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?

28th Dec. No idea what day of the week or whatnot. Fuerteventura

This entire day was a mistake. There is nothing good to say in this post. If you like your blog posts light and cheery, skip this one.

The day started badly when my breakfast arrived 53 minutes late. And not once in all the telephone calls during that delay period did anyone actually APOLOGISE. It’s on its way, madam. Well, no, it apparently is not. We won’t do this again. You had better bloody not. But that doesn’t excuse your behaviour this morning. You lied to me, TWICE, about it being prepared and on its way.

Hardly helps you start the day on a positive note.

21 in the shade but grey and overcast. Wore shorts. No breeze to speak of.

There were signs by the gangway saying that there was a shuttle bus to the port gate for the less mobile. Lovely. No, there wasn’t. So we walked the entire length of the ship anyway. Again with the Excellent Start to the day.

At the port gate, there was a shuttle into town, which we took. We went round the one-way system (dual carriageway along the beach as usual in Spain and Portugal) and ended up almost back where we started! The guide (from Nottingham) said the shopping centre we had asked about was “Just up there on the left – about a hundred yards”. Up being the operative word because this is a VERY hilly place. Think Madeira but with no consideration for disabled. No dipped kerbs, no taxis, no pavements at all in many places. Spiffing.

We tried to get a taxi for about half an hour to no avail, so we set of to climb the “short hill” (100 yards, remember?) ourselves. And, at the top: no shopping centre. Another road. With some buskers playing free jazz, and two or three stalls selling homemade jewellery. I asked one of the stallholders where the centre was. She pointed up the next turning and said…”Just up there on the left”. Ah, okay. So nearly there but not quite. Fair enough. So up we went.

Was it there? Nope. Let’s not waste any more of my time typing this. It was nearly a mile and virtually straight up of nearly half a dozen “Just up there on the left”s. The last bit, mum sat on the walker and I pushed her up, with dad leaning on/pushing me. This place is a dump and the locals will lie to you if you ask them a simple question. At no point, until we finally asked someone we bumped into off the Ventura, was it EVER just up there on the left.

When we got there, dad felt quite ill (unsurprisingly), so I had to sit him down and find him an orange juice. The slightly psychotic girl at the orange juice stall said I couldn’t buy him a drink because he was sitting on the wrong coloured chair. A very reasonable gentleman translated for me that if he died while I was arguing with her, I would get very angry indeed, and we got an orange juice. She seemed to think it entirely reasonable to charge me four quid for it, but I wasn’t going to waste any further calories arguing with her. I’m sure the Universe will take care of her in its own good time.

When dad felt better, we pootled a few shops and then we tried to get the lift to another floor. I will have to bow to the knowledge of those more familiar with Canarian mechanics, but this lift was even more psychotic than the orange juice girl. Firstly, it ignored calls and only stopped as and when it felt like it. Furthermore, it didn’t always feel like opening its doors, even when it was at a floor that someone might find of use. It shot past our floor several times, before it could be persuaded to open its doors and let us in. Then, it didn’t matter what buttons you pushed, it went to whatever floor it felt like. We wanted to go from 1 to 3. We visited 3 (but the doors didn’t open), Parking -1, 0, 2, and 1 (where we started) before it finally cottoned on that it hadn’t tried 3 in a while, so it took us there AND let us out. Ludicrous. And not ideal for someone still recovering from a long-standing fear of lifts…

Then we went to Burger King for my gluten free burger for lunch. The queue was immense and they were NOT coping! Turns out that ordering a hamburger without cheese here means without ANYTHING. Just meat and bun. No sauces, no pickle no nothing. So we got through a LOT of ketchup satchets to make it edible! On the plus side, saying without gluten gets you a bigger burger and a bigger bun than the normal bods get (but still no sauce or pickle). Mind you, you do have to wait about six weeks for it to be cooked, because the server will have long since forgotten you exist. I enjoyed it when it finally arrived, but then again, I was on the verge of considering the table itself tasty by that time.

So a few more fruitless shopping attempts later, we went back to the ship. There was a taxi sat outside the centre and the driver knew the bloke on the port security gate (I think he said he was his cousin), so we got to bypass it and got driven right to the foot of the gangway. Now, THAT’s service!

