Yet Another Port Day – Stavanger – 2 August 2012

Part 6
Yet Another Port Day – Stavanger

Lordy, I need a rest. Fourth Port Day in four days. Enough already. Lie in or no lie in, it’s still too much.

We disembarked late, about half ten. Weather: overcast but mild. Very grey. We walked the length of the ship to get to the security gate. I spotted a Hop On Hop Off bus, so we walked back outside the security fence (almost the length of the ship, again) to the apparent bus stop and waited. A bus duly pitched up. The driver was very apologetic, but he was completely full. He said another would be along in 10 minutes and that we should wait right where we were for that one. We sat and waited. The next bus duly came, pulled into the parking area and drove straight past us like we weren’t there. Now, we weren’t the only people waiting, there were about half a dozen of us, and he DID have empty seats, I could see them, but he didn’t even brake. I will be writing a letter. That’s just not on. Granted, there’s not a massive amount to see, but it would have been nice to have seen what there was. We seem to have parked next to the main sight, which was the White Houses of the Old Town, but there were another 9 stops, there might have been SOMETHING of interest. But now we will never know, will we?

Note: wherever you are in the world, if you get on a Hop On Hop Off with the red, yellow and purple livery, keep your ticket – it entitles you to a discount off the same company’s buses everywhere else in the world. So if you take a tour in York or London or Edinburgh, you get a discount if you present your ticket in Paris, Rome or New York. Of course, not much use to know this in Stavanger, where you will see buses but be unable to board, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

So we walked into the town. Luckily, most of it is waterfront cafes and shops, so it wasn’t far. We browsed and wandered with ease. We couldn’t find an open restaurant that did suitable food (plenty of closed ones, which seemed odd with 5000 cruise passengers about), so we had no choice but to refuel in Burger King, where the guy at the counter was just so relieved we weren’t another dozen shouting German teenagers (the Costa Fortuna was also in port – Germans love Costa ships), that he treated us like royalty. And it had a disabled toilet, so no stairs for mum. Nice touch.

More wandering and shopping (H&M is really cheap here!) and then back to the ship by teatime. Stavanger is a fairly large city, but has very little by way of sights to see or prettiness to offer.

Things to be aware of if you come to Norway: Salg is sale. Taak is thank you. Appel is orange, Eple is apple. Feel free to re-read that if you feel the need.

Last formal night tonight. Black and White. Wearing the very dress, which I do love. It is very comfortable and seems completely uncreasable. I’m not sure which quality pleases me most!

Dinner was lovely. The roast beef was superb, although the fondant dessert was very overcooked and no longer had a liquid centre. But we had a lovely time anyway.

The continuing beauty of the landscapes we pass carried on throughout dinner as we left our last fjord. I took some photos so you can see what the view is like from our table. The bars in the picture are unavoidable, I’m afraid. They are there to reinforce the glass against large waves. The restaurant is on desk 6, which is only about thirty feet above sea level, so the risk is a little increased down at that level.

After dinner, Yvonne and I had a drink and a natter until it was time to go to the cinema. We saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was superb. Unfortunately, one of the speakers in the cinema has blown, so the sound was at half volume and accompanied by a significant buzz from the dead speaker throughout. Not ideal for the hard of hearing, so bearing in mind the average age on here, which although lower than on a long cruise, is still significantly up on the real world, the whole thing must have been very trying.

And so to Harlequins, the nightclub, for the disco. Danced til three and hung out with some very nice people, although one Welshman told me I came from the wrong valley, which seemed a tad harsh! It was surprising how few people had obeyed the black and white theme. Normally most people obey but there are one or two who don’t grasp the concept. But last night, it was a significant proportion of the women present – maybe 1% or more. It is a shame, because there is an aesthetic that is being spoiled for everyone else. Black and white night is very pretty, and yet these people who simply cannot read the newspaper or don’t care or are deliberately being malicious and disobedient, mar it for everyone else. In the grand scheme of things, if that’s the worst thing that happens to me all day, I’m doing pretty fine, but it’s still a shame. Made the DJ finish with Happy Days, which made everyone smile.

