Well, Dad says Oriana arrived at 5am. I’ll take his word for it. We can see Oriana, Aurora, Arcadia and Ventura all lined up from our bedroom windows. From elsewhere in the hotel, you can also see Azura, Adonia and Oceana lined up on the other side of the quay. P&O have posted arial photos showing all seven in one photo on their Facebook page already. It is very misty and grey, which is a shame, because the photos are a bit vague. But the weather forecast is for it to rain all day and all night, so it’s going to be a challenge all day to get decent photos.
We went to dinner about 8.40am which was wise, because by 9 there was a significant queue building up. The breakfast buffet was very impressive indeed – cold meats and cheeses and smoked salmon (?!), black pudding, mushrooms, beans, etc., eggs fried in front of you by a chef with a frying pan full of oil, poached on request, and various fruits, juices, cereals and croissanty stuff. There is a do-it-yourself toaster, which although laborious and somewhat tiresome for the waiting, does at least ensure your toast arrives on your plate hot, rather than being delivered to your table tepid at best and quasi-refrigerated at worst.
Most people in the hotel are on the ships, so there is always someone to chat to. Dad and I went for a wander after breakfast, to try and find a good view. There isn’t one. We were just about to give up, when we bumped into a gentleman on the Ventura who took us out onto the fire escape (which he found the night before last when the whole hotel was evacuated at 2am and six fire engines turned up to try and find the problem), which was a sort of greenhousey area on the roof. Great views to both sides of the hotel, so of all seven ships, albeit in two photos, rather than one. Being in between the two mooring areas was always going to make photography tricky! Then, as we were heading back indoors, I spotted that one of the doors had been wedged open, so we went out on the roof and got proper pictures with no glass and raindrops in the way. Heaven knows how many rules we broke, plodding across the pebbles on the roof (not that many, probably, as there were deckchairs lined up, presumably for staff to use!), but very enjoyable, and that frisson of feeling a bit naughty, and going somewhere we probably shouldn’t, was nice too.
And then the waiting began. First the waiting and dozing in the rooms and then the waiting and drinking caffeine in the lounge area. Checkout of the rooms is 11am but the shuttle buses aren’t collecting us til 12.30, so everyone is a bit lost, wandering around like spare parts or desperately eking out yet another very expensive coffee (£3.50 for ordinary decaff, two quid for a diet coke) to while away the time. It’s sort of like disembarkation but in reverse. Instead of sitting around like lemons waiting to get off the ship, we are sitting around like lemons waiting to get on. Rumour has it, the Princess Royal and all the seven Captains will be having lunch on the Oriana, but I’m guessing they’ll be in the Captain’s dining room, not in with us proles.
Much, much later…
It’s half midnight. Well, to you, half eleven, but we’re losing an hour overnight. Like we’re not shattered enough. The shuttle bus materialised eventually and shuttled us such a short distance, we could have walked it, even with hand luggage. We boarded at Gate 101, which has a lovely stone entrance arch, on which are listed all seven ships. It took me a second to grasp it, but they are listed in AGE order, so Oriana first and Adonia last. Wow, brain ache. We did the usual dance you do, whether boarding a plane or a ship or a sneeze – passport, ticket, photo taken, boarding pass, scanner, metal detector, blah blah, and then, just to top it off, a walk of well over half a mile down an airbridge folded back on itself. Which is unnecessary and unkind. So to the cabin and collapse.
I have one of the newest cabins on the ship. They banned kids and removed the entire area of the ship which had been sealed off for brats only (this is not a generalisation, this is a specific and choicely chosen epithet)(they had their own play rooms, toilets, ball room (that’s a room full of balls, not a dance floor, a disco and a room entirely devoted to four Wiis), and turned it into cabins, including two SINGLE cabins. No single person 70% uplift here, because I’m no longer taking up a room designed for two. Hah! The cabin is lovely. With a wide bed, LOADS of drawers and cupboards and a wetroom-style shower. Superb.
Met parents for a very late lunch (half two?!) in the Conservatory, which has been refurbished. New furniture, somewhat dodgy new carpet but, more joyously, they have replaced the blown double glazing panels, so you can now see out the windows. Food (bang your hand on the new sneeze guards which are too low), drink (prices have escalated rather and now mirror the De Vere in exorbitant-ness), cabin, NAP. Absolutely worn to shreds. Slept an hour and a half.
Tried to go for a walk, but discovered one third of the ship, including four lifts (FOUR?!), cordoned off for HRH. V. annoying and v. tiresome.
Went to muster. This is where they explain what will happen in an emergency – what they do and what we are supposed to do. You are supposed to take your lifejacket from your cabin when you go. They are now taking it all VERY seriously (Costa Concordia) and get quite arsey with those who do not conform. The girl next to me refused to practice putting on her lifejacket and accused the staff member of talking to her like a child. She has a point, frankly. Particularly on this cruise, everyone has cruised before and we are all perfectly capable of watching a demonstration of putting the thing over our heads and closing the Velcro and wrapping the belt around ourselves, without needing to get up and have a go. The whole thing is both ludicrous and patronising, but they use the excuse that they need to check your lifejacket isn’t faulty. So when we are asked to put them on our beds for a fortnightly inspection, you don’t check them then, you just look at them and walk away, do you? I didn’t have mine with me, cos I was far too shattered to walk to the other end of the ship to get it, so I got a jolly good telling off too. But for these people, they get bossed about and abused all day every day by rude passengers. This is their moment of power. Go for it, get it out your system. No skin off my nose. I know you’re being an idiot and you know I know you’re being an idiot. And you know as well as I do that if there was a genuine emergency, I would handle the situation better than you, because I’ve done it for real, whereas you haven’t. So chill, really. Get over yourselves.
Anyway, out on deck for a glass of free shampoo and a streamer. Sailaway in the drizzle. Marvellous. Each of the seven ships hooted its whistle and pulled out in turn, with a confetti blower on the quayside and a small brass band running from one ship to the next to play us out. Threw streamer when ordered to do so. P&O colours – red, blue, yellow and white. Very pretty. Passed through a flotilla of about a hundred or so little boats that had come out in Southampton Water to see us. Escorted by police boats with blue flashing lights and several hundred people along the banks as well, flashes blinking in the mizzle. They must have been FREEZING. The mist made taking photos very tricky. I hope the “professionals” had more luck. I won’t upload here until I’ve seen their offerings tomorrow. Better pics will take priority over personal pride! The Red Arrows didn’t show up because the weather was too rubbish, but the fireworks barge had a separate little display for each ship as it passed. Once out in the Solent, past Portsmouth, we all (that’s all seven ships) sang Rule Britannia at the tops of our lungs and then we went our separate ways.
Eventually gave up and went inside for dinner. Was delighted to find Anne and Enid are here. They were with us last year on Arcadia (in fact, they’ve been on most of the cruises we have been on!) but they booked too late (although only days after we did) and were told they were 63rd on the waiting list to get on this cruise. But a few weeks ago, they got the phone call and here they are! Had a very pleasant meal, despite the somewhat recalcitrant waiter and the desperate lack of water glass refills. We chatted for four hours, including some significant chunks of reminiscing about Los Angeles immigration. Then mum went to bed and we (me, Dad, Enid and Anne) went to Tiffanys bar for a couple more drinks to the tune of some of the loudest and most strident piano playing ever heard, before we, too, called it a night.
And then I lost an hour. So it is now twenty to one and I really did ought to go to bed! Gnight. That, ladies and gentlemen, was the Grand Event. 175 years you waited for that. I do hope it was worth it.