Boxing Day 2017. Funchal, Madeira.

Was NOT woken by announcements. Woohoo! This may be a first for a P&O cruise. Ever. Woke naturally, breakfast arrived bang on time and was exactly as ordered. What a lovely start to a day! Met the parents and went ashore. The shuttle bus was right next to the ship, so no valuable energy resources wasted crossing vast terminals and so on. Another plus. Also, bright sunshine and blue skies, too, which was nice.

The shuttle bus dropped us somewhere quite useful in town (and easy to pronounce for return taxi trips!). The shuttle buses are free for most passengers, unless you got a specially-discounted fare, which is extra cheap because (a) you don’t get to choose your cabin; you get what you’re given and (b) you pay £4 pp each way for shuttle buses. There are a few other caveats, but those are the main ones, I think. Anyway, it’s free for us.

Madeira is very disabled-friendly, with properly dipped kerbs, plenty of wheelchair-accessible loos and so on. But it is VERY hilly, so it’s tricky to get around on foot. Funchal, the capital, is built on hills and cliffs, which make for great views when you get wherever you’re going, but pretty tricky to get there! The far end of town even has a cable car to get you to the botanical gardens. It’s that steep. And, views-wise, Reid’s is at the other end. Afternoon tea on the verandha overlooking the bay is very lovely, but quite expensive. Everyone should do it once, but your bank manager might not be so pleased if you do it regularly!

The shuttle bus dropoff was, rather handily, almost opposite a taxi rank, so we had very little to do to get to transportation. We went to Forum Madeira shopping centre. This is outside town to the west, on the way to Camera de Lobos, which you may recall from a previous blog entry – Winston Churchill painted there and we were given free banana liqueurs, remember? We didn’t go all the way out there this time, only as far as the shopping centre, which was about 10 minutes out of Funchal.

Forum Madeira contained the following shops which we needed:

Mr Minit (for hearing aid batteries for dad and watch battery for Ben’s watch (which he gave me last night cos he didn’t want to disembark). Tick.

C&A for mum. Although I was the one who did the buying of stuff here. Several tops and some thick socks. Tick.

Punt Roma for mum. She bought a rather lovely cardigan. Tick.

McDonalds for me to have my gluten free hamburger. Woohoo! Tick.

We spent several happy hours pootling slowly around. Ironically the longest distance covered was down the side corridor to the lifts and loos!

The only shop we did not have that we needed was a pharmacy, so we took the bus back into town. Parents got back on the shuttle bus to the ship, and I walked up a hill to the nearest pharmacy to get our missing items. The fact that I may have accidentally wandered into H&M and bought some trousers and makeup is neither here nor there. Moving on. Nothing to see here. Ahem.

Overall, a ludicrously successful day. After several days at sea, with plenty of thinking time, there is always a List of Stuff to get when we finally get to land. To get it all done in one day is unheard of. I can’t think of a time it has happened before, anyway.

By the time I got back, however, I was so shattered, I could barely stand, so I had a lie down before dinner. Unfortunately, the addictive nature of Love, Actually rather stopped me from dozing off, so I was pretty pooped by the time I got to the table and reunited Ben with his newly-resurrected watch. (Is it physically possible to watch the last fifteen minutes of that film without getting something in your eye?!)