And so the cruise draws to a close. Tomorrow is the last day, a sea day, thank heavens, and the clocks will go back tomorrow night, so the early start on Saturday morning won’t feel like quite such an early start. I have a massage booked in the morning, not as early as Yvonne’s, though. I’m eager to have one, but not eager enough to be up at 9am. I am still on holiday, just. I am pretty much packed and I have received my disembarkation paperwork, so all that is left now is to download the last photos, use up the internet time and work out how I’m going to transport the rather fragile items I purchased on my travels. Which, as I am going home on public transport, is not an insignificant issue.

Bergen

30 July 2012

Oh my heavens, my feet hurt. Forgive me for slipping into Bridget-esque lists, but I’m too shattered for full sentences.

Eaten so far (NB: port days are not renowned for their nutritional purity): one choc. muffin (v. small!). One four-bar kitkat. One hamburger. 2 slimline tonics. Walked: 50 trillion miles. Feet hurty level: 11. Aches and pains carried forward from yesterday: multitudinous.

Got up at 8.30am. Tried to find food. Surprisingly tricky for a cruise ship. The chocolate muffin was the sum total of my success and it was a very sad, small one that hadn’t risen properly. Waited on the quayside for our excursion bus. Everyone else had disabled reservations for the front seats except mum. Typical. Made a bit of a fuss and got her a decent seat in the end. Had a lovely guide and a very careful driver, which, even though seatbelts are compulsory in Norway on buses (which is nice), was reassuring nonetheless. They took us first to the Funicular which goes 400m up one of the seven mountains around Bergen (unlike other cities Bergen is not built ON the seven hills, but BETWEEN them, which is MUCH more sensible). Our tickets as a group were pre-booked, so we queue-jumped the not insubstantial line of waiting people (halfway down the road) and up we went. It’s only a four minute journey, which mean it moves surprisingly fast, sedate it most certainly ain’t, but the view at the top is impressive.

Took some photos of mum with a troll (I definitely do not recall the one on the end of my pencil at school having such a phallus-shaped nose as the ones here), helped some other people take photos, ate something which turned out to be the Norwegian for KitKat and then back down again for the rest of the bus tour. Our guide was excellent – he speaks 9 languages – and his volume was set at a suitable level for everyone to hear but for me to get a nap at the same time. Passed the concert hall, described as “acoustically perfect”, but, by ‘eck, it’s ugly, and although they tell you it’s supposed to look like a piano, you’d have to imbibe an awful lot of hallucinogens to make that come anywhere close to reality (whatever reality you end up in).

When we got back to the ship, we split up and I took the free shuttle bus (see, they’re learning!) into town (from the container port where we are parked – okay, maybe they’re not learning) into town. Wandered around, talking photos of old buildings, historical statues and some very odd public art. The sun was warm, the sky was blue (it was about 20 degrees in the shade, very reasonable) and it was all very pleasant. Browsed several shops without success – the prices range from twenty quid for a top to a couple of hundred quid for the identical top in another shop. Ludicrous. But generally speaking, things were not nearly as expensive as I was expecting from what I had heard. Twenty quid (or 200kr) seems to be a default setting for pricing here. I found a wonderful stationery shop, and a small tin box I would have liked, but I wasn’t going to pay a tenner for it, let alone the twenty they were asking. Wandered through the fish market, which is an oddly smelly and unpleasant thing to have as your number one tourist attraction, and visited the old town, with its higgledy piggledy old wooden buildings.

There were several cruise ships in town, so there was a wide variety of languages and manners on show. I nearly got run over by a coach whose signs were written in South Korean! It is a very clean, tidy town, but the taggers still get through. There is even some chewing gum on the pavements, but nothing to compare with the black muck on Britain’s streets. If this is the second largest city (and former capital), I’m looking forward to the others – they’ll be tiny! My friend that collects silly/rude signs is going to have his hands full when I get back from here. Virtually everything in Norwegian either looks rude, sounds rude or is rude. It’s all quite entertaining. Am enjoying Norway so far. It’s like Alaska but with better weather and better public transportation.

