ARRIVAL - Hectic journey to the port with at least 3 ships departing today. Normally we drive down overnight but this time we made the mistake of thinking it would be quiet on a Sunday and spent quite some time in queues on the motorways. Never again! We paid £152 for 2 weeks car parking - may take the coach next time. No queue at check-in at midday and we were quickly on the Ship.
We had 2 partially obstructed ocean view cabins which we booked 2 days before departure. E133 & E134. They had big windows although half is completely obstructed by a lifeboat. The other half has the crane part so you can see slightly above, below and to the side. The cabin next door has a very long balcony so if nobody was out we could see more of the ocean as we got their view also! It was worth the £50 extra from the inside cabin price but to be honest the lifeboat did annoy me after a day or two so you can imagine what it was like after 14 days! We were tendered at 2 ports and some of the lifeboats further down were used so if you were lucky enough to be in those cabins towards the front, you would have had a good view once they were removed. The cabin was as clean as could be considering how long since it was re-fitted. Arcadia is having a refit soon so let’s hope this includes the bathrooms. The bathmat was covered in mold so I didn’t use it. I'm sure if I had complained it would have been replaced. Cabin steward very efficient.
Tips/gratuities were automatically added to the onboard account at £3.50 per person, per day. If you want to alter this amount up or down, or pay cash instead as you feel this is more personable, then you just need to fill out a form from reception and tick the appropriate box.
The Casino was hidden away somewhere on deck 1 opposite The Rising Sun pub. Not much in here but at least it wasn’t full of smoke.
Internet packages were available. 100 minutes was £35 or 250 minutes £62.50. Pay as you go - 50p per minute. Wi-Fi throughout the ship and in cabins. After a few days they introduced smaller packages 15 minutes for £5.25 or 30 minutes for £7.50. Some places ashore offered Wi-Fi access.
The excursion desk is by reception on Deck 1. They have all the port guides and leaflets showing what excursions are still available. The Blue Lagoon was fully booked by day 3 so book early if you want to do a Ship’s excursion. Worth noting that in Reykjavik (and some other places) they have a tourist information office right by the Ship and they book all the excursions and are cheaper and you can pay on credit card.
FOOD & DRINK
The Belvedere restaurant is self-service located on Lido Deck 9. The staff were far more efficient at removing plates than or last cruise. They were not very chatty but friendly enough. The main dining room was the Meridien restaurant on decks 2&3. Worth noting the tables are not as crammed in together as on Royal Caribbean.
Free orange, apple and pineapple juice in the morning until 12.00. Water is available throughout the day although it doesn’t have a pleasant taste. They sell their own P&O mineral water which you can order via the cabin steward. We got 6 x 1.5ltr bottles for £9.50. This is also not a great taste but better than the free water. We didn’t see any Evian water packages. Room service is available all day. Certain items did have a small charge. The beef or ham baguettes were free, tasted excellent and came with proper crisps! Evenings in the Belvedere are themed. E.g. Best of British, Bistro, Asian Fusion, Carver, Indian. There is enough choice so that even if you don’t like a particular theme too much, you could find something you did like if you prefer not to eat in the main dining room. I would also have liked to see a little more fruit (and no I am not a health freak). Some grapes would have been nice. Instead I found 2 mixed in with other fruit I don’t like at the desert counter. Bananas were too ripe from the start of the cruise although they were nice with custard!
Neptune Grill –this is a little gem of a place that not that many people found although it did get busier as the cruise went on. It is a little food area just on the other side of the Belvedere restaurant towards midship, deck 9. Open 11-6.30 daily. Fish and chips, Cajun chicken burger, bacon and egg rolls, jacket potatoes, hot dogs, McCain chips, apple pie and a few others treats. You must try the cinnamon ring donut - delicious! Food here was quickly prepared by a nice female chef who got to know what we liked without asking. It was fresh and cooked to order within minutes. Sandwiches are made to order 11-30-2.30pm with a self-service small salad bar. The menu changed after 5 days and now had BBQ chicken burgers, Jacket Potatoes with beef curry, Bolognese sauce, chocolate brownies, and a few other nice treats.
The Headliners shows were OK. I felt the 60/70’s was average but I have to say the Killer Queen show the same cast did was excellent.
The library had daily UK news print out which was a nice handy quick guide for keeping up to date.
There are lots of games hidden away up the corner and in the cupboard. Also saw a giant puzzle being pieced together in one corner.
SHOPS & DUTY FREE
Shops - mediocre to say the least. Toiletries are available for anything you forgot although expensive. Duty free allowances were 200 cigarettes or 250g tobacco and 1 litre of spirits per person and a few other rules.
Day 1 At Sea. Got well acquainted with the fog horn as bleak outside!
