half an hour later.

We had three wines to sample – two white ones, which were okay and a red that we much preferred.  There was also a selection of local food to try, though they were a bit tight here: there was more than enough bread, but only enough pancetta, pecorino cheese and olives to get a taste.  Bit mean, I thought.

From the winery we began our drive back to Civitavecchia, stopping at a little town called Marta on the way.  It’s a very pretty place, on the banks of the most enormous lake I’ve ever seen: we couldn’t see the far side of it, and there were two inhabited in the middle.  Huge.  This was really only a photo-stop, but there was time to get a coffee or ice-cream (we had ice-cream.  Again!).

Just like yesterday, we arrived back at ‘Aurora’ just in time to shower before going to the Alexandria for dinner.  And from there we went straight to the Curzon theatre to watch the magician, Adam Heppenstall, again.  Another great show, he really is very clever.  And we finished our evening doing appallingly badly in the syndicate quiz (on our own again – haven’t seen our team-mates at all for three days, think they might have jumped ship in Barcelona!), but consoled ourselves with hot chocolate in the Horizon buffet before bed.


Friday 11th May – at sea

We thought last night we’d have a swim before breakfast, but there was enough ship movement to make it a bit unsafe.  So we went for a Prom deck walk after we’d eaten – only to find part of the deck roped off!  20 minutes lapping Sun deck instead probably did the business.  Wish we’d taken sunglasses, though as it was a bit bright up there!

After lunch I went to the Battle, without George.  He said he’s finding the dynamics of the men’s team a bit unpleasant – and today it certainly turned nasty.  The men got a question wrong, and one of them really threw his toys out of the pram.  He was up on his feet, jabbing his finger towards the ents hosts running the Battle (Alex and Kelsie), and generally ranting and raving.  It took all the others in his team to get him to shut up and sit down.  A nasty episode: it’s only a quiz, for heaven’s sake.

There was a Zumba session straight after the Battle, so naturally I went along as I love it.  There’s not been one on this cruise so far, apparently because the daytime programme is too busy.  How about moving the art and spa talks into the cinema, and freeing up Masquerades?  There must have been 30 or more or us, crammed into Masquerades, (about 60% of us having done it before) so it’s certainly popular enough.

Formal night tonight, so we ate in the dining room again, and then went to the theatre for what is probably our favourite Headliners’ show – “Destination Dance”.  Excellent as always.

After the show we went straight into Anderson’s as we wanted to try the gin flights.  We ordered two, so we had six craft gins to try, all very different.  We tried to ‘rank’ them, but gave up and just decided on our favourite and least favourite.  Lovely to try, though.

As we were getting through our gins, Carol and Neil, our syndicate team-mates turned up.  We hadn’t seen them since Barcelona, and it turned out that Neil had fallen down some steps at the Sagrada Familia and injured his ankle.  So he’d been out of action for a couple of days, though everything seems fine now.  He’s blaming the varifocal lenses he’s wearing for the first time.  And just for the record, the four of us didn’t do too badly in the syndicate quiz tonight; no win for us though.


Saturday 12th May – Almeria

We’ve noticed that there seems to be an awful lot of men with full, white beards on board.  George has likened it to a Santa Claus convention!

We docked in Almeria at about 8.30 this morning, in a totally different place to when we’ve been here in the past.  Then we could just walk straight out of the port gates into the city centre, but today we’ve had shuttle bendy-buses to take us to that point.  It looks like what was the cruise dock is now for ferries.

First thing after breakfast we had a swim, followed by a chat with the CapTAYne, and we left the ship just before 10.00.  There was already a long queue of passengers waiting for the shuttles, but we only had to wait five minutes or so.  However, there were already people returning to the ship saying “there’s nothing here”, which might have put some first-time visitors off.  But we knew what the city is like and just wanted to stretch our legs in the park, wander round the market and get an ice cream, which is exactly what we did.  We were surprised, though, how quiet it was everywhere.  I know it’s Saturday, but surely some of the locals go shopping then?

We had another hour crashed out on Deck 14 in the afternoon, so we’re gradually changing colour a bit.  George had a bath to warm up and ease his shoulder, before we had a go at the individual quiz – which I won for the third time this cruise.

Dinner for us tonight was in the Beach House.  We were the only people sitting outside – well, it was a bit windy, and we nabbed the most sheltered spot!  Quite busy indoors, though.  And it was another lovely meal, as it always is here.  In our opinion, anyway.  And of course it’s even nicer when you don’t have to pay for your bottle of wine because you won it in the syndicate quiz a couple of nights before!

We didn’t fancy watching the singer, she who did the Adele tribute the other night, nor did the Eurovision ‘party’ in Champions appeal, so we just dozed and read in the cabin until it was time for the syndicate quiz.  On our own again (not seen the others at all today), and finished just two points adrift of the winners.


Sunday 12th May – Gibraltar

As this is our 12th visit to Gibraltar we opted for a peaceful morning on board – unlike gazillions of our fellow passengers who rushed ashore at the first opportunity!  Don’t think some of them had thought it through: today is Sunday, and it was barely 8.00 am when many left, so I don’t know what they were expecting to find open at that time.  We found it quite amusing in the Horizon buffet – we struggled to find a table for breakfast when we got there, but as soon as the “you can go ashore now” announcement was made, the place emptied!

And from then on, the whole ship was pretty deserted.  We went down for a quiz mid-morning, that turned out to be just us and one other team (we won), and had quite a long chat with the Captain a little later on.  There was no lunch for us today, but we had an hour crashed on a totally deserted Deck 14 just before we left Gib.

And the reason for our missing lunch was that we were booked on the Champagne Afternoon Tea, in the Glass House.  It was lovely.  A generous selection of filled rolls, cakes and scones, with more brought to the table if we asked, and unlimited tea and (most important!) Baron de Marck champagne.  We must have got through four or five glasses each – it’s hard to keep track when your glass is being constantly topped up!  To say we were feeling the effects is an understatement!

And as if that wasn’t enough, an hour or so after the tea finished we had the Peninsular Club cocktail party: more free booze, but prosecco this time.  Strangely enough we didn’t want to go to dinner….

