We enjoyed our holiday but will not travel on this ship again.
Nothing against the staff – they all worked very hard and we could not fault our stateroom attendant or waiters. But public space is really an issue on this ship. We had ... Read More
We enjoyed our holiday but will not travel on this ship again.
Nothing against the staff – they all worked very hard and we could not fault our stateroom attendant or waiters. But public space is really an issue on this ship. We had a number of sea days for our cruise and finding a sun lounger on deck was difficult, if not impossible, at times. Yes – there are people who save loungers near the popular areas but there were times when we could not find a seat anywhere at all – even away from the pools. I put this down to two reasons: One being the apparent increase in staterooms – but also the “Flow-Rider”. Yes this is great fun for the four or five people using it but it is an area which could be used for a pool for young kids and their families. Instead everyone not using the “Flow-Rider” has to squash up into the remaining main pool areas. But, of course, the “Flow-Rider” is an extra source of income for Royal Caribbean – so I guess it will stay.
Finding a seat in the bar areas was also a problem and standing room only in the Star Lounge was the norm. Not a seat to be found for some of the quizzes either. In short the public areas are overcrowded and this isn’t the sort of cruising I am interested in. We found ourselves simply going back to our stateroom on many occasions and I amused myself by writing a daily blog for my friends:
Day One – Depart Southampton
“General Boarding?” – “You address me like I am in the forces.” And so starts 13 nights of unfair and uncalled for observations of fellow passengers and petty whingeing about first world problems. But that is the bubble we are in.
First cruise we have taken leaving the UK and it started with the usual safety drill. Standing in lines under specific lifeboats – eyeing up who you would be sharing yours with should the ship go down. Space for the line-up was tight “Move one step to your right” the crew member says “That ain’t going to happen” says I looking at the two passengers in mobility scooters next to me. “Come on – please move over to your right” repeats the crew member; not noticing the two scooters. “You heard what the lady said. Move!” I shout at the two passengers. They saw the funny side.
Half an hour later we are ready to depart Southampton with “Poolside Proms”. A rather embarrassing affair where half a dozen Union Flags were handed out and “Rule Britannia”, “Jerusalem” and “God Save the Queen” were played over the speakers. It’s the sort of patriotic thing they would do in America – only here the announcer kept shouting over the top of the music. “The bar is open – get yourself a drink”. As the music stopped she shouted “For Queen and Country”. I am as patriotic as the next person but I don’t see what we are doing for Queen and Country – travelling on a ship registered in the Bahamas, paying bills in US dollars off for a holiday in the Med. Sandy tells me that nobody waves flags like the British. I watch for a while and ask what the hell she is on about. “You know” she says “we wave them like that … in time to the music”. I will be watching other nationalities waving their flags out of sync with the beat in the future.
“The music is rather ‘English’” I comment while Jerusalem is playing “I have heard Scottish and Welsh accents”. A few minutes later Sandy replies “They are playing the Scottish anthem now” …. 500 Miles.
We made our way down a few floors to get a cup of coffee – stopping to look at photos of actors in the stairwell. “Is that James Dean?” a woman says to her husband looking in my direction. “No” says I “but many women have made the same mistake over the years”.
Free coffee and snacks at the Promenade Café. We are going to have to try to avoid this place. “Have you seen they have ‘Willy Wonka Pie’?” asks Sandy. “I’m not going to have that – too childish” I reply – tucking into a ‘cheesecake lollypop’. Basically a cheesecake filling coated in white chocolate – we will be challenged to avoid these every day.
The usual “start of cruise” show this evening. Brits don’t get excited when someone mentions their home town … and only three people showed mild interest when bingo was mentioned. Knowing how much we love our bingo I take this as confirmation as Brits simply don’t “whoop” as much as Americans.
We have “Anytime Dining” which I naively assumed would mean we could dine at any time. However it looks like we need to make a reservation – which we queued up to do. 8.45pm was the time agreed. “Line up at that time and we will get you seated as soon as possible” I am told. “Didn’t I just make a reservation for 8.45pm?” I question. “There are three thousand passengers on this ship” I am told with the confidence that this is an appropriate answer. I doubt I will sleep tonight trying to work out the logic.
Day 2 – At Sea
Woke up with a headache. Not through drinking – but down to CNN. Christianne Amanpour – does she ever talk at a reasonable level? She shouts at guests – even in the studio. Someone needs to have a word.
More differences between an American cruise and a British one? The pub was packed last night. Every time I have walked passed tables have been full. This morning the breakfast buffet was ‘understated’. No waffles, French toast, pancakes etc. …more of a Premier Inn type buffet. Maybe because the Brits have lower expectations or maybe the cruise line knows what the Brits want. I wanted a waffle
Well – us Brits like pubs and chips. That became clear this lunchtime. A variety of food at the buffet but most plates consisted of chips. So perhaps the boat caters for what people want. We had our afternoon coffee and managed to avoid the ‘cheesecake lollypop’ – it’s the first day at sea. It is going to be a battle of wills.
