The (Almost) Last Post

So, back pretty much better, as long as I don’t do anything daft. Teeth definitely whiter since I switched from Diet Coke to Diet 7up. New pillows last night. Slept like a log. Appetite pretty much gone completely. Must be going home time.

Update on the missing stuff list:

Lemons in the pub (although still some in the kitchens for the fish and chips)

The coaster drought is spreading.

Washing powder in the shop.

The ice sculptor and sculptures

All parties, sailaway parties/ drinks and deck barbecues

Food theme nights

Dress theme nights

Fresh avocados

Green vegetables! Plenty of root veg though.



Port day discounts in the spa

Art auctions. There is still art on sale, and a lovely young lady called Sonia to sell it to you, but I don’t think Whitewall Galleries did very well this month. But the free champers is long gone.

Ditto chocoholics. Ditto the galley walk.

The orange squeezer machine no longer contains orange oranges. We now have small yellow-green things that look like rather spherical lemons. These are apparently “Caribbean oranges” and they have a vastly different pip to pulp ratio to their predecessors. The juice is more yellow too, but the taste is still yummy.

Decent guest entertainers. One Grumbleweed and a bloke from ELO who clearly was not one of the singers, does not cut it.

Water in the Crystal Pool. After emptying over half its contents onto the deck the other day, someone took the hint and emptied out the rest. Both Jacuzzis are still available and I think the Riviera and Terrace pools are still usable.

And, of course, no muster drills for the passengers. Now you are just supposed to watch the video on the telly in your cabin, and then get your cruise card swiped at your muster station, to prove you know where it is. It was a boring hassle, but I rather miss it. It was the moment the holiday really started.

Today was Praia da Vitoria in the Azores. We didn’t get off. We’ve been here before. There is precious little here. The inhabitants are not in the least bit interested in cruise ship visitors. They know as well as we do that we only stop here to prevent our landlubbers from getting cabin fever/ going mad from lack of land to walk on/ greenery to look at. This is Portugal and very few people speak English. In fact, I think last time we came here, the cabbie and I communicated in French! So we stayed on board. Today was the first time I’ve had to wear my wristbands on this entire cruise. We were VERY stationary indeed.

Yesterday, I packed. So today I have been counting the broken fingernails. I may have got away with just two, but there a third I’m keeping a rather dubious eye on…


R217 Aurora to the Caribbean 2022 – Miscellaneous musings

Although we have a week to go (six sea days and Praia di Vitoria), it certainly feels as though the trip is nearly over. People are muttering about cold and wind, some decks are closed, and the daily paper is full of disembarkation notices. Do this, don’t do that. We aren’t going to moor here, we’re going somewhere else. Do you want to pay extra to have your cases delivered back to your house? Here’s your hat, where’s your hurry?

In addition, we are starting to run out of things. We are reliably informed that there is only enough John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter (the only ale on board) to last the pub for another three days, tops. The coasters for drinks have run out in some venues. There are no fresh avocados left on board. These have been replaced with soggy things which are alleged to be/have been frozen avocados. I have seen some incredible things done to avocados over the years – not all of them wise. In particular, I do not recommend freezing them. Utterly foul. Yes, this is me turning down an avocado. Things must be bad. Fresh pineapple also seems to have been taken off the menu. And whoever sold the chef the cuts of meat currently being offered needs to be offered Salesperson of the Millennium. The steaks and lamb cuts are so gristly as to be inedible. Even dad has turned away food these past few days. My dad, who normally eats ANYTHING.

The weather has also taken the hint, and deteriorated somewhat, right on cue. Last night was so bumpy, the Crystal Pool emptied itself. And that was even with the nets on! In case you were wondering why a net is tied across the pool in rough weather, allow me to explain. The net is stretched across the pool (or Jacuzzi) just above the water level, so that, when the ship’s movement causes a wave to build up, it is immediately broken up by the net. If this was not done, then the time lag between ship movement and pool sloshes could cause rather large waves to accrue, which could knock the ship out of balance, and maybe even tip her over. She would certainly be much more difficult to handle for those on the Bridge in the white uniforms, who stay well away from the passengers these days.

None of this is me complaining. Just observing. I’m still happy as a pink piggy piglet in a very muddy field. Lying here, listening to the coat hangers clinking against the wardrobe doors – quite possibly my favourite sound in the world, as you know – I am so grateful and blessed to have this life, these opportunities, and [just enough] health to go to these places and do these things. Even more so that I still have my dad to do all this with. Particularly big shout out to Dad’s GP, who said, if you’re not feeling very cheery, go on a cruise. Sir, yes, sir. So we can legitimately claim that we are here on doctor’s orders!

That being said, we are both feeling a bit old and creaky at the moment. Dad’s knees and back are taking turns to give him gip, my back is still a bit twingey, and I have not only turned a year older on board, but yesterday, my eldest goddaughter turned 18. EIGHTEEN, for the love of Heaven! I am now officially that annoying auntie, who turns up and embarrasses you by saying “I remember you when you were THAT high”. Only I remember the first time I held her. I was so terrified I’d drop her, I just froze! She is, sadly, one of the Covid generation, whose studies were so disrupted in 2020. But she’s smart. I have faith she’ll come through just fine. Next will be eldest godson, in March. Oy vey.