They’re very prompt on cruise ships. Rehearsal in the theatre started at 4pm prompt. Two minutes chat and prep and the floor started to vibrate at 4.02 exactly. Very impressive.

Fell asleep at this point! Woke just in time for dinner. It seems that not everyone had such a lovely day in Bergen. Sandra and Tony took a different tour to us, which they found very disappointing. I felt bad about what a good time I had. I ordered steak, as did Dad. It came with four giant chips, instead of lots of little ones. I bit into one but had to spit it out as it was completely raw in the middle! Dad’s were raw too, so the waiter got us some “proper” chips. Ironically, the steak itself was quite nice. Travelled through a fjord while we ate. We travel through fjords every evening while we eat. The views are spectacular, but difficult to describe. Conifer forests and mountain peaks (not very snowy, well, it is July) stretch in every direction and every so often, there is a tiny cluster of houses near the waterline. How these communities would survive if Hurtigruten ever stopped their ferry service, I cannot imagine. They are only accessible by sea.

After dinner, we went to the show. Yvonne insisted we sat in the front row. The show was called Reel to Reel and consisted of songs from films. While we were waiting for it to start, they had a PowerPoint presentation of facts about films, such as the actors from Four Weddings and a Funeral having to use their own suits. Unfortunately, said slide show contained FOUR spelling and punctuation errors, despite being only a dozen or so slides long. Lack of attention to detail – like I said. (is this Quibble #5?) During the show, the screens were used to show a pre-prepared film to support the on stage action. It was very distracting and 150% unnecessary. Although the bit where some crew re-enacted scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean was quite entertaining. Yvonne found it hilarious that I muddled up Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but to be fair, it was a Dick van Dyke song, so it wasn’t THAT stupid!

Then we went to watch the ballroom dancers until they went away and the disco started. We danced til about 3, I think. Tomorrow is a tender port, and although Dan the Ents Officer says it might not be, so best to turn in, just in case.

Grand Eventure – Day 3 – probably

I’m saying Day 3 but, who knows what day it is? I have no clue. Today was Zeebrugge, that much I do know. But Zeebrugge isn’t much to look at, so, having been to Bruges several times before, we knew that the best place to go would be Blankenberg. Interestingly, P&O had obviously heard the same thing, so they put on a free shuttle bus to Blankenberg. Or, as Dad put it, the City of Blankenberg put on a shuttle bus to the ship!

We trekked down about half a mile of the folded airbridge, only to discover that there was a lower gangplank that they simply hadn’t bothered to mention. It’s so unkind. You KNOW that a large proportion of your passengers have mobility limitations, it’s just so thoughtless and inconsiderate, it makes me quite sick.

It was mizzly and grey and miserable in the morning, but by the time the 20 minute drive was done, at about 10.30, the sun came out. We played “spot the bit you remember” as we haven’t been here for about twenty years – I found the swimming pool (now hidden behind a sealife centre) and Dad remembered the location of a Delhaize supermarket and a Leonidas chocolate shop (nothing wrong with his priorities!). I photographed some public sculpture and a double-decker carousel (?!).

We pootled down the main street, shopping and browsing – rather successfully. We got the cheese we had been looking for for about three years since it was last spotted in Holland, and the chocolates we had been looking for for about ten years since the last shop we knew that sold them closed down in Lille. I found a shop that sold exactly the things I like to wear for work – thin knitted tops with short sleeves – so I bought loads there.

Then we scaled the staircase up to the beach. It looks like quite a mountain, but even mum survived relatively unscathed. We browsed a few restaurant menus before we chose Le Petit Rouge. The food was superb, although our waitress didn’t seem to understand any languages at all (we tried English, French and pidgin Dutch) and at first brought Mum and Dad the wrong dish, but once that had been fixed, it was all delicious and highly successful. With their meals, the parents received two of the biggest bread rolls I have ever seen – maybe twice or three times normal size. The whole meal was also about half the price of Amsterdam yesterday. The waitress was quite stunned to be left a tip!

