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.

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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

Balloons

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!

Thursday 4th Jan 2018

The captain says we are going to run up to the south coast and shelter in the lee of the UK mainland, rather than go down the middle of the Channel as we usually would. He also said he is booking an early parking slot at Southampton, in case we get home early, so we can, as he put it, ‘Get a good night’s sleep’ before we disembark. Not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. Firstly, I sleep better when it’s moving, and, secondly, if I wanted to sleep in Southampton, I’d book a hotel. Meh, we’ll see what happens.

At least this gives me time for the sea colour update.

Water scientists have a scale for sea colour description, named after Francois Alphonse Forel and Willi Ule (Swiss and German respectively) and is, perhaps a little unfortunately, called the Florel-Ule Scale or FU for short. No, really. Google it if you don’t believe me.

The colour of the water is assessed by lowering a white disc called a Secchi disc into the water until it disappears completely, noting the depth (which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Secchi depth)(Secchi discs are all white for marine water and black and white quadrants for freshwater and were originally designed to measure water transparency), and then raising it to precisely half that depth. The colour seen is then compared to a standardised set of liquids of different colours and the closest number assigned. Apparently, we humans are remarkably consistent with our appreciation of water colours and it is all very regular and orderly – as one might expect from a Swiss/German invention!

Some natural phenomena can change water colour but it does not necessarily mean that the water is of bad quality. The different colour numbers correspond mainly to these types of water bodies:

  • Indigo blue to greenish blue with high light penetration (1-5 FU scale). These waters have often low nutrient levels and low production of biomass. The colour is dominated by microscopic algae (phytoplankton).
  • Greenish blue to bluish green (6-9 FU scale). The colour is still dominated by algae, but also increased dissolved matter and some sediment may be present. Typical for areas towards the open sea.
  • Greenish (10-13 FU scale). Often coastal waters which usually display increased nutrient and phytoplankton levels, but also contain minerals and dissolved organic material.
  • Greenish brown to brownish green (14-17 FU scale). Usually with high nutrient and phytoplankton concentrations, but also increased sediment and dissolved organic matter. Typical for near-shore areas and tidal flats.
  • Brownish green to cola brown( 18-21 FU scale). Waters with an extremely high concentration of humic acids, which are typical for rivers and estuaries.

So now you know.

Wednesday 3rd Jan.

Woken by the captain shouting at me through the emergency channel, to update us on our somewhat bumpy journey progression. In summary, we have been tacking up the coast of Portugal and they are keeping an eye on the weather.

Most of the afternoon was taken up sitting in Andersons doing Sudoku with EVERYONE ELSE ON THE SHIP. They were airlifting a Medevac off the back and everyone was evacuated from the stern in case the helicopter crashed into the ship by mistake. So everyone was shunted to the front half of the vessel for a couple of hours. Andersons was packed!

Then dinner and annoyingly sporadic telly (if the ship sways too much from side to side, we lose the satellite signal, usually mid-word at the most dramatic moment) til bed.

At 6.30 am the next morning one of my drinking glasses, that had previously sat quite quietly on top of the fridge, got tired of the rolling motion and committed hari kari, so I had to clear the shards of broken glass off the floor. Definitely quite bumpy now.

Then back to bed.

Tuesday 2nd January 2018.

Posh loyalty lunch today. We are supposed to get an officer. We got an idiot. We eventually gave up trying to get him to explain what the hell he actually did after the following exchanges.

Your badge says Food and Beverages Services Manager, so do we talk to you about the smoked salmon issue (apparently the chefs do not know the difference between the kind of smoked salmon you put on a bagel and Alaskan whole smoked salmon, which is thick and flakey and has a much stronger flavour and is not suitable for bagels)? No, I deal with Public Health.

So, when the water went off yesterday lunchtime on Deck 12, it was you that should have told people to go to their cabins to use the toilets, to enable them to flush and wash their hands, and prevent the spread of infection in the restaurants and public toilets. No, I deal with Public Health in the kitchens only.

So, you were responsible for ensuring that, when the water went off yesterday, the waiters and chefs were able to access water to wash their hands, then? No, I didn’t know the water went off.

As the next words would have been swear words (along the lines of “So what the f*!& DO you actually do?!), I just gave up talking to him. He’s clearly a useless idiot with nothing to contribute. We pretty much talked around him for the rest of the lunch. Added to which, he was either very deaf or just decided to ignore mum throughout, because she was sat next to him and he never once even looked at her, let alone spoke to her, even when she was speaking directly to him.

The food was nice. And the other two ladies at the table were fairly good company. He was a waste of space, which bearing in mind time in his company is supposed to be our reward and give us insight into life on board, was a little irritating. Heigh ho. Whatever.

Then I had a lie down/siesta and then went for my massage (mum’s treat for hurting my back pushing her up the hill in Fuerteventura!). Full body massage for an hour and a half. Bliss. My back is much better. Not 100%, but definitely better than it was.

Then dinner, which was quite adequate, food-wise.

It has been quite rough today, and it is not going to improve. Lisbon was cancelled by announcement at 6pm. We need to get ahead of Storm Eleanor before it gets to our bit of the Atlantic. So we are pegging it and rolling quite a lot. Yesterday we were pitching. The one thing we don’t want is both at once!

During dinner, dad and I noticed that, every so often, the vibrations reduced significantly, and we figured out that what was happening is that the swell is so large that one of the screws (propeller shafts) is actually coming clean out of the water, so there is no resistance when it turns in the air. Luckily, most others do not seem to have cottoned on!

The captain warned that we are heading towards waves of 11 metres or so (measured from the top of a peak to the bottom of a trough). The prom deck is only 12 metres from sea level. This is Not Good. Things could get very interesting soon.

Word of warning: apparently I have been describing the sea colours all wrong. I will shortly amend this. Have your mea culpa now, while it’s still at the forefront of my mind.