There were two shows this evening.  The Headliners were in Carmen’s doing their “Top of The Billboards” show which we’ve only seen once or twice before as it’s quite new.  Then in the theatre was an Irish foursome, the Runaround Kids, who gave us a really great 40 or so minutes of rock and roll, with a bit of comedy thrown in.  They were really good, and deserved their standing ovation at the end.  They’re back on in two days time.


Monday 14th May – at sea

A really bumpy night.  Usually the motion of the ocean rocks me to sleep, but not this time.  And early this morning we both started hearing what sounded like a ping-pong ball rolling around in a drawer.  George investigated, but we found nothing: think it might have been a coat-hanger tapping against the wardrobe side.  Whatever it was, it was annoying.

The ship was corkscrewing its way up the Portuguese coast until late afternoon.  It doesn’t bother me particularly, but poor George suffers, and with the sleepless night we’d had most of our time was spent dozing, until for me it was time for the Battle of the Sexes (not sure who won as I left before the scores were given).

The harpist was on in the theatre this evening, and the Black and White Ball in Carmen’s.  Sadly we’ve not danced at all on this cruise as George is still nervous of over-working his knee.  Never mind, there’s always next time!

But the only thing we went to watch was the P&O version of “The Chase” – it was okay, but certainly not the most dynamic of game shows.  We followed that with the syndicate quiz, but despite Carol and Neil being with us tonight, along with a random couple we’ve never met before, we were a couple of answers adrift of the winners.

I should have mentioned earlier – the shops are closing.  Those on Deck 6 shut yesterday, and today the rest of them closed (with the exception of the Emporium for anyone who is in desperate need of shampoo, paracetamol or chocolate).  I can’t help thinking that if they were serious about selling most of their stock they would have dropped the prices to something less than ridiculous.  That didn’t happen, though.


Tuesday 15th May – at sea

Well, the shops are now CLOSED.  The atrium looks a bit odd with all the shop windows covered in red blinds, but it’s sooo nice to be able to walk through the area without having to dodge tables of sales stuff.  And, of course, they can’t take over Charlie’s all day either!  Mind you, Anderson’s was off-limits to us this morning as it was being used for the booze collection point – and we didn’t have any to collect!

A much better night’s sleep for both of us, which was good as we needed to get the packing done.  I got the cases out from under the bed, hoping to find the label that’s gone missing from one, but no joy.  Don’t understand how it’s managed to disappear as we have cruise-label ‘wallets’ on each case so we don’t just wrap them round the handles.  Ah well.

We did a science quiz mid-morning (poor, that’s all I’m saying!) but spent the rest of the morning sorting paperwork and getting ready to load stuff into the suitcases.  And to be honest we’d done most of our packing by the time I went to the final Battle of the Sexes – which the women won, much to the men’s chagrin.

There was another Zumba session after the Battle (hooray!), which wasn’t as well supported as the previous one.  That might have been due to the change of time, or maybe everyone was too busy packing – or trying to win the bingo jackpot!  Then I won the final individual quiz and went straight to the prize Passport Collection – a wine cooler and two pen/keyring sets.

We put the cases outside the cabin door before we went to dinner.  We’d decided to go up to the Horizon for the Tandoori buffet, as we wanted a quick get-away so we could get seats in Carmen’s for the second show by the Runaround Kids.  And this show was every bit as good as their first offering, even bringing in Hayley Walsh to play her harp for a couple of numbers.  There were several people jiving on the dance floor, and the guys got another standing ovation at the end.  Fabulous.

And so our latest cruise is rapidly coming to an end.  As I type this it’s 7.45 pm ship’s time, we’re roughly south of Plymouth and the sun is streaming into our cabin.  Our suitcases are now somewhere in the bowels of the ship, we have a 1970s music quiz to go to, and a final drink before turning in.

Thank you to everyone who’s bothered to take the time to read my diary, and especial thanks to those who’ve made such nice comments.

Here’s to the next one!


A comedy of errors in Cannock!

We own a first-floor flat in Cannock which our son rents from us.  It was overdue some TLC, so we arranged for new carpets to be laid in the hall, up the stairs, along the landing, and in the living room.

We decided to redecorate the living room before the new carpets went down (daft to do it afterwards!), so booked ourselves into a nearby Holiday Inn for Wednesday and Thursday night.

We checked in and were directed to a room on the 7th floor, which struck us as pretty hot as we went in, but that’s not unusual with hotel rooms AND we were having a mini-heatwave too.  So we whacked the air-con up to Full as we unpacked.

Two hours later, and the room was no cooler, so we headed down to Reception to see if there was another option.  The two girls there were really helpful and found us an alternative room on the 2nd floor.  One of them also found us a free-standing fan, and came up to our first room to help us move our stuff – her reaction when she realised how warm it was?  “Wow, I see what you mean!  will have to get onto the maintenance team about this!”

So now we were in a room on the 2nd floor, which was identical to the first room but a LOT cooler!  It was fine.

On Thursday we spent the day decorating at our flat, returning to the hotel by about 6.00pm, totally exhausted.  Too tired even to go out to eat, so after showering we just opted for a meal in the hotel restaurant, which was fine.

Back in our room (which was lovely and cool!) we sat and watched the TV when there was a strange gurgling noise coming from the bathroom.  George investigated and found smelly ‘brown’ water surging up through the shower drain.  It stank.

A quick phone call to Reception was followed by a visit from the Duty Manager, who held his nose, pulled a face, and told us they’d got us yet another room, this time on the 4th floor.

So we moved our stuff again, and another message was left for the maintenance bods.  And this room seemed to be okay – hooray!

The manager cleared the cost of our meal off of our bill.  He couldn’t give us a discount on the room-rate as we’d paid in full when we booked it, so this was the best he could do.  We were also offered free breakfasts on the Friday, but we had to refuse that as we needed to be back at the flat early to let the carpet fitters in.

So a two-night stay resulted in three different rooms!  That has to be a first – and hopefully it’ll be the last!  We do like the Holiday Inn chain, which suit us and they provide a really nice breakfast (not the Holiday Inn Express, though – that’s nowhere near as nice), and the staff on this occasion couldn’t have been more helpful.

All part of life’s rich tapestry!