Then we wended our way back to the shuttle and to the ship. Via some pancakes – although we caused much consternation when we asked for lemon with our sugar pancakes. They were most intrigued.

Bob was 4.30 and we got back at 4. No idea why Bob was 4.30 and not 6 or so, it’s not like it’s going to take long to get home from here, but P&O will always mar a trip somehow if they can.

There was then a very loud sailaway party on the back of 8. This was Right Next to my cabin, but wax earplugs are a wonder and I managed to nap for about half an hour – which I really needed. At the party, they announced the winner of the draw to win a free World Cruise. Everyone was very excited. Except the woman who’d won. You would think from her demeanour that she’d won the execution of her choice. She didn’t smile, she didn’t wave, she didn’t shake the hands of the people giving her the THIRTY THOUSAND POUNDS-WORTH OF HOLIDAY FOR TWO. It made everyone quite upset/angry how bloody ungrateful she was and rather ruined the mood of the entire party. If you don’t want it, love, I’ll take it off your hands. Why are we all (about 1000 people) singing ‘Congratulations’ to you, when you can’t even bother to raise a smile?! Ungrateful cow.

I had a grateful moment after the sailaway party. They kept playing rousing/ water-related/ cruising music, and so I was leaning on the rail, watching the seagulls scanning our wake for fish, listening to This is the Life and Wonderful World, and it dawned on me just how lucky we all are. It is so easy to take it for granted, or forget it entirely with all the rushing around we do, but what we cruisers do is still very special and out of the reach of most people on the planet. Very few have the finances to allow this kind of luxury, and even fewer have the time to spend doing so little and being so spoilt and pampered. I know how blessed I am that I get to do this, and it was a quiet moment where I got to gaze out at the setting sun and the beauty of the ocean and appreciate just what an amazing adventure this way of life is.

Then to dinner with the lovely ladies of table 20. Good food and (relatively) good service (as long as you weren’t thirsty, which I was) and souvenir menus. Alison had two desserts, which we had to reassure her was perfectly acceptable behaviour, particularly as she hadn’t had an hors d’oeuvre. Address swappage and goodbyes and off to do chores.

Collect photographs from Ship’s Photographers: not printed, not bearable or ready, depending on which photo you were trying to collect. I got a lovely photo of all seven ships taken on Tuesday, and a great pic of Mum, Dad, Ann and Enid at the sailaway (after a half hour wait). The solo photo of me taken last night went straight in the bin – badly lit and unflattering.

Trip to Reception: You’re not going to believe this. Do you remember the package we booked – the hotel room, free parking at the hotel for a week and free transfers to and from the ship? Well, apparently, we were only booked ONE WAY. No transfer back to the hotel. Have you ever heard anything so stupid? What use is a ONE WAY transfer?! How are we supposed to get back to the hotel? Teleport?! Magic carpet?! Of course, the girl that Dad spoke to at Reception, Amy, just told Dad to book a taxi and send the bill to P&O. We had a rant, but no one could fix it because no one has the authority to take responsibility to make any decision of any kind. But I told Dad we will simply find the transfer bus and get on it. All I have to do is find out when it is due to pick up. I’m guessing the other people on the bus are allowed to go back again? It’s either just us or there are going to be a lot of irate people tomorrow morning. What a farce. Just when you think there is nothing left that P&O can do to bugger up your holiday, they find something. I wonder what it would be like to have a hassle-free holiday.

Trip to the shop. We get a 10% discount as we have accrued loyalty points over the years, but as we haven’t left the EU on this cruise, there is VAT on everything. So we put everything back. When we go to Norway, we’ll leave the EU and everything in the shop will be 20% cheaper! You couldn’t make it up. So silly. Quiz and bed. We lost on the tie-break, which is a good thing, because it means we don’t have to drink/ carry home the foul liquid known officially as P&O red, white or rose. Frankly, I wouldn’t polish the silver with it.

And so another cruise ends. We’re not going to do any more short ones. What a hassle. By the time you’ve settled in, it’s time to go home again. Three weeks til the next one, so watch this space.