After dinner, I went back to the cabin, and that’s where things started to fall apart. All I wanted to do was put the telly on, get into my pjs, veg out in front of something pointless, like Tipping Point or Sleepy Hollow, and go to sleep. But I couldn’t find the remote control and the telly doesn’t work without. I searched the whole cabin. I even checked in the fridge! Then I gave up, got dressed again and went to find my steward, who was doing turndowns in the next corridor. He came to search and he couldn’t find it either. So he rang his boss to ask what to do. I was so tired I was on the verge of tears by this point. I just wanted to go to bed, not wait for other idiots to turn up and stare at me blankly. He then left to go and talk to her. I rang her and said I wasn’t prepared to sit around while she sorted out her managerial processes, I just wanted a replacement remote so I could go to bed. She said she would contact Technology and Communications and … I hung up. I had already explained I was not interested in the ship’s processes, I just wanted to sleep. Then the Desk Housekeeper rang me and suggested sending the steward to search. When I said he already had, the Deck Housekeeper refused to give me his name and said I was shouting at him, and then he hung up on me. I wasn’t shouting. I didn’t have the energy! I was crying with fatigue. I rang Reception and the lovely Chelsea said she would sort it. Not long after, a remote arrived. An old battered thing, that rattles when it moves and is held together with sellotape, but it does the job. Lovely. Job done. Then Chelsea rang to say it was on its way (!) and I said it had come. So now I could go to bed. Lovely, ta. Great. She said she would speak to the Deck Housekeeper about customer service and how hanging up on the passenger is not acceptable practice. Fine, do what you like, but on your own time. I’m going to bed.

Last minute thought – must put out breakfast card for the morning before retiring. Check the folder. You tell me if you think there were any menu cards in it. Go on, guess. So I rang Chelsea back and she said she would send some. Half an hour later, I ran out of patience, again, and went out into the corridor to find a steward standing at the end of the corridor, having a chat with a colleague, with a wadge of breakfast cards in his hand. If looks could kill, I’d have been arrested on the spot, and the new carpet would have been ruined. He handed them over – rather sheepishly – I expect he had been told the delivery was urgent as the passenger had had enough tonight. NOW I can go to bed. TWO HOURS after I got back to my cabin. Thanks, people. Thanks. It wasn’t like I wanted or needed an early night or anything.

On the plus side, it was a little too hot for jeans today, so tomorrow is almost definitely shorts. And we don’t dock til 10, so no early starts in the offing either. All good. Gnite.

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Christmas Day 2017

Monday 25th December 2017 Christmas Day

Do white horses count towards a white Christmas? It’s the closest we’re going to get when it’s 17 degrees in the shade and glorious sunshine. Mind you, white horses are pretty tame as regards possible weather options, even if they are the roughest seas we’ve had so far on this trip!

Didn’t sleep very well, but had a lie-in instead. Lovely long soak in the shower. Pressure a bit dodgy but temperature good, so this boiler might just last us out, after all. Met Ben and the parents for late breakfast/fruit/ lunch. As dinner tonight starts at 5.30 tonight (don’t ask me why – no idea – it’s a formal/gala dinner, but there aren’t THAT many courses!), no one ate much! When Ben left, we swapped our presents. I got a lovely silver bracelet and a unicorn pen and a fair amount of chocolate in various shapes, sizes and flavours, and the parents seemed very happy with their gifts, although dad did complain about the added weight for the suitcases! Then mum went to the hairdresser and Dad and I did admin chores at Reception, before we all went back to the cabins for a siesta. I slept like a log. Woke at 5.10pm and thought “Oh, got an hour yet”, and turned over to go back to sleep. Then, about thirty seconds later, it dawned on me that dinner tonight is at 5.30, not 6.30. Spiffing. Wore the mauve dress that makes me feel like a princess (Thank you, Wendy!). Couldn’t eat much food, but the turkey with all the trimmings was quite tasty.

Then back to the parents’ cabin to plan tomorrow. I made a list of words we need to know in Portuguese (watch battery for Ben, gluten free for me, hearing aid battery for dad).

Weather forecast for tomorrow: 18 in the shade, so mid-twenties plus in the sun. Shorts weather possibly?

Christmas Eve 2017

Sunday 24th December 2017 – Christmas Eve

Got up. Got dressed. Went to lunch.

Sea: Greeny-blue

Sky: blue

Air temp: 13-14 degrees centigrade.

Sea state: Ripples but no swell.

Location: Somewhere off the coast of northern Portugal.

Sheila joined us. She and her man, John, are here with his son, Neil, and being two lone adult children with two parents in tow, we have collided several times. We also seem to eat at about the same time, so we have chatted quite a lot. Neil and John went off to Passenger Choir rehearsal, so Sheila joined us, as did Ben, for lunch.

