Published: June 5th 2012June 5th 2012
We are on our way. Southampton slipped behind with much pomp and pageantry. God Save the Queen was sung, Union Jack flags were waved, champagne was drunk and bunting flew above the bars. Strangely as we started to gain speed the DJ felt it appropriate to play at great volume “Tragedy”, which at 2am in the morning with a skin full on board could be great humour – sober, seven stories up on a ship heading off into the North Sea could be seen as slightly dark humour. I guess the Titanic theme was not available to download. Anyway, the P & O cruise line had three ships in port and we set off up the Solent with the MV Azuranot far behind us, which led to a rousing and very British “three cheers’ as we crossed their bow.
Our departure was at a similar time as Queen Elizabeth’s flotilla was heading up the Thames, hence the Jubilee atmosphere on board - although I must add that we got the better of the weather. I was reading an article that said the Jubilee weekend has seen Pimms nearly sold out, M&S selling
over 200,000 Jubilee Teacakes and 31 miles of paper bunting and B & Q selling 3100 Jubilee Gnomes – there will be thrilled neighbours up and down the country when they arrive. I can only imagine that the Chinese and Vietnamese economies must be thriving. Waitrose was selling bunting at £5 per 3 metres on the eve of the weekend – sadly it will be at rock bottom prices next week. Stockpiling for the next royal occasion may be a good idea. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations have been exceptional – a true show of British love for the monarchy. With tens if not hundreds of thousands on the banks of the Thames yesterday and thousands of street parties taking place the length and breadth of the country the 100 or so protesters who turned up must realise that they are in the minority.
Our decision to stay the night in Southampton was complemented by the fact that the hotel was within a short drive of the Mayflower docks so the logistics of getting our luggage and us to the ship was actually fairly simple. I rose early and did a quick run down to the docks to
get the lay of the land and to get my first close up view of MV Arcadia, which had pulled alongside in the early hours of the morning ending its previous cruise. So after a quick two trips we had unloaded the bags and left the car with the parking firm – hopefully it is still in Car Park 106 when we get back. As I said in the last blog we tagged on the coattails of Mum and Dad’s earlier check in time and boarded some two hours before we were supposed to – a great idea, which allowed us to be up in the restaurant with a nice lunch and cold beer in front of us soon after we went up the gang plank. The ship is huge (83,700 tonnes, 11 decks, 1009 cabins, 285m in length, 32.2m breadth, 24 knots of speed, 2000 passengers and 880 crew) and will take some getting used to. We spent some of the afternoon exploring; we found most of the eleven bars, the gym, the golf driving range and the art gallery. There is no chance that we will go hungry as there
are restaurants on many of the decks and the menus appear to have been conceived by Bob Geldof as there is ‘food for Africa’.
Our cabin is great. We have a large King bed, a sofa, a writing area and a large window. The bathroom may be a tad small but I am not complaining. Up on A Deck R & J have a bigger cabin with an outside balcony, which we made use of as we departed. Both of our cabins are mid-ships, which is apparently the best part of the ship to be in and after sitting and rocking in one of the forward bars I think they must be right.
One of the compulsory events prior to departure is the safety drill where you are shown how to put your life jacket on. We are Muster B and the first failures of the day were those who went to the wrong muster station – it would be classified as difficult if you were a Muppet. There is a large capital letter on the front of your jacket and as you enter the muster station there is a
large capital B on the door. If I see those same people heading for my lifeboat I will ask for them to be removed as I fear they may struggle with whole concept of oars and rollicks. You will be pleased to know that both Narelle and I passed the test and we were allowed to return to our cabin to put said life jacket back in the cupboard – where I hope it remains until the next safety drill on the next cruise.
So up the Solent we went. I had not been out on the Solent since the 1990 finish of the Whitbread Round the World yacht race when the famous NZ ketches ‘Steinlager 2’ and ‘Fisher and Paykel’ finished first and second. It was Peter Blake’s greatest moment - pre winning the America’s Cup - for not only did he win the race but also won every leg of what was then the greatest ocean race in the world. The Volvo 60 Ocean racers today do not seem to have the same appeal as the great Maxi yachts of the 80s and 90s. Friends and I had four days in Southampton in June ‘90
and my greatest memories seem to be centred on bars and cafés near Ocean Village. It was also the time that I did not listen to any “stranger danger” advice from primary school. With nowhere to stay we elected to sleep on the docks (why wouldn’t you?) and had found our little alcove to take refuge in. We then went with another option after being offered a free bed from a nice old man who was taking photos down by the boats – seeing there were three of us we assumed that it would be safety in numbers but I do believe that it was a few weeks before we told parents at home. I must admit I do not remember much of the three nights we stayed with him – nice man he was. A confirmed bachelor, sixty something, who lived alone, liked taking photos – not sure what the fuss was all about.
The first part of the cruise comprises two sea days heading up through the North Sea to Oslo. It means we will get a good chance to enjoy the ship before our first port of call. The opening night’s dinner set the
standard. It is full restaurant service and the food was stunning. As it was the first night it was smart casual but we do have four Black Tie evenings to enjoy during the cruise.
The North Sea is full of oil rigs and I sense we have seen only a small percentage of them. They dot the horizon and occasionally you go very close to one. As we passed one the Bridge was making an announcement and we were told that the daily production of the rig was somewhere in the vicinity of US$18million a day; a phenomenal amount of money and barrels of oil. There is also a great deal of shipping about us and although the other cruise ships have headed off in their own directions the container ships are still visible. By shear chance today we pulled alongside a container ship called (scarily) Arcadia – all I can say is that I am glad we picked the right one. Deck G on that must be really bad! I am staggered by how stable this ship is. We are told that these ships have stabilisers and they must work as there is very little roll.
You get gentle vibration at times and if you are near the bow you get some up and down movement but not in comparison to the obvious chop outside. The hardest thing I have found is standing on the treadmill in the gym. It takes a bit of skill to run with a side to side sway going on but I managed it.
There is going to be much to enjoy on the cruise. They have an entertainment director who comes from Christchurch originally so that is a good link to home – she has already outlined much of the programme for the next two weeks and promised us a drink. The show on the first night was a chance for us to hear what we can do on board and also see a West End style show – they sang 50 songs in 50 minutes of great musical numbers. There will be a show each night along with numerous talks, games, events and competitions if you really want to get in the swing of things when you are on board.
It is nice to get the old DJ out of the suit carrier
once again. As I said four of the nights on board are formal and we have been to one. All of the passengers were invited to either the first or second seating of a Captain’s Reception – we are second seating and enjoyed being around the Neptune Pool with everyone else especially as there seemed to be a very liberal effort with delivering the drinks. Once again the food served was amazing and I am just amazed how they can feed us all with such ease. The main meals just seem to appear out of nothing - the ship reminds me of a duck on water; all serene on the surface but with unseen legs going a million miles underneath. With nearly 900 staff on board everyone must know their job and so far no one has let the side down. Narelle is enjoying getting back to our cabin with bed turned down and chocolates on the pillows especially as I hate chocolate so she is guaranteed two.
I can see the fourteen days just flying by – we may need to remind ourselves to get off and actually do some sightseeing of the Baltic areas!
There are more photos below