Demise of the popular ‘Crow’s Nest’ Website

Yesterday my wife let me know that a very popular cruise forum website had been hacked and was seriously affected. Later in the day the news came that the site and its content had been so badly damaged, that it would be closed.

The website – had been launched and operated in 2003 by an enthusiastic person called Brad Tipping.

Deb has been following and adding her own thoughts to this forum for several years and took a look at the site multiple times a day.

Unlike some Facebook groups, Crow’s Nest was a friendly site where people could chat with like-minded lovers of maritime adventures, or to ask for advice about a ship or a destination they were considering. The site also had masses of reference areas with advice about masses of things that new cruisers ask about, reviews of cruises spanning several years, comparisons of different cruise lines or ships, or suggested tours at hundreds of ports worldwide.

Crow’s Nest was not about selling, or a place for trolls to be rude to total strangers. It was a friendly site for genuine people to ask for advice about cruising, or maybe to discuss the topic of the day or for sharing information.

Whoever the guilty hacker was, he or she has not made any money from this adventure. At a tap of a mouse, the website has been destroyed and a group of people have lost their access to a friendly and informative site…..

…. but hopefully only temporarily.

Brad plans to resurrect the forum and reference website. It will take some time to achieve this, but it will be with new software that should deter the menaces of the web. Members are using a Facebook group for now and are offering suggestions to Brad for what things to retain from the old format, or ideas for new things to consider.

The old website address is still operational, but just displays an opening page for the moment. When time allows new pages will be developed and launched, so for all the fans of Crow’s Nest, please be patient for now.

Some Observations from a World Cruise


1              Why do passengers waste time queuing for machines in the launderettes on board?  You’re on holiday, for heaven’s sake!  If you’re that short of knickers, either buy more or rinse them in the cabin sink.  The launderettes are also the only public rooms with no air-con, which makes it even worse in there.  Just remember to sharpen your elbows before venturing inside….

2              A couple did the whole circumnavigation and had never cruised with P&O before.  Very brave, I think, to trust a brand you’ve no experience of for that length of time.

3              How seriously do people take the (supposedly fun) individual quiz?  One woman made a couple of complaints to the Cruise Director that the Ents Officer had the ‘wrong’ answers to questions.

4              Anyone with Norovirus is (rightly) confined to their cabin.  But why are their cabin-mates not also restricted?  Surely they are the people most likely to carry and spread the infection?

5              Why do P&O Ents staff think we wore such ridiculous wigs in the 60s/70s?  Their idea of fashion styles of that era leaves a lot to be desired, too.

6              Why do the Cruise Directors always seem to hold the Tropical party on Aurora round the Riviera pool?  Once when we were on board there was a strong wind blowing, and on the world cruise the heavens opened.  There’s a retractable roof over the Crystal pool, for heavens’ sake!

7              E-readers rule!  For every book spotted, there seemed to be about three e-readers.  The library was even offering Kindles for passengers to try before buying.

8              Why have P&O never got to grips with decent toast?  The morning’s offering is a real tooth-breaker.  I actually felt homesick for decent toast.

9              They also have NO IDEA what a Panini is!

10           I don’t think I imagined it, but there seemed to be quite a lot of old men on board accompanied by much younger women….

11           There’s a painting in the stairwell between decks 9 and 10 forward, of two creepy-looking young men wearing lipstick and holding lollipops (I think that’s what they are).  I don’t know how  I went the whole cruise without drawing beards/moustaches/specs on them in permanent marker…

12           And between decks 10 and 11 forward there’s another painting of a woman who appears to be snapping on a pair of surgical gloves.  She has an “I’m-going-to-enjoy-this-much-more-than-you-are” look on her face.  Onboard proctology anyone?

13           The selection of vegetables in the dining room each evening left a lot to be desired.  But I suppose those who love courgettes, pumpkin and swede were happy…  Much as we like all three, we became heartily sick of them (and the courgettes became increasingly bitter, which is a sure sign they’re past their best).

14           Why do some people think the anti-Noro hygiene precautions shouldn’t apply to them?  Are they so (self) important that they can’t wait for anything for even a few seconds?  Nobody on board ever look like they’ve been sterilised and shrink-wrapped in plastic to keep the bacteria out of their personal space.  Or am I being cynical?

15           Williams’ First Law of Touring: no matter how much you enjoy a tour, someone else’s always sounds like it would have been better.

16           Williams’ Second Law of Touring: someone will always claim to have independently done/seen the same as your tour, but at about 25% of what you paid.


A slightly unplanned cruise to the Canaries!

Saturday Feb 10 – leaving home

Well, by lunchtime everything that needed doing had been done, so we loaded the cases and hit the road.  I’m quietly impressed that we’re only taken five cases this time!  Not even using the biggest one of our new set.  So just five – plus a tiny roll-on case and a laptop bag each.  Oops!

The roads were surprisingly quiet, and it only took us 2½ hours to get to Southampton.  But what a filthy trip; non-stop spray being thrown up by the vehicles around us.  And although we’ve had our new car since October, we still haven’t mastered the heating controls!  On.  Off.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Windscreen steaming up.  Off again.  And so on.

Ah well, never mind.

We checked into the Holiday Inn, and left four of the cases in their secure room.  Well, it saved lugging them up six floors and down again tomorrow.  And as usual when we stay anywhere, within 30 minutes of us arriving, the poor room looked like a bomb had hit it.

I had a quick bath while George watched the rugby, then we went downstairs to get something for dinner.  Now, every time we’ve had an evening meal here in the past it’s been really nice.  Not tonight.  George’s grilled chicken was very dry, and my chicken fajitas were frankly tasteless.  And both our plates had something burnt about them.

So after the meal, when I went to Reception for some more milk and teabags, I mentioned it.  As it happened the new manager was standing there and heard what I said, and after talking to us in more detail knocked 50% off the price of the meal.  That wasn’t the reason I mentioned the poor food, but it was appreciated.

We spent the rest of the evening in our room with the TV and a bottle of red.  It would have been nice to walk into West Quay where there was a Light Festival running, but the weather was frankly too awful.