Then mum went for a siesta while dad and I caught up on the daily newspaper, Sudoku and crossword.

Then a lady called Janet came and sat down and I gave her some legal advice about a leak from the flat above hers, just before she came away! She was very grateful. I then also fixed her email on her phone, so she could text her son and daughter-in-law/ladyfriend, to say she was still alive and wish them a happy Christmas tomorrow.

It doesn’t take much to fill in the time between lunch and dinner when lunch starts at about 1 and dinner is at 6.30! By the time you’ve queued up, made your choices, waited for any special orders (coeliacs… tsk), and so on, it’s nearly 3. Then it’s four and then five and then you have to go back to the cabin and plan your dinner outfit and evening plans! How people find the time for gemstone lectures, port talks, art classes, bridge, and classical concerts, I have no idea! I couldn’t fit it all in with a shoehorn and a Timeturner.

Wore my new crushed velvet Santa dress to dinner. Wow, it moults! Then up to the top deck to greet Santa, who was at the top of the funnel. He waved and chatted for a bit on the microphone and then came down for hugs and photos. The mulled wine was sadly not free, but was very enjoyable nonetheless, although it was so hot that I didn’t get it all drunk until seconds before the Christmas song compilation show in the theatre started. This group of Headliners (same as October) are very good – although the lead females seem to have changed and are less so. In fact, one of them produced the most sexless performance of ‘Santa, baby’ anyone will ever have the misfortune to witness. Other than that, a very enjoyable 45 minutes.

Had an early night so that Santa would visit before he disembarked.

23rd December

Another Sea Day.

Decision re yesterday’s speed: probably number 5.

Bay of Biscay today: Flat as a mill pond. Positively glass-like.

Weather: grey but clear.

Sea colour: grey-green and very smooth.

Air temp: 11 degrees C but not a breath of wind, so quite pleasant.

Got up to the Conservatory (canteen-style foodery) in time to grab some sliced fruit from the end of breakfast/elevenses.

GF pasta turned up on cue. I love Clarence. He takes ridiculously good care of us.

Ben joined us for lunch, which was fun, but he told us that Graham and Sue and he were moving to table 80 for dinner. I hope they get the rapidity of service they so apparently crave. Trouble is, it means we have only Grumpy Anne and Quite Deaf Frank for company, unless we get given some new, random unknowns. Sharing a table is a risky business. The next two weeks could be veeeeery long.

Hung out and chatted for a while. Ben is 86 and was in the Navy for 22 years, so when he decided to take up cruising, he started with 104 nights – he already knew he liked being at sea!

Back to cabin for a chill out prior to formal night – washing, dressing, jewellery, make up (what’s left of it after I dropped my powder compact when unpacking), tights, shoes, etc.

There were Welcome Aboard drinks at 6, where the captain turned out to be short, stocky, Scottish and quite funny (although Hughie the Entertainment Manager did show him the red card for one particularly bad joke). Then down to dinner to find it was just us! Now, either Anne and Frank don’t ‘do’ formal nights – in which case it would have been courteous to let us and/or the waiters know in advance – or they have moved too, although the head waiter was not aware of any such shenanigans, so we going with the ‘didn’t bother and didn’t bother to let anyone know’ option, for now at least. Live in hope…

After dinner, Ben came over and said he would like to come back to our table! Apparently Graham and Sue have been completely ignoring him and the new people are not to his liking, so he wants to come back to us! Fine with us! I have to say that, seeing as he is paying for everything for all three of them on this trip, to completely ignore him seems a bit off to me –  the least you could do is talk to him now and then during dinner – but their loss is our gain, so I shouldn’t really complain. He’s a nice guy.

22nd December

This was a Slow Day. There really is very little to report! Slept late, met the parents for lunch, read a book. Dinner. Blog and telly. Bed.

