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.

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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.