Characters / Amsterdam Day 2 / Grand Eventure Day 2ish

The story of any cruise holiday is made up in no small part by the characters you meet.

Today, in the pool, I met a slightly mad Scottish lady called Edith. We discussed the various pros and cons of a variety of different ships and lines and places we had visited. She came to have a nose at my single cabin, which is causing quite a stir – there are only two and they have only just been put in – she is not my first tour group! She travels with a bear called Barnaby. He is larger than other such ursine companions of people I have met previously. He doesn’t cancel out the single person fare uplift, though, so we promised to spend our futures fighting for the single cabins on every cruise. He looked very smart in his shorts and t-shirt.

The pool, incidentally, was FREEZING. I got two thirds the way down the ladder before I realised I couldn’t feel my feet any more, by which point I thought, “Oh well, I’m committed now” and continued downwards. It wasn’t long, however, before I was instead thinking, “I should be committed”, because it got no warmer once you were immersed, so I did 12 lengths and a bit of a chat and then got out as sharpish as one can with wet feet that are rapidly losing all sensation.

Tonight was the only formal night of the cruise – a gala party with free booze and nibbles and a speech by a relatively senior officer (usually the Captain or Staff Captain, but today the Executive Purser or, as he described himself, the Second Reserve, as the proper bods were busy steering us back through the canal to the North Sea). Said party is just before dinner, which was a Heritage Dinner, with old-fashioned menus in old-fashioned fonts and a glass of free bubbles to toast to the next 175 years. Another speech, more stultifying than the last, as it was clearly drafted by Southampton to be read out on all the ships at once; no other reason why I would be yawning my head off at 6pm. Bumped into Edith and Barnaby. Edith had a lovely red dress on and Barnaby had a full formal wear outfit, complete with kilt, sporran, little boots and proper hat and everything. He looked very smart indeed.

The people on our table are lovely, which is nice. It’s only two nights, but that could feel like a very long period of time if they had been ghastly. They are Alison, Dorothy, Kathleen and Linda. Alison is Linda’s daughter and Dorothy is Kathleen’s daughter. Linda’s husband can’t travel as he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease last November and it is progressing very fast. Linda is a joy and she was next to me, so we had a great time. The food was a bit over-fancy – when P&O try too hard, they really try too hard – but it was edible and Alison said the ham was perfect and my roast beef was excellent.

Alison was sad that she hadn’t been able to have the beef. She was under the impression you had to share one between two. It wasn’t Chateaubriand by any means, so it took us a second to realise what had happened. The menu had been sub-divided into sections: entree, sorbet, etc. and she had seen “Joint” next to the beef, and assumed it meant you had to share it! Raised a bit of a giggle, that did.

Disconcertingly, there is a woman at the table next to us with one of the most disturbing digestive conditions I have ever come across. At least three times during the meal, she coughed and spluttered and then produced a cough/burp so loud, deep and long that everyone in the restaurant (about 300-400 people) stopped talking and turned around. It must be very embarrassing for her, but it sounded bloody disgusting at the next table. Seriously, a foghorn comparison would not be unkind. It was an atrocious noise.

I think I’m coming down with a cold. I have that sore feeling at the back of my nose and throat. I have gargled with Listerine but I think it’s too late.

Today was Amsterdam day two. It wasn’t as hot and sunny as yesterday, but it was still very warm and as it was overcast, it was mad humid. You could barely breathe. It was like Singapore. Silly humidity. We went to C&A and shopped the sale til we could pretty much carry no more. They have a cafe inside which served us with a perfectly adequate light lunch. We then wandered back towards the station in the sunshine. Dad was trying to find a cheese shop marked on the map and after I had put us on the correct road, despite his protestations, we found it, only to find they had never heard of what they wanted – they only know the stuff they make themselves on the premises. Seems like a pretty rubbish sort of cheese shop that hasn’t heard of any cheese except its own. I wouldn’t walk into H&M and expect that they had never heard of C&A!