Sunday Feb 11 – Southampton, embarkation day

The usual crap night’s sleep in a strange hotel room, but I think by now we’ve come to expect it.  Fortunately, when we woke and opened the curtains we could see Oriana docked and waiting for us.

After breakfast we killed an hour by wandering round the West Quay shopping centre, before returning and meeting our taxi to the ship.  We did the check-in thing and were ushered straight on board – no waiting around at all.  The Loyalty Welcome Lunch was in the Oriental restaurant, where we had a good chat and a laugh with a couple from Weston-Super-Mare.  And the drinks flowed very freely!  And we were surprised by Catherine, part of quiz team ‘Densa’ who did the world cruise with us last year.  She’s on board with her husband Frank and her parents, just like last time we met them, but unlike us they’d already been onboard for 12 nights, and were doing back-to-backs.  We all arranged to meet up later for a quiz.

After unpacking, we did our usual deck-by-deck forward-to-aft exploration of the ship, to get reacquainted with Oriana.  She’s not changed at all since we were last on her, although a lot of the furnishings and fittings appear quite new.  Our cabin is a deluxe outside, on C-deck midships: a good size, and lots of storage space.

We attended Muster drill of course, and the ship sailed at 4.45.  It was a lovely sunny afternoon, but it seems that while we were all indoors learning how to put our lifejackets on there had been a short sharp hailstorm.  Certainly the open decks were wet when we went outside.

Don’t you love the British weather? 😊

Dinner in the Oriental restaurant meant meeting out four table-companions – a couple with well over 60 cruises under their belts, and a pair of ladies who said virtually nothing.  Hmm.

We were pretty tired but managed to sit through the first Headliners’ offering, ‘Stage Door’: we’ve seen it before, of course, but it was still good.  Then we joined Catherine and Frank in the Lord’s Tavern for a ‘welcome’ quiz, mostly questions about P&O, where we lost out on the bottle of wine by just half a point.  Never mind.

And so to bed, both of hoping to get at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.


Monday Feb 12 – at sea

Well, so much for hoping: neither of us slept very well at all.  The sea was a bit lumpy, though nothing like we’d expected, but of course we just weren’t used to all the various noises that a moving ship produces.

For once we had breakfast in the main dining room rather than in the buffet.  This was purely because today was Monday which meant that Eggs Benedict were on the menu.  Lovely!  Even George, who’s tum gives him grief in heavy seas, enjoyed it.  And we had a nice chat with the others we were seated with, so all good.

I’d planned to give the art class a go, but had second thoughts when I saw who was taking it (I’ve come across them in the past, and sorry, but I just didn’t like the way they ran their lessons).  So the pair of us just sat in the Crow’s Nest reading until it was time for a meet-up arranged through Facebook.  The Captain (Derek Gray) showed up, so we all had a good chance to ask him things.  Thus we learned about his working day and the rest periods he’s legally obliged to take, the fact that he can’t pick and choose the officers who sail with him, what he thinks of the tea on board, why he sometimes secretly cries in his cabin (he misses his three-year-old son), and that contrary to a thousand and one launderette rumours, there are no plans to sell off Oriana.

A nice chap, very easy to talk to.

After that I grabbed a salad while George went to choir practice, and we spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing, and watching the increasingly heavy seas.  Then it was time for the individual quiz (beaten by Catherine!) before preparing ourselves for the evening.

Dinner was much more of a chatty affair than yesterday as the six of us start to get to know each other a little. The menus are proving to be veeerrry familiar (!) but the standard here is pretty high, so that’s good.  However, I do wish I’d opted for a different dessert as the smoked cheese on the board repeated on me all through the evening.  Won’t fall for that one again!

There was a Welsh comedian on in the Theatre Royal, Mike Doyle.  I thought his name was familiar but after seeing his show I’m not so sure.  George was certain we’d not seen him before.  Either way, it was a very funny act and we’ll definitely make the effort to see him again in a couple of days’ time.

We joined Catherine and Frank for the first syndicate quiz, which – surprise, surprise – we won on the tie-break.  And as they don’t drink, George and I waltzed off with the bottle of wine:  Catherine just said when (when, not if!) we win again, they’ll have soft drinks.  I love an optimist!


Tuesday Feb 13 – at sea

What a dreadful night.  We were woken around 1.30 to what I thought was the sound of a lifeboat falling off its divots.  The ship was moving around a lot, and George peeked through the curtain just as there was a bright flash of lightening and a loud clap of thunder.  I don’t know how long the storm lasted, but I had to resort to ear-plugs to block out the noise a bit before I could get back to sleep.

In the morning I discovered a large puddle of water on the bathroom floor: I can only guess it had splashed out of the toilet pan.  But no other signs that we’d been churning around in a washing-machine sea, although poor George’s tum was suffering again and the last thing he wanted was breakfast.  Fortunately for us the Atlantic had calmed down again to ‘just’ a heavy swell, but both the Prom Deck and Sky Deck remained closed.  The Riviera Pool was the only one open, along with all the jacuzzies, but there was no rush of passengers to take advantage!

So the morning really was just spent dozing as we tried to make up for some of our lost sleep.  By lunchtime we’d rallied enough that George returned to the choir, and a bit later we both went to the Battle of the Sexes (I’m the ladies team captain, so pretty much have to go to that!).  Ladies whopped the men again, so we’re now over 100 points ahead.

Tonight was formal night, and the Welcome On Board bun-fight.  Okay I suppose, but the Pacific Lounge was pretty packed and we had no chance to mingle and chat to anyone much.  Still, at least we had a few free drinks!

Dinner was the Marco Pierre White menu, with the Beef Wellington option, which was really nice.  But although it’s only our third dinner on board I’m already wishing there was more in the way of vegetables on offer.  The strange ‘medley’ of veg sticks is not inspiring – carrot, turnip, sweet potato, swede – and the heap of over-cooked spinach is just plain awful.

But the lemon and sugar pancakes for Shrove Tuesday were lovely!

Neither of the main shows this evening took our fancy so we went back to the cabin for a bit more catching-up sleep.  And before joining Catherine and Frank for the syndicate quiz (hopeless tonight!) we just had time to pop into Harlequins to have a dance and try out George’s dodgy knee.  We got there just as a session of sequence dancing was starting, and sure enough there was a Mayfair Quickstep for us to join in with.  And to our delight they played the Irish Jig version – our favourite dance above all others!