Notes on muzak. In the past, there has been a fair amount of bitching on here about muzak – song choices, genres, volume, etc.  Sadly, it wasn’t until after Mum died that P&O finally grasped the idea that music can be turned DOWN. The volume around the ship is universally lower, and much more sensible. If you want eighties music, you go to the Pennant Bar (back of 12). If you want insipid Olivia Newton-John-breathy-style murders of rock ballads (Take My Breath Away with a flute?! – sorry, Fiona, but really?!), you go to Reception. The Horizon cafeteria varies. Today, it has been mostly full orchestral stuff – Chariots of Fire and the like – although I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with Abide With Me when on a small ship in the middle of the Atlantic… I have had some odd musical experiences on cruises in the past – remember Bat out of Hell on the banjo? But I’m pretty sure that Paint it Black on a SITAR is going to go straight to number one in this particular chart rundown.  Although, to be fair, generally speaking, sitar dance music is rather good (late nights in the Horizon).

As regards the gluten free, we are still very much in the Land of the Puds. Mousses, gateaux, all very lovely. But heaven help you if you want a sandwich. There is gluten free bread aplenty, likewise the spaghetti (I have yet to learn if other shapes are available!). And plenty of dairy alternatives – oat, soya, Benecol margarine, and so on. One lady rather put a spanner in the works earlier today, by removing an ENTIRE one litre carton of Lactofree milk from the counter, but at least she had the decency to tell the head waiter she was taking it to her cabin, so that he could send a minion down to the stores for a replacement! There is now even an entire separate serving area for vegetarian and vegan food, although the gluten free segregation needs some further work. In fact, a couple of days ago, I had to point out to my dinner waiter that there was NO gluten free option for the main course at dinner! We cobbled something together, but I think a rather stroppy message probably made its way to the Galley!

One of the head waiters, Brigesh, has been with P&O for 23 years. He fusses over me like a mother hen. Want a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich on gluten free bread made from scratch to order at gone midnight? One bun or two? He really is very solicitous. He says he is very aware of how few gf options there are. He also agreed that this is a training ship. He said that 78% of his workforce are new and need training up. He usually allows a month to get them trained. They joined a week before we boarded. So that explains a great deal. It may also go some way to explaining the repeated blank stares we get when we make enquiries at Reception!

Part 3 – The ‘I told you I wouldn’t be able to keep up’ post (aka The Ports)

Antigua – 23rd November

Got the best birthday present ever. NO ONE WOKE ME. No deadlines for meals, no rushing to excursions, no announcements through the cabins, no ship noises, no banging of hammers, drills or gangplanks. Utter bliss. Woke completely naturally when I was good and ready. Met Dad for lunch and got my cards and pressies. A lovely, relaxing day off. We’ve been to Antigua before, anyway, so we were always planning for this to be a day off.  We now refer to days off after busy days as Crash Days, as we both need recovery time these days!

St Kitts – 24th November

VERY hot and humid. And a blisteringly long walk from the gangplank to the buses. There was a little buggy service, but, as we were parked next to the Largest Cruise Ship In The World™, and their 5000 passengers were using it, there was no room for us. When we got to the bus area, we managed to persuade a member of staff to give Dad priority and our bus driver, Warner, got us on board first, with the air con on, whilst everyone else sorted themselves out. Part of the chaos was, apparently, because those off the Wonder of the Seas had set off late, so the train we were due to board had departed late and wasn’t back yet.  So there were huge queues on the quayside. From both ships. All heading in small 12-seater minibuses to the same train station.

Once we had escaped the scrum, however, the trip was delightful. Warner gave us a little tour of the island while we waited for the train, and told us interesting facts about the history of the island. Then we went to the little train, which is next to an airport so small, I didn’t even see it. Although it was a diesel, it was a hydraulic diesel (whatever that means) – the upshot being that Dad did not seem to suffer a reaction to the diesel fumes, which was nice. The train had two levels – an open air top deck and an air-conditioned lower deck, with wicker armchairs, tables, drinks and proper toilets. Unsurprisingly, we chose the latter.

The train tootled us around the coast of the island at 18 miles per hour for two hours. Very clanky, with wooden carriages that swayed quite alarmingly. The alarm was mostly reserved for the terrifyingly narrow bridges, to be fair, but there were also a few cliff edges that loomed rather close for my personal comfort.

There were some local dancers who performed for us, in fabulous outfits, and all the free soft and alcoholic drinks you wanted. All in all, a very pleasant introduction to somewhere we had never been before. I now know WAY more about the St Kitts sugar cane industry than any one person should ever really need to know. Tl;dr: there isn’t one. The government nationalised it when sugar beet destroyed the market for cane sugar, and then shut it down completely, in favour of tourism.

Glorious weather, beautiful countryside, lots of goats and an absolute deluge of small, white butterflies. Absolutely charming.

Tl;dr: St Kitts is beautiful and friendly and perfectly at ease with its slavery past.

Guadeloupe – 25th November

We were SOOOOOOO excited to be here! We are both (as was Mum) MASSIVE fans of Death in Paradise, and knowing it was filmed here made it vital that we get here if we could. In fact, this was the primary reason we chose this particular cruise!