It wasn’t just me having a Slow Day. The entire ship was. We didn’t set sail til nearly 8am, and we never went about 12 knots all day (about half speed). Dad and I had fun speculating as to why. Theories included:

  1. Trying to stay close to land in case the boiler gives out again and we have to turn back
  2. Traffic congestion issues in the Separation Channels
  3. Loss of one engine (but we’re not going in circles, says Dad)
  4. Bad weather ahead – need to give it time to get out of our way
  5. Hoping to go through the Western Approaches (the bumpy bit where the Channel meets the Atlantic and the Irish Sea) during the night, so we sleep through it.

At lunch, it was nice to bump into several waiters and head waiters and wine waiters who know us, so it was bizarrely easy to find food that suited us, and made the meal very relaxing (compared to last night!).

Finished my book: To Kill the President. Quite a good read. Looks at not only how one goes about killing an obnoxious POTUS, but also how it could go wrong, and do significantly more harm than the altruistic good originally intended.

Mum seems to be enjoying The Woman in Cabin 10 that I passed on to her when I finished it. A very good read, but quite claustrophobic.

Dinner was better than last night. We were given an extra waiter, I think, to help with the delays. Granted, we are down entirely the opposite end of the restaurant from the galley, but the food still arrives hot enough to eat.  Mum was quite pleased with her steak. I ordered cold meat and salad, which was very nice. I had what P&O call beef brisket.  This is, as expected based on previous experience, actually salt beef! We did order chips, both portions of which arrived significantly after the rest of the food – it was like eating in instalments! But still enjoyable. Anne was still grumpy and complained profusely at the slowness of service. To be fair, she was worried about getting to the show in time, tonight, and we were, again, the last table to be served, but we were done by 8.10, which is better than yesterday’s 8.30! I had a word on the way out with Sandeep, our head waiter, about rotating service among the tables, so that we are not always the last to be served. Tomorrow night is a formal night, so we’ll see how it goes. The head waiter asked if Anne wanted to move to a table nearer the galley, but Graham misinterpreted this as “If you don’t like it, move”, which was not what was said, nor the tone in which it was said. But I suppose, if you’re looking for something to complain about, it was a fairly unwise suggestion and easy to pounce upon!

I didn’t go to the Headliners show tonight – Stage Door. I only saw it six weeks ago! And anyway, I was starting to unwind, so I went to bed with my book and a Heinz Cream of Tomato cupasoup – hence, finished the book, as per the above. Watched a bit of telly (Dr Who Xmas special from 2014) and then crashed.

Still working on sorting the temperature in my cabin. Turned the thermostat fully one way yesterday to see what it would do – there are no markings. Turns out, that direction = sweltering. So turned it to the other extreme before bed, hoping for something cooler. Slept through, so that seems to be the setting of choice from now on. Now all we have to do is persuade people to stop smoking in front of the intake vents…

X727 Christmas Cruise – Setting sail for all points South

Welcome aboard X727 Oriana’s Christmas and New Year Cruise to the Canaries and Portugal. Oriana is her lovely self, and the staff welcome more effusive than usual (well, we were only here a few weeks ago!). Luggage delivery was VERY fast, and the drive down completely uneventful (after it taking us an hour to load the car, during which I pulled a muscle in my back). The only niggle was the rather shrug-filled attitude to the provision of wheelchair assistance for boarding, but once we’d got a proper person, even that went smoothly. We didn’t really have much to unpack – this is only a two-week cruise, after all – so there was time for napping and all sorts of holiday mood to set in.

Then the announcements began. Firstly, the compulsory muster (where they now swipe your cruise card to prove you were there, so no bunking off any more by hiding in the loo). The early part of the usual spiel was surplanted by a rather long lecture on hand washing and norovirus. Which was nice. This was followed by the usual stuff – emergency exits, whistle alarms that matter to passengers, how a life jacket works, etc. Turns out I picked up a VERY new lifejacket from the three in my cabin, and all the bits were rather stiff. Nearly broke a nail! Tsk. I remain convinced that the whole point of the exercise is to give you a chance to adjust the belt so it fits you, so that in an emergency, it’s already done, but what do I know? Anyway, the couple I sat next to in the Muster Station C overflow area (the window sills along the corridor outside the actual room) had caught their Eavesway coach at 3.30am from Somewhere in Scotland. They didn’t even bother to go to bed last night. I hope they slept on the 12-hour drive!