Wednesday Feb 14 – at sea

At least, a reasonable night’s sleep!  The sea state had calmed down massively, and the air temperature was beginning to climb, so we decided to do a prom Deck mile walk.  Good idea, thwarted by the forward part of the deck being closed “due to high winds”.  It was a bit blowy, yes, but wouldn’t have called it high winds.  Ah well.  So we went as far round as we could and doubled back on ourselves, and repeating that four times took us well over the mile.

Midday saw us in the Oriental restaurant for our Baltic/Ligurian tier loyalty lunch.  There’s two of these on this cruise as there aren’t enough senior officers to host all the tables if we’d all been in together.  Apparently, the Caribbean tier lunch will completely fill the restaurant, but they don’t necessarily get officers hosting tables.

Our table host was the Purser (sorry, can’t remember what they’re called now), and we had another couple with us, so a nice little group.  Plenty of chat, and the Purser seemed to enjoy herself.  Decent amounts of wine brought round, and the menu was much nicer than the last time we attended one of these things.

George had missed the choir practice, but we left the restaurant just in time to get to the Battle of the Sexes, where the men had a stand-in team captain and won today (though the ladies are still ahead overall).

We didn’t want the full MDR dinner this evening, because of the lunchtime blow-out, so we just had a small plate of curry at the Indian-themed buffet in the Conservatory.  But what a curry!  I had a tablespoonful of pilau rice and the same of vegetable korma – and I think it was the nicest, tastiest curry I’ve ever had on any ship.  Gorgeous!

After eating, we joined in with a quiz in the Lord’s Tavern, where we had to recognise flags of the world.  We didn’t do too well, but two couples managed to get all 20 right: we think they’d done the same quiz before.  Then we made our way to the theatre where Mike Doyle was doing his final show – another very funny 45-minutes or so.

And finally it was time for the syndicate quiz, where together with Catherine, her mum and Frank we finished runners-up, so not bad.


Thursday Feb 15 – Funchal, Madeira

Another decent night’s sleep for us both, but sadly George’s neck was really bad this morning so I think he must have slept at a funny angle.  His dodgy left knee was giving him grief, too, so a double-whammy.

A lovely bright and sunny morning, though a little cool.  I thought trousers and a jersey would be appropriate for wandering around Funchal, but after about half an hour I was wishing I’d worn shorts and a t-shirt!  A really nice day, weather-wise.

Oriana’s sister ship, Oceana, was docked just behind us, giving us the chance to grab photos of the two vessels side by side.  But we had prime spot, meaning Oceana’s passengers had further to walk into the town than us!

We’ve been to Funchal on several occasions in the past and there was nothing particular we planned to do today, and with George’s knee playing up we were never going to go very far.  We wandered through some of the back streets and the Municipal Gardens, bought a couple of souvenirs, and ended up drinking coffee and eating nata cakes in a street café.  How did that happen?  Hee hee.

Back on board, we spent an hour up on deck, soaking up the sun and listening to our iPods.  The weather was turning out to be much hotter and sunnier than we had expected – not that we’re complaining!

Then at 4.00 I had an appointment in the spa, for something they were calling “Ladies Night”.  There were eight of us who were exfoliated and moisturised to within an inch of our lives, with sessions in the steam room and sauna thrown in (to help our skin absorb the products, apparently).  It lasted about 90 minutes, and was quite good fun.  Good value, too, at just £29 for the whole thing.

This evening we ate in the Beach House.  Always a fantastic meal in there, and tonight was no exception.  Service was a tad on the slow side, but that was no bad thing as it meant we digested our starters and mains, and weren’t so over-stuffed that we had no room for a pud!

Our final thing for the day was to watch the Headliners’ ‘Reel to Reel’ show.  Another one we’ve seen before, of course, but still pretty good.


Friday Feb 16 – Santa Cruz, La Palma

Fortunately, George’s neck is a bit better this morning, and he was up making tea as we sailed into Santa Cruz.  No sign of Oceana this morning as she’s heading for the Caribbean, but we were joined by the Aida Sol instead.  So we expected lots of Germans in town with us later on.

As with Madeira yesterday, there was nothing in particular we planned on doing, so as soon as we’d had breakfast we wandered into the town, buying one or two bits (including ice creams!) as we went.  The seafront is lined by little buildings, all of which have pretty wooden balconies on their upper levels.  The balconies are painted in a variety of colours, and most have pot plants trailing over them, making a very photogenic sight.

It was getting pretty hot so we didn’t hang around ashore, and once back on the ship I had a quick swim and we toasted ourselves up on Sun Deck once again.

I’m beginning to wish I’d packed more pairs of shorts, and maybe a bikini!

We joined in with the individual quiz, which today I managed to win!  My first (and possibly last) gold sticker!  We dined in the Oriental, and after dinner I had to visit the shops to pick an outfit: this idiot has volunteered to ‘model’ for the fashion show in a few days’ time.  I only wish they stocked/sold stuff that I actually liked.  Anyhow, I got a dress sorted, though when I saw the price tag I just went “how much???!!!”  Not a chance, not even with 10% Peninsular discount.  Good job I don’t have to buy the thing.

There was nothing on entertainment-wise that floated our boats this evening, so we relaxed in Anderson’s with a drink until it was time to join the others for the syndicate quiz.  That was strange – it STARTED with a tie-break question.  It seems the scoring yesterday was wrong, so the team that thought they’d won, us and another team had a tie-break question – which we won.  Strange way to start a quiz, but there you go.

Saturday Feb 17 – Santa Cruz, Tenerife

The Canaries are pretty confusing sometimes, with the names of towns being the same, or whole islands called the same as towns on other islands.  Doubtless the locals find it simple.

The Aida Sol was docked nearby again, along with the Saga Sapphire.  We tried to have a bit of a nose at the Saga ship as we’ve been thinking about investigating what they have to offer.  A fair number of balcony cabins and what looked like plenty of open deck: we might see about a ship visit later in the year.