I had booked a tour before we left England. The official P&O tour did not give much information as to what their DiP tour would include, so I found a lady willing to tailor-make a tour to suit us. FWIW, the P&O excursion was initially to run twice – once in the morning and once in the afternoon. It was so popular, they ran it SIX times, with multiple busses each time. Our guide’s name was Taïna, and her company is Guadaloupe Explor. She was wonderful. In the early days of the cruise, we made some friends, called Margaret and Barry and Linda and Geoff – all travelling together – and we have been quizzing with them each evening. As Taïna was offering us an eight-seater bus, we invited them to join us (which happily also made it much cheaper for us!). She drove us from Pointe à Pitre to Deshaies, showing us various sites along the way. Pointe à Pitre is a city at the joining point of the two islands, and is just an ugly city, like many others. But 10 minutes out and you’re in beautiful, lush, green Caribbean countryside. Guadeloupe has an endless supply of beaches – not nearly so many rocks and cliffs as elsewhere (see Grenada). You can choose white, golden or black sand!

We visited the location of The Shak from the tv series, but it had already been dismantled for the year – if it was left in place, it would be destroyed during storm season. But we stood next to the tree that the bedroom is built around! Then we went into Deshaies itself, and had a drink at Catherine’s Bar (and used the loos!). Then we went around the corner and up the hill to the Police Station. Then we drove round to the harbour and to the jetty that the ferry leaves from in the show. Absolute bliss.

Tl;dr: today alone was both the reason for the cruise and the pinnacle of it.

St Lucia

Day off. Too hot. Slept.


This was the third place we had not visited before, so, despite the fact that it poured with rain all morning, we decided to make the effort and get off and look around after lunch. In honour of this, the sky decided to stop watering us, which was nice. I had emailed a place from England about gluten free afternoon tea, but never heard back. We haggled with a taxi driver – the weirdest haggling I’ve ever encountered. 40 dollars for a tour. No, we just want to go there and come back. Fifty dollars. Eh? Sixty dollars. Dude, I said 40 was too high! This is not how haggling works. Let’s just agree on 40 then. Anything for a quiet life. So we were taken up some hair-raising cliff bends and slopes to The Tower Estate. This is a former plantation house – very visibly Edwardian! – that is now a guest house. Although they were closed (which is why they hadn’t answered my email!), our driver, Philip, knew the owner, Isabel, and she made some blue tea for us, anyway. The tea is made with the Blue Butterfly Peaflower, and tastes very perfumey. Apparently, it is good for diabetes and anxiety – the latter of which was very useful for the return drive down those slopes and cliff edges! Grenada is the highest and steepest of all the Caribbean islands. Some of the hills were pretty vertiginous. I’ll add some pics, but I don’t think they do it justice!

Tl;dr: Very steep roads and high houses, so the blue tea reduced the anxiety they induced.


Woke up, opened the curtains to see a military frigate with an 8-inch gun. Not pointed directly at us, thank goodness. Welcome to Barbados. We chose not to get off here. We’ve been here many times – we’ve visited a good proportion of the island, including many of the beaches and shopping things. It’s a very pleasant island, but we aren’t really sand, alcohol and watersports-type people, so it’s not really our thing. I’ve had a painful back for a while now, and they have recently given me a better mattress, so a day of lying on it to let my spinal muscles unkink didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Tuesday 29th November

Sea Day 1 of lots.

Quite a restful day today. Although it is very difficult to get up and dressed after you have opened the curtains. The view of the ocean – perfect Royal Blue, as far as the eye can see (roughly 20-25 miles in every direction)– is very distracting and hypnotic. There were some white horses today, for a change, and they only add to the prettiness of it all.  Not another vessel in sight. Nothing and no one. Just us and the wide blue ocean.

My back is much better, although still a little twingy now and then. I’ve heard others moaning about back pain, and there have been several injuries, including a woman who got hit on the head by a jetski, a couple of broken noses and black eyes, several trips and falls resulting in ankle strains and sprains and Linda has a broken toe, missing the bottom step on the stairs. Geoff is having to wheel her around in a wheelchair. I have also heard of at least one broken arm. This all seems quite a high total for a journey that hasn’t been in the least bit rough so far!

But the most common complaint at the moment is the Bitten to Buggery Brigade. This includes me. Turns out, in Grenada, I forgot to put my insect repellent on, and something(s) had a field day with my nice white legs. Whatever they were, they were quite sociable; all the bites are in groups of two or three, so they were dining with friends! Ladies who lunch.

Things that have disappeared (cont’d):

Officers no longer come to the loyalty lunch. Which rather defeats the purpose of going, frankly. Who wants to get togged up in the middle of the day, when it’s 80 in the shade, to go and eat food identical to what we get in the evenings in the restaurant, with a free glass of wine? The wine ain’t that good!

Hooks on the back of the cabin door for coats.

Sorbet course on formal night dinners.

Most surprising is that this past Sunday there was no church service on board! Granted, we were in port, in a place with A LOT of churches, but nothing on board seems odd. Maybe they were so offended at the collection total from the previous week that they decided not to bother!

R217 Caribbean on Aurora – Day 11 – Port 2 – Tuesday 22 November 2022 – St Martin

Please pay attention to the following messages. We have seven ports in seven days coming now. I will try to keep on top of the posts, but if I fail, please forgive me. Back to back ports were a killer when I was young. I am now getting old and it doesn’t get easier, funnily enough.