The humidity was getting to all of us, so we stopped at a good but rather pricey creperie, for sugar and lemon yumminess before weaving our way carefully across the four million lines of traffic (bikes, island, cars, island, tramlines going both ways, island, cars, island, bikes, pavement) between us and the rather spectacularly beautiful train station, where we grabbed a cab back to the ship.

Not only did we not need our passports today, there was no one at all in the terminal, except the souvenir sellers, so we couldn’t even bend anyone’s ear about the behaviour yesterday. Cunning.

So, all in all, I still don’t like Amsterdam. C&A Centruum is marvellous, don’t get me wrong, but the rest of the place I can take or leave. I’m sure others will have a wonderful time here, but it’s not a place I will rush back to. Meh.

Grand Eventure Day 0

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.

The Grand Eventure. Day -1

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Welcome to the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton. Where none of the staff wear name badges. An interesting start and not a little disorientating. You don’t realise how much you use name badges, and names, of hotel employees until they’re not there! Not one person, not front of house, not the concierges, not even management, wears a name badge. It’s very odd. I wonder why?

We arrived, pulled up outside the front door and were immediately pounced upon by not one but two very helpful concierges, one of whom put our luggage on a trolley and took it into the foyer for us. We registered at the desk with a girl with no name badge and were told that we were three floors apart and needed to use separate lifts! Turns out you can walk from one to the other without having to return to the foyer and change lifts, as she suggested. The second floor room has a lovely view of the sea. This is a point worth noting, I will explain why shortly. The fifth floor room does NOT have a sea view. Despite the fact that the reception girl wrote “WF” for Waterfront on the card for that room. Now, I am happy for my parents to have the sea view – it is only one night and if there is anything to see, I can go to their room, but I would expect the reception staff to know which rooms are sea view and which are not! Am I being unreasonable already?

Anyway, the room. The hotel is a lot like a P&O ship – a bit worn around the edges. Someone was a BIG fan of wine and gold as a colour scheme. The halls and rooms match. The carpet in the room is wine coloured with a sort of undulating basket weave effect in gold on top. Don’t look down while you’re walking across it, you may get quite dizzy, as it seems to swim about in front of you. The curtains are wine with a large gold diamond check. Not hideous, but not exactly pretty either. The walls were once gold but have now faded to pale yellow with a dubious red speckle pattern that would give a CSI investigator a hell of a headache. Not sure hotel rooms should come with ready-made high velocity arterial spatter on the walls… The furniture is all dark wood with old-style handles – the u-shaped ones that flop down after you let go. Like you find on proper antiques. But not. The room temperature is best described as sauna-esque. Warm and dry. Too warm and too dry. The windows are modern double glazing, with the paint scraping off the locks and the window sills are varnished wood that haven’t seen a varnish brush since God was a boy. The prints on the walls are dull and unimaginative, but they’ve faded so much, it doesn’t really matter. And the whole thing looks like it could do with a visit from the Hotel Inspector. She would be most annoyed! The mini bar contains precisely four containers of UHT milk and a phone number to ring if you want booze put in it, the freebie smellies are Gilchrist & Soames, and the bathroom is SPOTLESS. I definitely won in the bathroom stakes. Mine is about twice the size of mum and dad’s, and newer. Theirs is a little “désuet” (tired, think yellow grout and slightly more limescale than might be becoming for a hotel supposedly this posh).

We went downstairs for tea in “the glass bit” – the De Vere Grand Harbour is V-shaped concrete brutalism with a Louvre-esque glass triangular bit joining it up. They light it up pretty colours at night. Watching the rain fall on the glass sloping ceiling is very soothing, although it is not entirely warm. It is also rather sad that there is one pane that has been replaced and they seem to have found orangey-pinky glass to replace it, which rather ruins the water-like effect of the rest. We sat in a little alcove formed by flowerpots which oddly contains an iron gazebo. Not quite sure why there was a lump of broken glass on the side of the flower bed, but life is full of mystery, I suppose.

Dad described the staff as “plenty of people wandering around, all of whom are very helpful but all of whom are completely useless”. This is both accurate and useful and I will use this as my segue to now tell you The Tale.