It was carnival day in Santa Cruz today, and as we went ashore the preparations were much in evidence.  Many roads were closed to traffic, some off-limits to pedestrians, too, and we walked past three large temporary stages near to the port terminal.  But the worst thing was the stench of urine everywhere: the streets were being power-washed, which seemed to spread the problem around while the roads and pavements were wet.  Awful.

But we held our noses and headed up the main shopping street in search of a chemist.  George had decided he needed to buy a decent knee support (the one he has now is too small and does him no good at all), and found one which he’s worn most of the time since.

We didn’t particularly want to hang around to see the carnival, so made our way back to the shuttle bus.  We saw quite a lot of people in fancy dress, all heading in the same direction, so I’m guessing there are quite a number of floats involved.

We tried lunch in Al Fresco on board.  Shan’t be doing that again.  Tasteless salads and pizza slices, and the carbonara was cold.  Ah well, some you win…

We crashed on deck briefly, though the wind was quite cool – enough to send us back inside after I’d had a swim.  George went back to the cabin while I went to the spa and spent half an hour in the steam room and sauna.

The Headliners were back in the theatre this evening, with ‘Destination Dance’, our favourite of all the shows they do.  Think this one might be on the way out, though, as we saw a totally different dance-based show on Oceana back in November.  Shame if that’s the case, but it’s been around for a few years so its time’s probably up.

We followed the show with the syndicate quiz, hot chocolate in the Conservatory, and then bed.  We’re on a tour tomorrow so need our sleep!


Sunday Feb 18 – Arrecife, Lanzarote

We were on a tour to Teguise this morning, where there is a market every Sunday.  The rest of the week, this little town is a sleepy place, with just a few visitors seeking out the history of the island.  But on Sundays – well, all I can say is I wouldn’t want to be a resident!

There were literally hundreds of stalls, spread out over the main square and all the surrounding streets, roads and lanes.  It was part craft market, part flea market and part local produce.  One area even looked like a car-boot sale!  It was enormous.

And of course, being enormous meant there were thousands of visitors.  But we had no trouble finding somewhere to sit down when we wanted to, so we stopped a couple of times, once for coffee and once for a burger from a German street-food stall.

We’d been allocated three hours at the market, and that was about the right length of time.  We didn’t have to rush around anywhere, and nor were we twiddling our thumbs waiting to go back.

We were back on Oriana by mid-afternoon, which was too late really to get the shuttle bus into Arrecife.  So we lazed a couple of hours away before going to the individual quiz.  That was followed by the Peninsular cocktail party: have to say I don’t like these things being held in the Pacific Lounge (or in Carmen’s on Aurora, come to that).  It’s much too ‘regimented’, and there’s barely any chance to mingle and chat to other passengers or the officers.  Much nicer in the Crow’s Nest.

We ate in the Beach House again this evening, but didn’t manage the dessert course this time!  I blame the wine…

There was a music quiz in the Lord’s Tavern which we were just in time to take part in.  We thought we’d done quite well, but one team scored 20/20 so no-one else got a look-in.  And the syndicate quiz was a bit of a farce, with people taking issue with some of the answers, and Alejandro’s scoring called into question.


Monday Feb 19 – at sea

Didn’t sleep brilliantly – bit of indigestion after yesterday evening’s over-indulgence.  But we were up early for breakfast in the MDR, where the special-of-the-morning was Eggs Benedict.  We had nice company at the table, though I had to make my excuses and leave early as I was due, suited and booted, in the Pacific Lounge for Fashion show rehearsals.

There were 12 passengers and four of the shop team modelling a variety of outfits.  We had our make-up done and a walk-through practice beforehand, with unlimited prosecco, orange juice and bucks fizz flowing.  The audience began filling the Lounge, which I’d guess was around 75% full, so a good crowd who were very supportive of us nervous models.  I was second on, as part of the ‘monochrome range’: in short, I had a black-and-white wrap dress to wear, with a black bag and white pashmina.

It didn’t last too long, and was all quite fun.  I’d certainly volunteer to do it another time.

George went to choir practice, then after lunch we both had the Battle (ladies back to winning ways again).  We followed that by getting our names picked out of a hat to take part in the P&O version of “Pointless”.  Got knocked out in the first round though, due to neither of us ever having watched either a Star Wars or Star Trek film!  We didn’t really want another meal in the Beach House anyway!

Tonight was black-and-white formal night, which somehow I managed to overlook, and wore a scarlet dress instead!  Never mind, I wasn’t the only one in a ‘colour’!

We didn’t want to see the Headliners’ ‘We’ll Meet Again’ show, so spent an hour in the Crow’s Nest where the Trio were playing, before joining the others for the syndicate quiz again.  Bit better organised tonight, but there was still a couple of teams querying the scoring.


Tuesday Feb 20 – Lisbon

This is the ninth time we’ve called at Lisbon so we had nothing on our ‘do and see’ list.  Another Aida ship was docked with us (Aida Vita, I think it was), so the port area was pretty busy, though there was no queue for the shuttle into the city centre.  This took ages – partly due to the traffic and partly the convoluted one-way system.  But we were in no hurry.  We wandered around for an hour or so, window-shopping mostly, before having a coffee and nata cake at one of the pavement cafés that line the main streets.

And that was all we wanted to do.  It was a lovely sunny day, but a bit cool, and lazing on the deck of the ship seemed a nice way to spend the afternoon, so that’s what we did.  Most of Sun Deck was pretty sheltered, with barely any breeze, and although it was quite quiet when we settled down it didn’t take long for most of the sunbeds to be occupied.

I won a second gold sticker in the individual quiz later in the afternoon.  Not sure if I’ll swap them – might just hang on to them until we’re on Aurora in May.  We’ve heard that the stickers will be replaced with ink stamps, but I’ll take that risk!

We ate dinner in the Conservatory as tonight was the Indian buffet, which is always good.  Then we sat in the Crow’s Nest for an hour playing Trivial Pursuit as we didn’t really want to see tonight’s main show, Roy Walker, as we’ve seen him several times in the past.  We joined Catherine, Frank and Nora in Lord’s Tavern for a 60s/70s music quiz, followed by a dash upstairs to the syndicate quiz where we lost out on the tie-break.