Greetings from Sint Maarten, also known as Saint Martin – depending on whether you are in the Dutch bit or the French bit.

PSA: Despite the respective European overlords of both parts of the island, the currency here is the US dollar.

We stayed on the Dutch side this time. We’ve visited both sides on previous visits, but we didn’t feel up to much today. Having spent the previous two days in bed with an ear infection, I wasn’t keen on going too far, although, as it turned out, I was fine.

We remembered from last time the helpful man who runs a golf buggy service from the gangplanks to the shore – over a quarter of a mile. We reckon that the entire pier is probably the best part of a mile long these days – they keep extending it for bigger and bigger ships.  He isn’t allowed to make a charge, but is allowed to accept tips… 😉 He was there, right on time, and took us to the land with his usual cheery smile. We took a taxi from the new concrete taxi rank area. It was here last time, but we managed to disembark at precisely the same time as Everyone Else Visiting The Island That Day. That was fun. Today, despite four ships being in at the same time, it was deserted and we had our choice of vehicles. The lack of competition for taxis may have been due to the fact that we did not disembark until about half one.  I knew that early starts were a bad idea – now I have proof! What with needing to eat something by way of a breakfast, we first went up to Horizon and had a fruit brunch. Which turned out to be a very smart move because we didn’t see any food until we got back on board over two hours later.

The taxi took us to Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side, about 10 minutes from the cruise terminal, which has not changed since our last visit however many years ago. There are two main streets, named, for the forgetful, Front Street and Back Street. Between Front Street and the beach is The Boardwalk, which is tarmac, not wood. It’s a pleasant little strip of cafes and bars, if you can get past the women handing out flyers for jewellery stores.  I’m not sure what the deal is with buying jewellery in the USA, but everyone in the Caribbean is utterly convinced that all cruise ship passengers want to do is purchase thousands and thousands of dollars of precious stones. We have learned to say that we are British, not American, and that we are not here to refill the vaults of Hatton Garden single-handed. Everyone is very lovely, even when they’re nagging you, so it’s not as uncomfortable as it could be to keep saying no. And they now try to entice you in with offers of air con and wifi! Which, when it is 30 degrees in the shade (add 5-8 more for direct sunlight) and the humidity is so high you can barely tell when it actually starts raining, is very inviting indeed!

We wandered down the Boardwalk and sat in a café to drink two Diet Cokes which, together, came to less than the cost of one on board ship. Our dinner table mates, Maureen and Geoff, passed by and joined us for a drink. It was nice to just chill out and people watch, whilst listening to the ‘entertainer’ next door murdering reggae classics to the backing of a steel band recording. Well, the steel band bit was nice. His singing did not assist in our enjoyment much.

We went to find a taxi to take us to find some gluten free lunch. I accidentally sent us to the place we went last time! The Divi Little Bay Resort. We only realised we had been there before when we pulled up outside. We went to the same restaurant we had visited last time, with Mum and Mario and Josephine in tow, now called Gizmo’s Grill. Sadly, whereas on our previous visit, we had been able to have a meal, this time did not go as well. When I asked for gluten free options, the lady serving had no idea what I was talking about. She went and got her manager, who said that they didn’t offer it “any more”. We both expressed our dismay at this, shrugged, went back to the taxi rank and left.

We then tried a restaurant that Maureen’s friend (who used to live here) had recommended as catering for gluten free and other diets. They didn’t offer gluten free either. The blank stares I got seemed out of place for an Asian fusion restaurant (!), but if they didn’t separate things to prevent cross-contamination, I wasn’t in the mood to risk it. So that was 20 dollars in wasted cab fares, and we still hadn’t eaten!

In the end, we agreed to admit defeat and go back to the ship to eat.  We sat under some very loud speakers playing Ed Sheeran and Whitney Houston songs in the sunshine until the water taxi came to take us back to the ship. At which point, the heavens opened.

Now, this is the tropics – rainforest country and all that – so it wasn’t a surprise to get rained upon. It doesn’t matter – you’ll be dry again within a few minutes. What did surprise us was that rain so fine we mistook it for mist could leave us so soaked that we had to change our clothes before going to lunch. We were drenched. My look this evening can best be summed up as Drowned Rat. Being rained upon in this heat is actually very refreshing, although when you step into a puddle while wearing sandals, and it’s WARM, that is a very strange sensation indeed. 

After eating something light, that didn’t require the energy to chew (Russian salad for the fact fans), I went for a siesta – I was shattered. I think Dad was planning to stay awake and do stuff, but when I woke up at 6.40 pm, he was spark out on his bed, too. So we were rather late for dinner (which starts at 6.30) but we weren’t up to eating much anyway, so it didn’t take us long to catch up with Maureen and Geoff. Tomorrow is Antigua.  No rest for the wicked.

Tl;dr: The Divi Little Bay is NOT gluten free any more.  The Green House at Bobby’s Marina may be gluten free or not – they don’t know – so probably best not to risk it.

P.S. As regards the Spot the Difference game we’ve been playing on board, I can now add that there appear to be no pencil sharpeners on Aurora, so if you go to Reception, they just give you a new pencil! Also, there is now a lady with a trolley who brings teas and coffees to your lunch table, which is new. The game has been expanded to require guesses as to whether the arrival or departure of an item or service is due to environmental concerns, Covid or Other Excuse (unspecified). It’s quite an entertaining game. Feel free to play along at home.

