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.

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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.

Where do we go from here?

Literally, where do we go?

If you take a look at any cruise company’s website these days, you will see a LOT of cruises to Norway and the Baltic.

Why?

Because there is nowhere else that is safe to go.

Let’s start with the Mediterranean: Italy, fine. Turkey, fine. Syria,? Erm, no. Israel? No, because for some reason the cruise companies have had an almighty attack of cowardice, despite the fact that the Foreign Office have no problem with us going there. Egypt? Nope, not at the moment. Libya? Nope, no visits to Leptis Magna for us any time soon. Tunisia? Er… Malta, phew, yes! Let’s go to Malta!

So the only cruises available in any number at the moment are to the Western Med. Precious little, if anything at all for the Eastern Med.

Okay, so that’s the Med. What about the Caribbean? After all, US ships go virtually nowhere else? Well, it’s okay, but it’s not 100% cheery there either:

Robbed in St Lucia

Shot in Barbados

The cruise companies may well soon start avoiding certain islands altogether.

Of course, this isn’t every island and these incidents make the news because they are so unusual, but the overcautious nature of cruise companies, particularly those owned by Carnival, an American firm, who start with the assumption you are going to sue them and work backwards from there, means that avoidance may become the name of the game in very short order.

And then there is South America. Let’s go the Falkland Islands and see the penguins. Well, we were going to go to Argentina. And, of course,we’re not allowed to do both…

What about the Indian Ocean and the Pacific? In the past, we have been turned away from the Seychelles (pirates), Bangkok (bombs), Tokyo (too crowded!)… the list goes on.

So, the world is literally getting smaller, both for the populace as a whole, but particularly for cruise ship passengers, and I have a feeling it is only going to get smaller, as cruise companies avoid more and more places for fear of what might happen.

I don’t want to make you miserable, but you may just want to bear it in mind when you’re planning your next jaunt. There may well be at least one place, possibly more, you get diverted away from, possibly with very little notice or warning.

I would be interested if any of my readers have been anywhere that might be perceived as a bit dodgy recently, and how it was for you. Please let me know, and maybe together we can persuade the cruise companies that there is more to life than fjords.

P&O stops Argentina stops

P&O Cruises UK has today announced (although we, as passengers, already knew) that for the foreseeable future, P&O ships will not be docking in any ports in Argentina. This is because of the continuing political tension regarding the Falkland Islands.

P&O cruise firm stops Argentine port stops

Recently, Argentina has been turning away ships that have already visited the Falklands and refusing them permission to dock, anyway, so this is purely an extension of their own policy, really. If they don’t want the fairly well-heeled passengers that travel by P&O to spend their money in their country, that’s fine with us.

It’s a shame for some passengers, because Ushaia is the jumping off point for excursions to the Antarctic, but that’s where we stand.

Ironically, I think it’s actually rather hard to dock in the Falklands. Cruise Critic.co.uk explains (Stanley Cruises – CruiseCritic.co.uk), “The area is so windswept and the seas around it so fierce that only about half of the cruise ships scheduled to call at Port Stanley actually make it. Since there is no dock, even if the ships themselves can get into the harbor, the tenders are often unable to handle the wind and high seas. It’s no great surprise, then, to discover that the harbour itself and the areas surrounding it has more shipwrecks from the 19th-century shipping trade than any other harbour in the world … some 20 hulls are actually visible from the town when the tide is out.” So some passengers may end up seeing neither the Falklands nor Argentina!

Mind you, the odds of seeing Port Stanley are still better than for getting into St Helena. I met a man who had visited St Helena four times and had never got ashore, because the swell can reach 40 feet. Forty feet.

South America is a big place, mind you, so I’m sure the passengers will still enjoy their cruises. But it’s interesting to see P&O taking a stand. Bon voyage.

P&O act more shamefully than ever

My parents booked a cruise to the Eastern Mediterranean. The itinerary was as follows:

Vigo
Lisbon
Athens
Izmir
Istanbul
Rhodes
Haifa
Ashdod
La Valletta
Cadiz

How many people reading this think the primary reason people booked this cruise was to visit Cadiz? Of course not, it was Haifa and Ashdod. It was known as the Holy Land cruise. Most of the passengers, for whatever reason, wanted to see Israel.

This cruise was booked over a year ago, so the recent issues could not have been foreseen, let’s be fair. But passengers were told beforehand that Ashdod would be bypassed. Fair enough, some rockets landed in Ashdod in November, that doesn’t seem unreasonable.

The unreasonable bit is that AFTER BOARDING, the passengers were told that Haifa was also cancelled. Not before, which would have allowed the option to cancel, turn back or claim a refund. AFTER boarding, trapped on board, with luggage swallowed by the cabin distribution system. THAT’s shameful.

It is also unreasonable. There is no Foreign and Commonwealth Office advisory against travel to Israel. There is, obviously, an advisory against travel to Gaza and within 40 km of Gaza. Haifa is 140 km from Gaza and has not been touched by rockets or any of the recent conflict. There is no excuse for cancelling Haifa, other than cowardice or prejudice.

Whichever, the passengers are devastated and distressed, as many who are unwilling or unable to fly, saw this as their only chance to visit the Holy Land.

Today, I learned that the passengers are now being scared witless by P&O with dire warnings about their visits to Greece and Turkey also being “dangerous”. They’re still being taken there, but being intimidated nonetheless.

So they can’t go to a safe place in case it becomes dangerous, but they are being taken to places considered dangerous but which are also probably safe.

I am becoming increasingly concerned about P&O’s behaviour and in particular their attitude towards their passengers. Terrorising and imprisoning people who have paid good money for a pleasant holiday is and must not be considered acceptable behaviour.

They are still on the ship as I type.