Wednesday Feb 21 – at sea

We’re sailing back past Portugal’s Atlantic coast, and the sea is noticeably lumpier than it has been for the last few days.  Cooler too, so it looks like we’ve had it with the sunbathing!

Harish, our cabin steward, delivered our questionnaire/feedback form this morning, so we sat down for half an hour and filled that out.  Our responses to the “what can we do better” bit included:

  • Improve the choice of vegetable in the MDR so we can get our five-a-day
  • Include the tips in the price of the cruise to stop people not tipping at all (cash or auto)
  • Stop relying on classical musicians and singers for the evening entertainment as some of us don’t like that type of music
  • Build more SMALLER ships (Oriana/Aurora-sized)

There’s probably a lot more we could have put, but we ran out of space!

And today it’s been announced that Aurora will become ‘adults only’ from March/April next year.  That’s okay with us (hardly see any children on her anyway), but we do wonder if that means Oriana will be sold.

Most of the morning was spent around the ship, sitting chatting to various people and drinking coffee.  George went off to choir practice at midday, leaving me space in the cabin to begin sorting stuff for packing.  I got the bulk of my clothes into a case before he returned and we went to the Conservatory for lunch.

The men won the Battle today, so there’s less than 100 points between the two teams going into tomorrow’s final, and we didn’t do great at either the individual or the syndicate quizzes.

The main show in the evening was a pair of classical musicians/singers (no thanks), or the Headliners’ tribute to Queen which we’ve seen so many times we could probably join them on stage.  We spent most of our evening in Anderson’s instead.


Thursday Feb 22 – at sea

Overnight we continued past the Bay of Biscay, with seas so calm there was barely any ship movement at all.  So slept well, apart from waking at one point with a really banging headache: no idea why (bit dehydrated, perhaps?  Certainly not due to the single glass of rioja I had last night), but it had cleared by the morning.

George had his final choir rehearsal at 10.00, while I packed a couple more suitcases.  Bulk of it’s done now, which is good.

Then after lunch the choir gave their performance in the theatre – and very good it was too.  I even managed to video most of it, in spite of someone who came and stood next to me and sang along, seriously off-key!  Then I raced down to the Lord’s Tavern for the final of the Battle, which was much more interactive than before: the ladies won today, and have won overall – hooray!  And I was given a bottle of the P&O paint-stripper for being team captain, which I wasn’t expecting at all.

We ate in the buffet this evening, Thai-themed tonight.  We just couldn’t face the MDR: I’ve not mentioned it, but one of our table-mates eats his way through the entire menu, extremely slowly.  Last night was the final straw, as he didn’t like the bouillabaisse (he’d already had a starter), but had it replaced with another soup – while the rest of us were sitting twiddling our thumbs with our champagne sorbets rapidly melting.  So no, enough, and the buffet was fine.

Roy Walker was on in the theatre again, but we sat in the Crow’s Nest drinking our way through our remaining on-board credit.  We made it – just!  I would hate to not spend some of it, even just a few quid.  We had a final go at the syndicate quiz, before saying our goodbyes and putting the last suitcase outside the cabin door.

George has picked up the Cruise Cough – it’s pretty bad this evening, but at least he succumbed at the end of the trip, not the beginning.


Friday Feb 23 – Southampton, disembarkation day

We were off the ship before 8.15, but strangely it took us an age to find our cases: that’s been a pretty quick process in recent cruises.  And then we had to wait another age for our taxi back to the hotel to collect our car.

George was still feeling rotten, but drove anyway, and we were home just before midday.  By the middle of the afternoon we’d unpacked, gone through all the post, and I’d done two loads of washing.

It was a really nice cruise, even though the Canary Islands aren’t top of our list of places to visit.  In our case, it’s about the cruise rather than the ports.

And now there’s just over nine weeks before we’re off again!



A cruise on ‘Black Watch’ – second half

SUNDAY 17th December – Amsterdam

I should have mentioned before: I am sick to death of Michael flippin’ Bublé.  It seems that every time there’s piped music playing around the ship, it’s him.  Don’t like him at the best of times, but when he’s murdering Christmas songs all day and night, I’m ready to kill someone.

Neither of slept well.  George had been feeling a bit queasy, and I had a painful itch in one foot, but we both eventually dropped off and woke to a bright and sunny, if chilly, day.

Our morning was just a relaxed time, reading, chatting to our fellow passengers, and watching the ‘scenery’ as we approached Amsterdam.  The only thing we did, really, was a late-morning quiz, and a brisk mile walk (five laps!) around the deck.  That blew the cobwebs away!

We’d discussed eating today, as we would be ashore in the evening and so miss dinner.  We opted in the end to grab a decent meal at lunchtime, and maybe afternoon tea, to see us through.  Well, George had a decent lunch (roast pork), but I struggled to find much to interest me.  The buffet selections on here are really very limited, especially if like me you can’t eat shellfish.

I listened to a guest speaker in the afternoon.  His subject was the Lusitania: I already knew a fair bit about it, but he came up with some interesting facts and figures that were new to me.  His talk was followed by the Grand Tea Dance: George joined me for take to the floor a few times, though his shoulder was hurting him too much to stay in formal ballroom hold for long (a result of all that digging in the snow earlier in the week), so we didn’t dance too much.  But the tea, sandwiches and cakes were welcome!

We had watched our arrival into the first lock of the North Sea Canal system after lunch (quite amazing to see, but nothing compared to the Panama Canal) and we finally docked while we were dancing.  We had a couple of hours to kill before our evening tour, so we investigated the free wi-fi in the cruise terminal which was pretty good.  We managed to read our emails, download the daily paper, and have a quick look at Facebook.

Then it was time to go off on our tour “Evening Canal Cruise”.  Fred.Olsen had chartered a barge, and I guess there were around 30-40 of us on board.  It was lovely, especially as Amsterdam was holding their annual Festival of Light.  We were taken along both major and minor canals, where we saw Christmas and Festival decorations, and examples of the architecture that is such as feature of this city.  The only shame was that it was raining the whole time, so the boat’s windows kept steaming up.  We got as far as Anne Frank’s house before heading back towards the cruise terminal.