R217 on Aurora – the first seven (mostly sea) days

Okay, okay, okay. Yes, I’m  sorry the cruise started last Friday and I haven’t uploaded anything until now. In my defence, it’s been a little bumpy, which is lovely because it’s like being rocked like a baby, and even some of the crew are finding it hard to stay awake, but even my typing skills are limited when I’m asleep. Also the new wifi “system” on board is ridiculously convoluted to try and understand.  I’ve had to ask Reception twice so far, and I teach this stuff to others! If I tell you that the first thing you must do is put your device in Airplane Mode, you might get a hint of how counterintuitive it now is. Oh, and it’s ten quid a day, minimum. Ouch.

Anyway, here we are.  Dad and I sharing a cabin with a window but no balcony. Apparently, the first night, I slept so quietly, he had to check I was still breathing! So there, to all those who say I snore. The trick is to keep me sober, and make me so exhausted with your nightmarish checkin arrangements that my father threatens to turn around and go home, because I look so ill. What was the problem? We usually don’t have THAT much of an issue with checking in. The coach down was uneventful enough; we didn’t even have any delays caused by teenagers sitting in the middle of the M25, so that was nice. But when we got to Southampton, the smiles ended. Apparently, post-Covid, you don’t exist if the NHS app is not compatible with your phone model. Although in the pre-cruise instructions, they said don’t bring your vaccination cards, what this apparently meant was we want to see your vaccination record, but only on the app. So after we paid twenty quid a head for a “supervised” LFT 48 hours beforehand, we still had a nightmare at Southampton. The test was fine, even though we went to the wrong building to start with.  Fancy expecting it to be in the same place it was in May. Pfft! What a dullard I am.

Labyrinthine wifi aside, Aurora has had a refit, and despite spending three months living on here just a few years ago, we recognise virtually nothing. I even turned the wrong way coming out of a lift!  All a bit confusing.  She is VERY shiny indeed. They have also renamed everything! Cafe Bordeaux is now The Glass House, with Olly Smith wine choices. The Sidewalk Cafe is now the Lido Grill.  The Cyb@study is now the library. Room service is no longer free. The Orangery is now the Horizon, and, yes, that is still the name of the daily activity guide.

Aurora is now the smallest ship left in the P&O fleet. She is also the fastest. The former fact means that she appears to have taken over Oceana’s role as the Training Ship. Most staff have been on board less than a month – some only a week! They are very willing and smiling and obliging and helpful, and they have absolutely no clue what they’re doing.  We are happy to help them learn, of course, but it does mean spelling out the most simple things sometimes. Such as the fact that people who eat gluten free sometimes want something other than cake – however delicious the cakes may be. Marie Antoinette would have been right at home. Although, frankly, I’d give my eye teeth for a gf brioche on here.  That aside, the food is, unfortunately, excellent.

Our first port, Madeira, was just as lovely as always. The shuttle bus is now chargeable, but not if you have our kind of booking, apparently. Don’t ask for clarification, I have none to offer. The sun shone, the people smiled, and the salt and vinegar crisps were three quid a bag. Thankfully, we packed our own chocolate, I dread to think what that would have cost. On the plus side, the Happy Cola Haribo in the onboard shop are surprisingly reasonably priced.

Our dinner companions are Maureen and Geoff. They’re from Newcastle and lovely. On the first night, we had a painfully thin, appearance- and fitness-obsessed couple who barely opened their mouths except to put in food. I think his name was William, but no one knows what her name was. If you want to google retired election managers for northwest Derbyshire, do let me know what the answer is! They vanished without a trace almost immediately. We’ve seen them around the ship – him with his aggressively large gym bag (Maureen chose the adjective!), and her with her pinched, sulky scowl. Maureen says they now go to second sitting, which is fair enough, but a Hello on deck wouldn’t kill you!

Then a lady called Gillian joined us. She’s very sweet. She stayed two nights at our table before she vanished. The first she was forgiven, because she was having afternoon tea at Reid’s in Madeira, and she warned us that if she was too full of cake, she would skip dinner. But the second remains a puzzle. I guess we will find out tonight (second formal night) if she’s abandoned us for good or not.

The drinks system has also changed. Whereas in the past, we could purchase a little cardboard Pepsi card for twenty drinks, nicely discounted, this is no longer possible. Instead, there are two ‘packages’ which you book at Reception. The non-alcoholic one is twenty quid A DAY per person and the alcoholic one is forty quid a day per person. But in order to stop people gaming the system, if one person in the cabin has one, everyone else in the cabin must have one. It is therefore a minimum of forty quid a day for two people. Now, even with the best will in the world, and at three quid a pop, I can’t get dad to drink THAT much liquid every day. Luckily, the water is still free. We have, however, discovered sugar-free 7Up, so we can avoid at least some of the caffeine!

We’ve been up to the Syndicate Quiz a couple of times.  The first night we joined a table, but although we did quite well, those people stopped coming. The next night, we joined a different group and I scored all seven points. They never came again, either! The past two nights, dad and I have sat alone and come second both times! Of course, we don’t want to actually win. We’ve drunk P&O own-brand wine, and were lucky to survive, so we’d rather not have to do it again. Second is perfectly respectable and fun without risking our digestive sanity.