Dinner was a first night standard. The waiters were very helpful. Well, I say the waiters. We only saw one. I’m not convinced we actually have two, as we are supposed to. We got the table we asked for, and the people seem nice enough so far. They are Graham and Sue and Ben, Anne and Frank. Ben is Sue’s “adoptive” dad. When her dad died, his best friend stepped into the breach and became family, as substitute father figure. Isn’t that lovely? Anne didn’t seem to enjoy her meal, but the first night is always a bit of a mess. The waiters need to learn our preferences and allergies, apart from anything else, and the menu is pretty much pot luck. We were the last to be served. Some tables were on their coffee before we had even received our main meal. What we got was hot and perfectly edible – the pavlova was delicious (despite the new trend of placing each part separately on the plate, rather than in combination, which I still find very odd).

The announcements continued. Before supper, the captain informed us that one of the boilers had broken down and we would be without hot water for a few hours. We already knew there was a problem with a boiler, because P&O have taken Oriana out of service after this cruise, cancelling three weeks’ of holidaymakers, so she can go into dry dock for a new boiler to be put in. But we were hoping this one would last a little longer! In the end, the captain said that it would be fixed by 8.30 pm, but we had missed the tide, so we would not be setting sail until 6.30 in the morning. At 9.30 this morning (Friday), we were still in the Solent. We haven’t even joined the Channel Traffic Separation System yet, and it’s nearly 11am now. Talking of which, perhaps it’s time to get up and get dressed. Here endeth the first day.

The Last Bit

By ‘eck it got bumpy when we left Catania. We were fine during dinner, but not long after first sitting ended, we hit a LOT of potholes.

Cartagena

This was a weird one. We don’t often arrive somewhere after lunch! Very civilised! We like Cartagena. There is a lot of Roman stuff, but we like to shop here, which we duly did. Not really a lot else to say! Weather: hot. Sun: shiny. Sky: blue. Clear blue. Not a cloud init. Surfaces: smooth. Dipped kerbs: plentiful. Prices: pretty reasonable. The end! We only had half a day, after all.

Gibraltar

We had a half day in the morning here. We got off at 9 and I had booked breakfast at The Rock Hotel for 9.30. Easy peasy, you might think. However, Gibraltar has one of the meanest, most vicious taxi cartels in the world. They have the whole thing sown up and you are utterly at their mercy. We had to wait 15 minutes for a cab to deign to come for us, which annoyed us exceedingly. It doesn’t take that long to drive the entire circuit of the damn colony! Anyway, when we got there, it was wonderful. They treated us like royalty, and put on a beautiful buffet. I got gluten free cereal and toast, there was fruit and the most perfectly poached eggs I may ever have eaten. Utterly brilliant. We then shopped our way back down the hill/rock towards the ship. The queue for the shuttle bus was ludicrous, so we tried to get another taxi. Queue another row with a bolshy taxi driver. Eventually we found one willing to take our money and we were back on board in time for bob. Only I forgot to swipe my cruise card. Which meant that, half an hour later, my name came over the tannoy and I had to ring Reception to (a) confirm I was, indeed, on board and (b) apologise for being a numpty. They were very nice about it, considering they must be sick to the back teeth of idiots doing the same thing at every port they visit.

Sea Day

A restful day. AT LAST. Spent the day packing, so all I have to do on Monday is the formalwear and pyjamas and bathroom stuff. Most of it fits… Today we are on the home straight. Literally. Have you noticed just how very straight Portugal is?! Our heading was 003 degrees. That as near due north as makes no difference.

This might be the end, unless something monstrously fascinating happens tomorrow. Photos will follow. Only a short cruise, and not the most relaxing of holiday options, but it has certainly been fun, and we have seen LOTS of new places, which was nice.