This evening showed another difference between a British and American cruise. A formal night. A few years ago we were in a lift when one American said in a self-satisfied manner to another who entered wearing a tuxedo “First cruise for you isn’t it … nobody wears a tuxedo on cruises anymore”. The guy looked a little downhearted. On the next floor another guy wearing a tuxedo got in “Thanks for raising the standards” I said to him. I think that made the first guy feel a little better.
Tonight we sat in the pub (see – us Brits like pubs) and watched people walk by. The whole place had transformed – in the end we were the only ones sat there in shorts. DJ’s and suits were out in force – and women wore eveningwear. Quick fashion tip - call me old-fashioned but some tattoos don’t work as accessories for evening dresses. Please pay attention – especially if you are in your early twenties and currently working in Aberystwyth.
Day 3 – Still at Sea
This morning’s ship TV programme promised us clear sunshine and no cloud at all. Why were we watching it? – because it was raining so hard we couldn’t get a regular television channel.
Wandered down to the Seventies Quiz – seventeen questions and no assessment criteria. Two marks for each question and a total of 34 points – highest score wins – revolutionary. Considering wrapping this up as a three day assessment workshop and selling it around the world. Big disappointment. Do they not know that there were genres other than disco in the seventies? We didn’t take part though as it took me most of the quiz to work out how I was going to be assessed.
We have settled into a cruise routine – Eat, Sleep, Drink, Repeat. First port of call tomorrow is going to throw our schedule. Today’s fashion tip. Shirt not tucked in plus tie does not work. In all fairness it is probably a commendable attempt at tonight’s dress suggestion – Smart Casual. I sound like a fashion snob – but can hardly talk as I was sat there in my Primark shorts, t-shirt and M&S boat shoes.
One of our favourite pastimes is hanging out around guest services trying to listen to the complaints from passengers. There is a noticeboard where you post special interest meetings. The usual “Friends of Bill W and Dorothy” (now that would be an interesting combined event) appear and I wanted to start posting some for my own amusement – “Alcoholics Anonymous – meet in the bar”, “Swingers at Sea – meet in the Star Ballroom” – I thought I could come up with one each day and then sit near the venue to see what happened. Sandy banned me from doing this. However I was delighted to see that someone had posted “R Soles and Friends” this afternoon. Perhaps if I ply her with a few glasses of Pinot Grigio she will see that this has legs.
It has legs “Two desperate women. Good bell ringers. Meet in bar at 5pm”. I feel we have missed the boat on this one.
“Seventies Night” – and much as I like seventies music we are subjected to the same dozen songs or so from the quiz night played over and over again. Finished the evening wandering into the Starlight Lounge – heard Boogie Wonderland being played for the umpteenth time and decided to call it a night.
Day 4 – Gibraltar
I found waffles! In the Windjammer Buffet!
…. I had a full English. Maybe I am conditioned to have an English breakfast – maybe it is because the waffles, pancakes and French toast looked rather tired and sad. Possibly been sitting there for a while. But what I ate was good. Sandy went for fruit and managed to drop her bowl on the floor - the noise could be heard as far away as the Philippines according to our waiter. Actually I apologised to the waiter and told him my wife is always drawing attention to herself. More evidence it is a Brit boat? One man gave a little cheer as he walked past – and another commented “How are the juggling lessons coming on?”
We also know it is a British cruise rather than American due to the number of people using the stairs. Normally we can go up and down several floors without being impeded in any way. However we are always giving way to people on this trip. There was even a guy making his way down on crutches yesterday – fair play to him. However we don’t have the other extreme either. The super athletes who spend their days in the gym or regularly jogging around the track. Us cruising Brits tend to be happy to be average – neither insisting on using the lift to take us up one floor nor spending our days becoming super fit.
I have also yet to see that little circular patch just below the ear to fend off seasickness. That’s got to be an American thing.
Gibraltar is Little England with ‘fish n chip’ shops, pubs, Marks & Spencers, post boxes and more red telephone kiosks than you ever see in England. England with the sun. We looked at the tours organised by the boat. USD$60 each to go to the top of the rock – we walked to the cable car – it is £12. Still too expensive for us so took photos of post boxes and telephone kiosks instead. Almost came a cropper when Sandy saw a couple of pairs of shoes she liked the look of – fortunately they didn’t have her size. So got away with just a couple of drinks in a pub so we could use their internet.
Regular dining room this evening. Sandy had tart for dessert. “This is hard” she says. “Shall I get you a knife?” “No seriously this is REALLY hard” she says again forcing her spoon vertically into the tart. Well she got through and half of it, caked in vanilla ice cream, shot off her plate and straight down her dark blue top. Visit to our room to pick up a scarf for her to cover up before we went for our evening walk. Just a shame the bloke from this morning didn’t walk past to say “How’s the juggling lessons going?” I thoughtfully stepped in for him.
Day 5 – Malaga, Spain.
It’s overcast. We’ll go for a walk.