Clocks go back again tonight, which will put us 2 hours adrift of the UK (3 for Jerome – happy birthday for yesterday, mon cher).

Tl;dr: So, to summarise, so far: bumpy roads, lots of sleeping, and some rather tiring conversations.

UPDATE: Since typing the above:

Turns out Gillian went back to the Medina restaurant. We met her tablemate, Jan, today at lunch!

We have now joined a table at the quiz (which is now held in the Horizon cafeteria, btw). The four others are friends who booked together. Margaret and Barry and Linda and Geoff (I think). Good fun and happy not to win. Which is handy.

Dad and I sharing a cabin seems to be working out. Neither has killed the other yet!

The default GF pasta at lunch is no longer penne, it’s spaghetti, which is a darned sight messier. I am still trying to get them to stop serving it on a plate roughly the same temperature as the Sun.

Our evening waiters are Cline and Jhonas. They are lovely and, along with the Head Waiter, Aritra, take very good care of us. Our section of the Alexandria appears to have mislaid its drinks waiter, but they pick up the slack just fine. Our cabin steward, Rachelle, is new but very willing.

We are, however, compiling a list of Stuff That Has Disappeared from P&O Post-Covid. So far, we have, in no particular order:

Pillow Chocolates

Towel animals on the bed

Sweetie dish in the cabin

Flower in a vase in the cabin

Evening turn down

Toothpicks from the dinner table

All photographers and photos, even on formal nights

Waiters singing Happy Birthday


Face flannels and robes

Beach towels in the bathroom

Free White Stuff lotions and potions in the bathroom

Officers joining the table for special lunches

Any and all drinks parties and receptions

Port Talks

Port Guides

Language lessons – on the last month-long cruise we did, I learned Spanish! Nothing now.

Computing lessons, help or guidance of any kind.

The only classes now are line dancing, ballroom dancing, art, crafting and, wait for it, ukelele. I kid you not.

Formal wear in the shop, or any menswear at all.

SHELVES in the cabin. None at all. Not in the wardrobe, not anywhere. You either fold it in a drawer or hang it on a hanger. Them’s your only choices.

The dressing table drawer now has a hairdryer screwed into it, making it useless for anything else.

The oddest is that you no longer get a receipt when you buy a drink – unless you ask. This is odd purely because THEY STILL PRINT TWO RECEIPTS (one for them and one for you), they just don’t give them to you! If you remind them, they go back and pick it up off the bar where it’s just sitting there. Most odd.

For those who read my blog from Artemis going into Madeira some years back, the flat screen tvs are now screwed to the wall.

The lifeboat davits are well-greased and now have a backup launch system involving compressed air.

There is also now a MOBILITY TEST you have to attend and pass before you are allowed to use a tender to go ashore. If you don’t do it, you don’t get to go. Of course, if we were boarding exactly the same vessels in use as lifeboats, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t refuse you entry because you were unable to cross an 18 inch gap unaided.

The refit has resulted in much more counter space in the cafeteria, with smaller tables as a result. However, in last night’s spectacular thunderstorm, we found that, during said refit, no one addressed the fact that there is a hole in the roof of the cafeteria. The water poured in, but the waiters were ready with buckets and towels. Shouldn’t really be necessary so soon after a full dry dock refurb!

Tl;dr: Summary: lots has changed; lots remains just the same.

R217 Caribbean Cruise on Aurora 9 Nov 2022

Summary of the intervening 3.5 years:

Covid lockdown announced on Mum’s birthday 20 March 2020.

Mum and Dad’s 50th anniversary party on 5 April 2020 cancelled

Mum broke her hip in June 2020 and died the following month.

I pretty much moved back in with Dad to take care of him/ keep him company.

I quit my job and started referring to myself as semi-retired.

Dad persuaded the council that he still needs Josephine

His doctor told him to go on a cruise, so we did.

So here we are.

Bermuda etc 2019 leftovers

I don’t remember much about the 2019 cruise, but it must have been quite hectic, because the below is the only other post I have found! Sorry! I’ll try and compensate with photos.

This cruise is only a month long, and is basically a fortnight in the Caribbean with a week to get there and a week to get back. So there aren’t many ports to talk about. So let’s just delve straight in.

Bermuda – 1st and 2nd March 2019

The first port was Hamilton, Bermuda. About 24 in the shade with a breeze, so it felt just pleasant.

We have never been here before. There were a few “coming home” comments, because Oriana is registered here under a flag of convenience, but we don’t go mad about mentioning it, as it is not good to mention it in polite company. Although, as the now seemingly perpetual list of rude passengers sadly continues to grow, there isn’t much in the way of polite company to speak of, anyway.

We were moored in the Royal Naval Dockyard which is not in Hamilton, but is a damn sight more pleasant that the usual container port back alleys P&O usually treats us to (see Praia da Vitoria below). The Dockyard is a purpose-converted set of very pretty old stone warehouses that are now some very pleasant cafes and shops, including a pharmacy and a little mall of shops with disabled loos and very large soft drinks. Mario, the office bunny, was very taken with the portion sizes.