Dublin Bay -Tendered about a mile offshore so the transfers took a good 20 minutes on the lifeboat once we set off. Once you added the loading and unloading it was nearer 45 minutes. Even the crew commented it seemed quite a long way out than normal. If booked on a Ship's shore excursion than you get priority off. However, if not, you have to get a tender 'raffle' ticket and wait to be called to a lifeboat. Suggest you collect a tender ticket early as we decided to do this at 10.30am and unfortunately waited until 12pm before we were called. People were getting very annoyed as even when called to the tender station on deck 2, we were just kept waiting. The weather was unusually warm here which made the tender pleasant. Leaflets were handed out on shore which included a map and discount vouchers. If you head left you come across the Dart train station and a museum. There were free shuttle buses into town from the drop off point and it was about half hour to Dublin itself.
REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Clocks went back 1 hour overnight at 2am. Temperature 8- 12c, mixture of sun, dark clouds, wind and rain so take a warm winter coat, hat, scarves and gloves! My tip for onboard is to have breakfast delivered to your room as it was packed at 7.30am in the Belvedere. Free shuttle buses operate to the town – approximately 15 minute ride. The Tourist Information office is just off the Ship. They are extremely helpful and offer many excursions which are at a lower price than the Ship. However, worth remembering that if on a Ship’s excursion is late back, it won’t sail without you. We walked into the Tourist Information office at 9.20am and booked the bus to the blue lagoon - paid on our UK credit card. This leaves every hour but does go via the bus depot where you change to a coach. 3600 ISK for the bus ride and 1000 ISK or 10 euros (yes you can pay in Euros) to get into the Blue Lagoon observation areas. Around 40 Euros to swim - or you can book the combined bus and swim in the lagoon which is around 8000 ISK. There was quite a long queue to get into the Blue Lagoon but this was by far a lot longer at lunchtime so if going independently I would suggest getting there no later than the 10am bus.
ISAFJORDUR, Iceland - Arrived 8am. Tendered port again which was a shame – approximately 12 minutes to shore. If you walk straight up from the harbour, for approximately 5 minutes and then turn right for another few minutes you come across the tourist information office. Clean toilets in here and very helpful staff. Just outside was a shuttle bus that was doing a 2.5 hour tour around the island. £35, 20 Euros or $55 (or a mixture) No credit card accepted for this trip but the driver will take you back via the town and an ATM is you need cash. We were going to wander around on our own here but decided we would see far more on this little tour. Glad we did as it was truly excellent and we wouldn’t have seen even a 10th of what we did. We drove through the main tunnel which oddly narrows from 2-way traffic to 1-way traffic where they have to give way to traffic coming in - scary! We stopped at various vantage points and the scenery and quiet was amazing. We went on to a flower garden with a whale bone exit which was very pretty and then on to a little tourist shop where tea and coffee were provide free. Nice clean toilets. No pushy sales people, just nice friendly people. We turned back down the mountain towards the village and there was a lovely view of the harbour. The guide said you can usually see the cruise Ship from here but it was tendered rather a long way out (as it was in Dublin Bay). We went on to another stop at the main waterfall before being taken into the town where some people got off the bus here and then just round another corner back to the tourist office. Super day out. There were a few other things to see in this town. If we had walked up and turned left instead of right from the harbour, we would have come across the Heritage Museum.
AKUREYRI - arrived at 8.30am. There is a tourist information office right on the dock. We booked a two and a half hour tour to Godafoss Waterfall from here for £50 or 9900 ISK. Euros and credit card are also accepted. Although it was roughly the same price as the Ship’s excursion it was a much smaller group – 16 seater minibus. You could do with some decent footwear as some of it was bumpy ground. Nice close-up views of the waterfalls and a tourist shop/cafe and free toilets here. The tour left the dock at 11am so we walked a short distance up the harbour and took some pictures. If you are on foot, there is a large map on a board just outside the dock gate. You just head on the footpath past the harbour, and into the town. The Botanical gardens is up the hill. The driver of our tour drove us around the town and stopped here for those who wanted to look around and walk back to the Ship. It was probably about a mile or so. It is worth noting that people were selling the trip to the Waterfall for just £35 outside of the TI office. Unfortunately we had booked by then.
At Sea day. Clocks went forward 1 hour at 2am overnight last night. The sea was slightly choppy overnight and it sounded like fireworks out my window. I am assuming this is something on the lifeboat crane creaking and groaning. In fact looking at the crane, and thinking what it must look like in a storm blowing towards the window, I don’t think I would go for an obstructed view again!
At Sea again the next day. Clocks went forward 1 hour again overnight. Weather was wet and foggy all day today. We went along to the Palladium theatre before lunch where the cruise director was talking to the singers and dancers and people were able to ask questions. The shops had the usual ‘sale’. Cigarettes and tobacco were 15% off again. Didn’t see much alcohol, I think this must have been stripped bare after the 1st night when on sale! I did buy a Sekonda watch. The watch specialist man is very helpful on this Ship without being pushy at all, so worth asking him for advice.