And all through we had wine, cheese and nibbles on each table.  George and I both fell in love with a Gouda cheese that had speckles of something in it.  We both recognised the flavour, but couldn’t place it: it turned out to be cumin, of all things!  One to look for tomorrow…

Back on Black Watch, we were far too late for dinner (and pretty full of cheese, anyway!), so just went up to the Observatory lounge for a drink and a late-night quiz.

Exploring Amsterdam on foot tomorrow!


MONDAY 18th December – Amsterdam

Best night’s sleep we’ve both had on this ship, and we woke relatively late.  But we were still breakfasted and ready to go ashore fairly early, and by 10.00 am we were walking through the nearby Centraalstation on our way to the Daam, the centre of the city.

As we walked along we browsed in many of the shops, but didn’t buy anything until we headed back later.  Some shops we spent less time in than others, mainly due to the pungent smell of cannabis wafting around.  Although we knew how relaxed the Dutch are about drugs, it still came as a bit of a shock to see (and smell) just how openly they smoke the stuff.

It took us about half an hour to reach the Daam square, where we turned off into some of the small side streets where the quieter, narrow canals are.  Coffee was drunk, and many photos taken!

And we found the cumin Gouda cheese!  There was a lovely shop-cum-cheese museum on the Damrak, where we stocked up: I think we have enough Gouda of various types to last us until Easter!

We got back, foot-sore, to the ship in time for a late lunch, and after returning briefly to the cruise terminal building to grab the free wi-fi again, we both relaxed for an hour or so.

We had a bash at another quiz mid-afternoon, before preparing for the second formal night on board.  Dinner options included Christmas dinner (with crackers), not that that interested me – I ended up with pasta again.  But the chat and jokes between our table and the next made it an enjoyable couple of hours.

Yes, I said a couple of hours.  We sat down at 8.30, and only left shortly before 10.30.  We didn’t particularly want to see the Neptune Lounge offering (the Crew Show), but our companions had to rush across from the restaurant to get seats before curtain-up.

We just had a final drink before bed.


TUESDAY 19th December – Antwerp

Strange noises woke us in the early hours, which may have been explained this morning by the Captain’s announcement.  It seems Antwerp was under thick fog and we couldn’t progress down the river until it lifted, so the anchor was dropped and the ship sat around for a couple of hours until we were cleared to progress on to the city.

We were on the move again before 11.00 am – straight into more thick fog.  There really was nothing at all to see outside, not we really wanted to go outside as it was bitterly cold all morning.  So we just found somewhere comfy to sit and read, until we finally docked just after 2.00 pm.

We were quickly making our way ashore (along with most of the ship, I think!) to have a brief look around and get our bearings.  Just across the road from where we were docked was the start of the Christmas markets, which extended into the Grote Markt.  It was beautiful: dozens of stalls selling gifts, decorations, food and drink of all types.  Everywhere was decorated with trees, greenery and lights, and there were loads of large patio heaters around to keep the chill off.

In the Grote Markt itself a large skating rink had been set up.  It seemed very popular, with dozens of youngsters whizzing around and showing off their skating skills – or lack of them!  We stood watching for a while, munching on sugar waffles we’d bought from a nearby stall.

By now it was getting dark, and our ears were getting cold.  We went back to the ship, and collected our woolly hats before returning to the fun in the city.  We wanted to see it all again, but at night.  And it was just stunning.  We even came across singers outside the cathedral: around 30 schoolgirls, all dressed in Santa hats and green capes.  Worth listening to, even though we couldn’t understand what they were singing about!  “Why are these Brits staring at us?” maybe?

We’d agreed to give dinner on board a miss, and grab some street food instead.  Have to say I’m rather impressed with the braatewurtse!  And as for the hot chocolate – well, this Belgium!

We stayed in the city for well over an hour, soaking up the atmosphere, but returned ‘home’ just in time to catch the theatre show from the Black Watch Company – this one called “Musicality”.  Pretty good, if a bit confusing at times.  And we ended our evening in the Observatory Lounge, doing a quiz about famous women, which was okay.


WEDNESDAY 20th December – Antwerp

Neither of us slept particularly well as a light from the port terminal seemed to be shining straight into our cabin.  Oh well…

Today our grandson is four years old.  I left a message with our daughter asking her to ring whenever was convenient, just so we could wish Oliver “happy birthday”.  In the end he wouldn’t come to the phone: too taken with his presents!  Never mind, we’ll see them next week.

We went back into Antwerp mid-morning, and as we were too early to go into the cathedral we went wandering – and managed to get lost.  And this is a city where that’s not an easy thing to do!  Fortunately we did manage to find our way back in the end, and spent a good half an hour or so in the cathedral, mostly admiring the Rubens paintings there.  A stunning building.

We just had time for a bit of souvenir and chocolate shopping before we had to be back on board.  Even though there was still quite thick fog around, Black Watch left on time, which was good.

But the fog meant that there was very little to see as we sailed back down the river, so we spent our afternoon packing and relaxing.  We had an early(ish) dinner in the Brigadoon restaurant before heading to the Neptune Lounge for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail party, which was even less enthralling than his ‘welcome on board’ one.  Never mind, it was another chance to chat to people we’d not come across before.

And I had quite an interesting encounter as we waited to go into dinner.  A lady came up to me and said “excuse me, is your name Deb?”  A bit warily I said yes – and it turned out she’d recognised me from my Facebook profile picture!  A photo, I might add, that had been taken at our daughter’s wedding in 2006!  The years must have been kinder than I thought!  And it turned out that she was a fan of George’s books, and just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to him.  How nice was that?

We weren’t overly keen on hanging around to see the show in the Neptune Lounge (described as comedy and music, a combination that always makes us go “umm?”), so had a drink in the Observatory before having a bash at the quiz, followed by a final drink in the Morning Light bar.

Our final ‘job’ was to put our cases outside the cabin and set the alarm for the morning.  It’s been a nice cruise, with lovely cities to explore, and we really like the ship.  But our big disappointment has been the food: nicely cooked, but not a great choice at any meal, and a distinct lack of vegetables.

Ah well, some you win and some….  And it’s only just over seven weeks until our next cruise, on the lovely Oriana!