One of the freebie magazines we found whilst hunting for a map (perish the thought that maps should be available at the quayside or, Heaven help us, in the Tourist Information Office), mentioned that one restaurant in the Dockyard did gluten free, called the Anchor, so we made for that one. When we got there, the waiter said he could only do salad or soup. I pointed out that if they were going to advertise themselves as offering gluten free food, they needed to do better than that. So he went away and purchased a loaf of gluten free bread from somewhere, then and there, and I got to have a burger like everyone else, after all. Very sweet, and, as you can see from my praising them in print, EXCELLENT public relations!

We wanted to take the little red land train, but they only do official cruise ship excursions, so we got on the little free white land train that simply tootles around the dockyard, instead. Then dad took his bad ear(s) back to bed, and mum and Josephine and I took the ferry to Hamilton proper. The ferry was nine US dollars per head return. We found a coffee shop with decent wifi and decent coffee, and I Skyped one of my French students. We then wandered a little, although if we had realised that the shops close at 4 on Saturdays, we might have done things in a different order. Still, pleasant enough and we all love a bit of a boat, so the ferry there and back was fun.

We tried to book onto the little red trolley train excursion for day two, but it was sold out, so we were told to be on the quayside at 9am in case there were any no-shows. There was one glaring no-show. The little trolley train never came. Battery issues, apparently. So, instead, we went on a glass-bottomed boat trip. We went out to one of the reefs and visited the fish that live there and the remnants of the wreck that hit it. We received large glasses of rum punch, which was very yummy, and the loos on board were very civilised!

We learned many things from our guides. The one that stuck was that there is no rule about the colour of your house – and they are all very pretty colours – but your roof must be white. When you build your house here, you start with a cistern in the ground and then run a pipe to the roof. There is no fresh water on Bermuda. Every building, home, restaurant, hotel, has to gather its own rainwater. The rain is acidic, so you must limewash your roof in pure white. That way, as the rain hits the lime, it is neutralised and what flows down into the cistern is perfect drinking water. The way to choose a restaurant is to see whether it has a dirty roof or not. Don’t eat or drink in the ones that do.

We don’t normally stay overnight anywhere, so this was an odd start to Josephine’s cruise experience, but we have decided we rather like Bermuda. They drive on the left, they all speak English and the whole visit was extremely enjoyable.

Week 1 Part 2 – Oh dear, P&O, here we go again

So, on this ship about a year ago, I think, the computers worked fine. In fact, astonishingly well. The new ‘packages’ meant no more watching the seconds tick and the price going up (along with the blood pressure), so that was nice. It was almost as though they had finally grasped how to provide decent internet at sea for a reasonable price. Guess how long that was ever going to last.

Boarded for this cruise. All hunky dory? Of course not. They have not only changed the packages, they have changed the provider. And the signal has gone to hell in a handbasket. We’ve gone back about five years in signal quality and reliability. Ditto the television signal.

Most annoyingly, the cheapest package is now social media only. You have to upgrade in order to have access to your emails. How ridiculous is that?! It’s like they have no idea who their customers are. The silver surfer generation are not interested in Instagram and Twitter. *le sigh*

So I was forced to take the middle package of the three prices available, not the cheapy one. Irksome, but not much in it price-wise compared to the old system, so heigh ho, whatever. I’ll live.

No, apparently not. Access to Dropbox denied. Now, those of you who know me know that I work while I’m away. It’s one of the things about being self-employed – I can’t afford to take a month off, basically! And being able to access my work means that I can provide a continuity of service to my clients (i.e. not tell them I’m in the Caribbean, ahem). But in all the years I have sailed with P&O, I have never had a problem accessing my work, which is sent to me via Dropbox. My business has been running for seven years, during which time I have worked in Hawaii, Korea, Papua New Guinea, everywhere. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a problem.

So I go to Reception. They say, ask the librarian. She deals with computer matters. So I go to the library. She is, needless to say, not in the least bit computer savvy. In fact, she’s an idiot. She spends the best part of an hour establishing that, precisely as I explained when I walked in the door, I could not access Dropbox. She then logs on to the CREW wifi on her phone (as opposed to my passenger account access) and delightedly announces that she has access to Dropbox, no problem. Great! Can I use it to check whether I have any work in? No.

Let that sink in for a second. No. Now, I don’t profess to be an expert in customer care, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to say No to the paying customer.

So, back to Reception. Various intermediaries (and two days of complaining) later (I’m summarising because it bored me at the time, so I don’t need to inflict the minutiae on you), we establish that upgrading to the most expensive package makes not one jot of difference, and still denies access to Dropbox.

Eventually, the Hotel Manager sits with me in the Reception area for three hours, letting me use her iphone data and the crew wifi to log on and download what I need. Of course, all of this is taking place over the weekend, when, apparently, no shoreside IT support is available. Because if all the computers on the bridge went down on a weekend, there’s no way Southampton would respond. My arse. *le sigh 2*

So, I get what I need for the time being, and am assured that it will be sorted out during business hours on the Monday, when shoreside will get involved and speak to the ISP if necessary. I’m sure I am not going to shake you to your core if I tell you that it wasn’t sorted during business hours on the Monday. At least not in the UK.

Eventually, at about 10pm on Monday night, Dropbox suddenly loaded on my computer. The relief was immense. I was really panicking about losing my entire business as a result of this nonsense. I was worrying I would have to draft emails saying, You know that work I said you would get back in a week? It may be a month…

Ever since when, I have been able to work, as usual, without any problem. I have also had an apology bottle of wine delivered to my cabin, and am now on first name terms with the most senior passenger-facing person on the ship.