That last good moment aside, we are Never coming here again. Never ever ever. This place is a dump. I wouldn’t come here if it was last place on God’s green Earth. This place is a nightmarish hellhole of epic proportions. I will never EVER set foot on this rock again. If you’re disabled, don’t bother. They don’t care about you and they won’t help you, even if you ask for help. I don’t think I have ever met a more disinterested and unhelpful populace in all my born days. As long as you have Euros visible in your hand, they will talk to you, but beyond that? Heaven help you. They would rather lie to your face than say anything helpful or kind.

Mum felt ill/worn out so she didn’t come to dinner. We all overdid it and we were all pretty shattered. Dad and I took her back some food and she ate some of it, but she seemed a bit wheezy. Dad and I did some Sudoku and we agreed to talk in the morning and see how things were.

27th Dec 2017. Lanzarote

Slept 12 hours straight. Should have woken refreshed, right? Felt awful.  Think I’m coming down with something.

Met parents for lunch. Then they went ashore and I went back to bed. Parents found nothing. No shops, no touristy stuff, no sites, no tours, nothing. They wandered as far as they could and then turned back. Apparently, there were some shops “somewhere”, but very few appeared to have found them. They dumped us, the Ventura AND the Queen Elizabeth in a container port (surprise, surprise) which left us miles from anywhere pleasant or useful. Very picturesque views of the volcanoes from the top decks of the ship, but little else of note. Shame, really.

I woke at 4.30pm and watched some terrible telly til dinner. Hopefully, I will feel better tomorrow, for Fuerteventura.

That was it. That was the last Wednesday of 2017.

Good news/bad news #1: new shampoo makes my hair so glossy/shiny/slippery that my scrunchies keep falling out. #firstworldproblems

Good news/bad news #2: I may have developed an addiction to Heinz Cup a Soup version of their Cream of Tomato Soup. I’ve drunk three today.

Good news/bad news #3: 18 in the shade, while the A14 is shut for seven hours due to snow. Sorry. 😉 </smug>

Colours

Black

Here I go

Out to sea again

The sunshine fills my hair

And dreams hang in the air

This is Oriana X721 and we are off to the Med. In October. Heading south as the weather in the UK cools and the nights get darker.  Boarding was surprisingly painless, and we arrived in time for the free buffet lunch (we’ve never got here in time before!). It wasn’t worth the excitement, to be honest. And it was a good thing I was a cynic and made myself some GF sarnies, because all they could offer was curry (not something I would eat for lunch, even if I wasn’t allergic to coconut!) and fruit jelly (which was forest fruits and delicious, but hardly filling).

The only issue so far has been with our table for dinner. When we booked, about a year ago, we requested a table near a window. In all the eighteen years we have been cruising, this request has never been a problem. Here and now, apparently, it is. We were put near the middle. We knew this as soon as we got on board, and Dad went to see the restaurant manager immediately to request a move. The head waiter made a fuss about it but we got moved to a different table. But when we went down to dinner a few hours later, the table was full. The head waiter had moved us to SECOND SITTING!!!! No. Not possible. Dad rarely gets his dander up, but this really got to him. He was seething. We were put back where we started for the time being. We had a nice couple with us, but they weren’t very talkative, and I felt like I was carrying on the entire conversation pretty much on my own. During the meal, the head waiter had the bloody cheek to come over to us and explain that WE HAD REQUESTED TO CHANGE SITTING. Yeah, we’ve eaten at the same time for nineteen years, but now we fancied a change, just because you couldn’t be bothered to do your job properly. The next night, the non-talkative couple had been moved (without their knowledge)! So we ate alone – just the three of us. Dad now EXTREMELY annoyed.  During the meal, the head waiter came over and announced we would be moved from tomorrow, to a table by a window, as originally requested.  When we got to the table, this evening, the people are LOVELY (Di, Geoff, Jill and Ray) and they had ALWAYS had four empty chairs at their table.  Dad still quite annoyed (unsurprisingly).  There was absolutely no reason we couldn’t have been seated there from the start.  And our old table now has six new people on it (which may explain why the other couple were moved as well). All in all, pretty shambolic, but I think everyone is now happy.