Last year, when we were on the Arcadia, we booked this cruise. Being on board, we got first refusal before the Grand Event went on sale to the general public. At the same time, I asked the Future Cruises lady to book the De Vere – they were offering a package including the hotel stay and free transfers to the ship. I asked her to upgrade one room to a sea view –we would pay the extra – so we could watch the ships come in. She dutifully wrote this down and then neither she nor anyone else at P&O bothered to mention it to De Vere. Every few months, Dad rang the De Vere, because we had had no confirmation, and every time, they told him to talk to P&O. P&O said it was all up to De Vere. When I got involved, a couple of months ago, and started raising the stakes (and the volume), I was informed, with a completely straight face, that the De Vere staff could not see what types of rooms P&O had booked. Now, I’ve never worked in a hotel, but that sounds just plain silly to me. If you don’t know which rooms are booked, how do you know which rooms are still available to sell?! Tish and piffle. Never heard such nonsense. This “argument”, needless to say, did nothing for my mood, and things got somewhat irate. And then they said we couldn’t have what we had asked for, because they had “completely sold out” nine months ago. This despite the fact that I pointed out we had made our booking 14 months ago. It culminated with a man from P&O refusing to apologise, despite the fact that he admitted that he could see the sea view request on his screen, and when I asked him to send my mother some flowers, or something else, by way of apology for ruining her holiday, he said “What a shame we live in a world where everything can be fixed by money”. Bloody cheek. If I tell you that, when I get back, this is not over, would you be surprised? No, I didn’t think so.

In the end, having yelled at Gen at the De Vere a lot, she said she would give us first refusal if they got a cancellation. They got one THIS MORNING, so we got a sea view room after all.

So, the rooms are like saunas and the ground floor is uniformly FREEZING. Now, I understand the concept behind the belief that putting heating on when the front door keeps opening and closing, may be construed as somewhat wasteful, but we are in the lounge, not the foyer, it’s not our fault the entire ground floor is open plan with no doors except on the staff areas and the loos (nice and cosy, and probably the best bit of the whole hotel!) and I am actually losing the feeling in my feet. I think we need to send a press release to all hotel designers living and working in the British Isles. There really is no need or excuse for marble floors. This is not the Med, it’s the Solent, and it’s really rather parky. Well, 15 degrees, if the BBC is to be believed. In fact, I’m quite prepared to believe it’s even a degree or two colder in here. It’s certainly pretty draughty.

So welcome to the De Vere Grand Harbour. You’re welcome to it.

Update: After I wrote the above, my parents asked to change rooms, as they had been given a double, not a twin (as had been REPEATEDLY requested). Then I ran to reception and got Gen to put me in their room. So we both now have sea view rooms! So much for “completely sold out”. I got the slightly grottier bathroom, sadly. Now I need to go and see their new room, so I can compare again.

De Vere should really give Genevra Parker a promotion or a payrise. She is nothing short of masterful at fixing other people’s cockups. And she has volunteered to help in any way she can when I go after P&O, because they basically dropped her right in it. Good on yer, girlie.

10pm
Go on, guess.
2 soups
2 steak sandwiches
1 steak
4 soft drinks
1 sparkling water
1 side portion of chips

Go on, guess. You won’t come close.

EIGHTY-FIVE POUNDS.

The food was quite good, as was the service, and there was piano player lady to entertain us. In the bar, not the restaurant, though. No wine, no alcohol of any kind, no dessert. The mind BOGGLES as to what the proper restaurant would have cost. As Dad said, this is why people don’t eat in hotels they stay in. It seems counterproductive to me. Granted, you have a captive audience, but do you really have to fleece them for a meal in the bar at a cost that comes to MORE than the per person b&b room rate?!

If I didn’t need a lie down before the bill came, I certainly did afterwards. There isn’t enough free wifi ON EARTH to justify that sort of money for glorified bar snacks. Tut tut, de Vere.

Early night tonight. Tomorrow is going to be one heck of a day.