And Josephine assures me that all the staff are terrified of me. Which is nice. 🙂

So I have in my cabin fridge a bottle of P&O house white to dispose of. Anyone got any brass needs polishing?

Oriana X903 to Bermuda and the Caribbean 22 Feb 2019

Okay, okay, okay. I’m sorry. I haven’t blogged as much (or at all) so far. I have a good excuse. The signal has been TERRIBLE.

So, from the top then.

Departure: 22nd February 2019.

Two new travel companions: mum’s carer, Josephine (so that hopefully dad and I will get more of a rest by having to do less pushing), and Mario, the Office Rabbit. Photos of both to follow.

A surprisingly smooth travel down/departure. All of us managed to fit into one large minicab, so definitely packing lighter than we do for the really long ones! Josephine had 1 case, Dad had 1.5, Mum had 2.5 and I had two and a wheely hand luggage. All rather civilised, really. Mario travelled with me, and put his stuff in my case. He wore his purple Bermuda shorts to travel in, but it was a mild day, so he didn’t get cold. His shorts are tailor made to fit him, complete with a hole in the back for his little bunny tail, so he finds them very comfy.

On board, everything is much as usual. Oriana looks tired, bless her. She is getting on a bit, and is due to end her service in the summer, and she’s starting to look her age. This includes at least one lift out of service. The more cynical might say that she is not being cared for with the same diligence any more. She has been sold and is rumoured to be facing a future as a Chinese casino.

Lovely cabin steward (Sachin), lovely waiters (Elvis and Raymond (yeah, right)), delightful table mates. Stephanie and Chris and Marion and George.

Weather for the first week or so: ROTTEN. Bumpy as hell. Not one but two large weather systems in the Atlantic that the Captain could not (read: would not) go around. So we slept well! Josephine was seasick and stopped eating and drinking until I bought her some SeaBands, whereupon she was right as rain and took up choir and dancing lessons. She is now having a great time. Being Filipino, she is right at home and knows ALL the staff. We now turn to her for gossip updates!

Things didn’t warm up or calm down until maybe two days before Bermuda. Now it’s lovely. Like a proper cruise.

Dad didn’t enjoy Bermuda because, although we were there for two days, he lost his hearing a couple of days before, which made him very depressed and unable to communicate. Eventually, the doctor cleared the problem and now he hears so well, he isn’t using his hearing aids at all!

Port reports to follow, as well as an update on Mario’s adventures.

Friday 5th Jan 2018. Last day of the cruise.

Woke at 6 when the sea suddenly became much calmer as we entered the shelter of the Channel.

Woken again at 9am by a medical emergency tannoy call.

Woken again at 9.30 by the captain announcing we will dock at 2pm today and we can go ashore/disembark early if we want.

Woken again at 10 by gangway and checkout information for those wanting to disembark early.

At this point, I gave up trying to sleep and got up. I can take a hint.

Telly channels are back but now Yahoo Mail is offline instead. Marvellous.

Well, this is weird. It’s now 3pm and we’re moored. The sail up the Solent was very pleasant. It was nice to be able to admire the scenery on the approach to Southampton, as we normally arrive hideously early in the morning and leave after dark.

After lunch, helped Dad pack their cases. Then he came to my cabin and watched me pack mine (!) while mum had a rest.

Have had to put on my sea bands, because my MDD has kicked in, because we are, of course, no longer moving about! Got a little bit queasy, but the bands were already out, just in case, so it didn’t last long. Queasiness returned during dinner, but that passed fairly quickly.

Met the couple on the next table that Dad spoke to for the first time last night and found out live down the road from me. They’re very sweet.

Did all the goodbyes to the waiters that I hadn’t seen at lunchtime. Some passengers had gone ashore to eat, so dinner was quite quick. Said goodbye to Ben.

Many people – passengers and crew alike – asked when we would be back. Don’t know. We have nothing booked at all, and the parents are saying this may be their last cruise. I hope not. They both enjoy them – as long as they stay healthy, that is.

The last night of a cruise means the arrival of the Cruise Log, a sailing parlance diary of every cruise. It’s supposed to be a special souvenir of our trip.

It is always a proofreading joy, and this cruise’s offering is no exception. They made it as far as the second paragraph before getting the name of the Solent wrong. You’d like to think that Solvent was a regular enough autocorrect error to have been automatically corrected by now, but apparently not.

Even  more bizarrely, the log states that “guests had an overnight stay ensuring they could explore all that the beautiful island of Fuerteventura had to offer”. Erm… no, we didn’t! Even more bizarrely, the entry for La Gomera states that we headed from there to Madeira, which we didn’t, and the next entry, on the next line down, is clearly entitled Tenerife. This is pretty poor, even by the usual, extremely low standards one expects from P&O staff!

And to top it all off, it states we moored in Southampton on the 6th, when, as you well know, we arrived on the 5th. That decision was taken two or three days ago! It also states that the air pressure on Friday 5th was over 1000 millibars. It wasn’t. It was about 960.

I mean, seriously, how hard can it really be to type this thing?! It’s only two pages/ five columns of text! Makes my eyes bleed and my brain ache every time, without fail.

Time for bed. Last night on board for a while and we all know I won’t sleep well, so I need to get ahead of the curve if I can!