Cream

Oriana has had a facelift. There is no rust in sight and all the carpets have been replaced. Unfortunately, they were replaced by an idiot with no idea how P&O or Oriana work. The little map they give newbies, to help them find their way around, explains that the forward lifts have green carpets, the midships are blue and the aft lifts are cream. It’s a brilliant trick to help orientate people. Ships can be very confusing, and Oriana’s layout is particularly tricky. Only, now the new carpets are down, everywhere is cream! Oops. Someone needs a good slap round the back of the head for that one. Idiot.

Blue

The new decor extends to the Conservatory canteen/self-service restaurant on deck 12, where we grab a bite to eat at lunchtime. New blue tiling, new silver and black chairs, the blown double-glazing has been replaced – which meant we could see the dolphins we passed today – and there are new counters and flooring. It all looks very nice indeed. However, the new head chef up here neither knows nor cares about feeding coeliacs. Now, don’t get me wrong, if the only options are chips and GF bread, I’m quite willing to eat chip butties for lunch two days in a row, but I’m not sure how my doctor would feel if it continued like that for three weeks! Luckily, today I found our old friend Clarence, who is now head waiter up here. He has arranged for my GF pasta to be resuscitated from tomorrow (well, Sunday). Why the head chef couldn’t have said yes to that request when I made it, I have no idea, but when I watched Clarence relay it to him (he continued to shake his head), Clarence then came back and said it was sorted.  And THAT’s why we love him so.

Into the blue of the ether. P&O has changed its wifi plans. Now you can pay £7 per day for social media only, £13 per day for email and social media and a bit more for video whatsitting, which I don’t think I need.  As it works out, when you pay for the whole three-week cruise at once, I’m actually paying quite a bit less than I was paying eighteen months ago. Nice for me, but I’m not sure that’s what P&O had planned! But woohoo all the same. It’s nice to win one occasionally!

Red

Went to the show tonight – Stage Door – whose central colour theme was red. It was an excellent compilation of songs from classic musicals – My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, Porgy & Bess, Carousel, Mack and Mabel, Barnum and so on. It was superb and this team of Headliners are excellent. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.

White(out)

We have had a gentle two days at sea – with a little rolling, but no pitching and nothing too bumpy (not even at the Western Approaches). This evening we hit a bank of thick fog just as I went for my massage, which meant I could listen to the mournful foghorn while I relaxed under Julianne’s expert ministrations.  It’s a very soothing sound, considering that the best way to probably describe it is a prolonged tuba parp at three minute intervals (the interval and the note tell you which ship is about to run you down – no two in the world are the same (allegedly)). The fog came down in the minutes it took me to cross the deck and lasted only as long as my massage, oddly, which meant a sparkly sunset over the sea, which we enjoyed from our new window view dinner table.  All good. All in all, not a bad day for a Friday the thirteenth.

Tips for the first time cruiser?

I have been asked to compile a list of tips for first time cruisers, to outline what you can expect and what you need to know.

I appreciate this request came in to me a while ago, and I apologise that I haven’t yet completed it, TJ (for it was she who asked).

If you want to see what a mammoth task I have been set, you could do worse than visit this site which may give you a good starting point, as well as showing you what I am up against!

There are clearly parts of that site that I have no intention of competing with – such as the cabin classes. They’ve done a pretty thorough job of it (despite conforming to the industry tendency to ignore P&O as much as possible), so if you are interested in the differences between cabins on various lines, this will probably remain the best place to look for a good while yet.

I will keep compiling my list of tips and will try to post at least some of them soon.

This could be a further game-changer

The world of cruising is being rocked by revelations on a fairly regular basis these days.

Recently, there has been the departure of virtually everyone with any authority at P&O Cruises UK.

Then Mickey Arison, himself, steps down as CEO of Carnival (although remains Chair?!).

Then there are all the route restrictions, as discussed in another recent post.

And now? This.

North American Emission Control Area affects route choices

I had not heard of this. Bravo to Cruise Critic for spotting it.

If you click on the link, you will see a little map of the United States, with a black line drawn around it. From 1 January 2015, this means that if you want to sail inside the line (i.e. stop at most US ports apart from southern Florida), you have to use low sulfur fuel, which costs a fortune. Maryland port officials are unofficially estimating a cost increase of around $150 per passenger.

Carnival UK has kept this very quiet. I would imagine the first place we will see an effect is in less liners, such as Cunard and the Queens, doing the London-New York run, and the utter demise of any special offers on those routes.

Let me know if you spot anything, and I will post anything else I learn.