ALESUND, Norway– The Queen Mary 2 was also in port today. Weather was wet to start with, then drier but turned drizzly and windy. The captain (our first cruise with a female captain which was a nice change) decided to announce at 7.20am that we were in port and could go ashore! Judging by how many people were in the Belvedere at 9am for breakfast, not many had left the Ship at that ridiculous time - it was also only 8C and raining at the time! Initially there didn’t look much to do here but I was pleasantly surprised. As you leave the Ship there are plenty of excursions to book. The Hop on Hop off Bus – 200 NOK/28 EUR/37 USD/23 GBP. This goes to the Sunnmore Museum, Aksla View Point, TI office, City Centre, Art Nouveau Centre, Alesund Fisheries Museum, Alesund Church and Alesund Aquarium. There are coaches leaving from the port going direct to the aquarium which is 200 NOK and includes the entrance fee. There is also a little City train that leaves from the port and takes you to the View Point and around the City Centre. This is a 1 hour 10 tour for 150 NOK. It is very small so you have to book at the kiosk and get a time for it. Worth getting off the Ship early, even if you just buy a ticket for later. Also if there are other cruise Ships in port, this gets very busy and there was a queue for tickets. It is possible if you are very fit to walk to the View Point. The map which you can pick up at the port says it is 418 steps to the top. Alesund Museum is also quite close to the Ship.
OLDEN, Norway - this port replaced Flam. Arrived at 8am. Luckily we have been to Flam before but I have to say that I was looking forward to it again. We have only been on 3 P&O cruises before and they have changed the itinerary in Norway previously so it sounds like a regular occurrence. One bonus of booking 2 days before departure is that you are informed of any port changes. I received at least 4 emails the afternoon that I booked notifying me of different changes.
Beautiful scenery and houses on the mountains. The lake was very calm. There is a tourist information office just as you exit the Ship. They do excursions to the Briksdal Glacier for 350 NOK. You can pay on credit card in here. This is a 3 hour round trip. Approximately 30 minutes each way and 2 hours up the Glacier. Note, there is quite a lot of walking to the Glacier. The little trains that run along the coastal roads and into the ‘town’ was 150NOK or 20 Euros – 1 hour 10 minute round trip. You pay for this by the trains, not in the TI office. There is also a sightseeing red glacier bus. We were going to do the Glacier as we didn’t do it last year but it was so wet and foggy that it will have to be 3rd time lucky! Instead we walked along the footpath and admired the views. We headed back when it started to rain again. It brightened up quite a bit after 12pm although the fog came down heavy again by 2pm and all through the night. I think next time we will probably book the afternoon P&O excursion by troll car. This saves a lot of the walking and the weather was a lot better by lunch! I will check the weather and book the cruise last minute!
STAVANGER, Norway – Sun and cloud, 16C. Best day weather-wise. 1 other cruise ship was also docked in Stavanger. Last year and it was raining so we walked to the Oil Museum which is actually very interesting and worth a visit if wet although not cheap to get in. This was about a 15 minute walk. Ask in the TI office for a map and it’s easy to find. If you walk from the P&O berth (which is on the right hand side facing the city) straight up and slightly to the left, you come to the market square and the TI office after a few minutes. If you turn to the right instead, it takes you around the harbour and the concert hall. This is also where the local sightseeing hop on bus goes from. 150NOK. What annoyed me was that the exit off the ship was right at the back and we were given the run around just trying to find the way off! We then had to walk the length of the ship to find the exit, another to get to the end of the pier and the same again to walk around it to the sightseeing bus or the concert hall. Not very organised!
The crew did a practice emergency drill on board this morning and also took all the lifeboats off my side, around 10.30am. I had a lovely view over the harbour area until they reeled them back in just before 2pm.
Last Day was At Sea - We were and got some washing done at the launderette. These are free but remember to bring your washing powder.
For some reason they decided the Neptune pool had to be drained last night for maintenance today. Why couldn’t this have been done during a port day? Instead they chose a busy day with everyone on board on what was one of the warmest days of the cruise! What also annoyed me throughout the cruise and the last day was the constant clinking of the maintenance men removing rust from the promenade deck all day. We paid to enjoy the facilities on board aswell as to visit the places we went to and I believe this sort of activity should be restricted to in port days.
Arrival back in Southampton.
We were asked to vacate the cabin by 8am and wait in a specific area to be called off the Ship. This was packed and we had to stand. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long. It was a nice cruise but no concessions for single travelers so I can’t say it was particularly good value for money. Having booked the Friday before the cruise left on Sunday, I got a lot better price. It was a little short notice for organising things but it was so much cheaper than booking under the Vantage fare.