Last night was the first of three ‘production shows’ – shows put on by the cruise singers and dancers “Fast Forward”. Watchable – but they did reprise some of the seventies hits from the day before. Time to move on: Please! We have already picked out our ‘eyes and teeth’ dancer. The girl who has been told ‘wide eyes and show your teeth at all times’. Once you spot her it really is difficult to watch anyone else. There is also the ‘strictly’ professional dance couple who I guess will be doing a solo show for us at some point. They were head and shoulders above the others but the bloke dances with his body in the shape of a toilet u-bend. I really can’t think of another way to describe it.
We have a new pastime. Each evening at 10pm we are treated to some sort of game show in the Star Lounge. The first night was “Majority Rules” where you have to guess the most obvious answer – it is less fun than you think. And last night it was “Beat the rock” – where the first person to run forward and sit in the seat and name the artist and song – usually one of those we heard a dozen times the day before – wins 10 points (not one – ten! I guess to make it appear more exciting) for their side of the room. We were members of the Starboard Team – but we didn’t really take part – although I am pleased to say we were, by default, part of the winning side. I will probably get a certificate on the last night. Anyway there are two couples with young children and pushchairs parked on the dance floor (Well the pushchairs are parked). Both nights, when the games are on and also when the band beforehand is finishing, their young children are running around. It’s a bit like a wedding reception. Last night the parents also dominated the “Beat the rock” game – being just a couple of steps away from the chairs they jumped in and answered most of the questions while their children ran around and got in the way of anyone else trying to join in. The parents are completely oblivious to how the other guests are viewing this. 10pm and perhaps the kids should not be in that environment. Anyway Sandy and I will be popping along each evening at ten – just to watch how things progress.
So – overcast – a walk along the seafront and we see our first ‘European sunbather’ – meaning topless or ‘top-free’ – as I think the politically correct expression is these days. Of course being Europe nobody takes the slightest bit of notice but it does remind me of the time on an American cruise where there were written warnings in the tour brochures and verbal presentations that we might see ‘European sunbathing’ in Saint Maarten (I’ve tried spelling that a number of times but it never looks right). We didn’t even know at the time what ‘European sunbathing’ was And we are from Europe. But then we didn’t know what English Muffins were before we got to America and I guess the French probably had the same issue with toast - but I digress. Anyway we felt we had been well and truly warned so it must be bad. However what ‘European sunbathing’ meant was ‘topless ladies’ – and what the ‘warning’ meant was “If you come on this tour you might – if you are lucky - see topless ladies ... wink wink.” It was a sales pitch. And you have never seen so many cruise passengers – some of whom would not consider walking further than the length of a buffet table - deciding, on that particular day, to take a two kilometre stroll up and down the beach – in Hawaiian shirts, Bermuda shorts, baseball caps, sunglasses …and with a camera held at a jaunty perpendicular angle to the direction they were walking.
Overcast… a walk back along the seafront discussing which public convenience I used last time we were here …. there is not a lot to do along the seafront. In fact there are only two public conveniences so that discussion did not last long. We just agreed to differ. Then horror of horrors – we saw some sort of fort/castle in the distance and I just knew that meant I was going to have to go in every room, up every rampart and take a photograph of the ship from every lookout tower. Basically – that is what you do in port when you are on a cruise. You get off the ship – walk a little way away and then take a photograph of the ship. Get back on the ship and then point to where you took the photograph and say “We were over there”.
You can do the trip to the fort/castle on a cruise tour for the princely sum of USD49.75 each – admittedly it is a steep walk but not really a challenge for Sandy and I and we are hardly fitness fanatics. Entrance to both, what I now know to be, the Roman theatre/castle and fortress is Euro7.10 for the two of us. That is a saving of around USD90 - although we did not see the “19th century City Hall and Central Post Office”. Or we might have done but not realised. There is an old clock tower and I overheard one bloke say to another “Look at that old clock – and it’s tellin’ the right time n’all” I think he has watched Back to the Future too many times.
Heather Watson - no never heard of her either before today – but it was down to her that we became embroiled in our first complaint. And we weren’t even complaining. We saw that she was playing Serena Williams later in the day and assumed she would be out in two sets. After an early evening meal we went for a wander and saw the game was being shown on the big outdoor screen and Watson was surprisingly beating Williams by 3 games to zero in the third set. So we settled down with about thirty other people to watch the end of the match. About fifteen minutes later, with the game as tight as it could be, they pull the plug on the game. There were a few huffs and puffs but being British no one actually complained. So Sandy and I wandered down to the casino to watch the inevitable loss. At one point one jovial crew member came over and said “Is it the good Williams sister? Mind you I wouldn’t want to meet either of them in a dark street.” Ho hum…. Banter! ….I guess.
I said to Sandy let’s just mention that they ought to look at what is being shown before just stopping the feed. A bit of advice thought I. However the girl at guest services took it very seriously as a complaint – asking if I wanted to speak to technical management “No” – well I will pass it on to the Director of Activities and you can talk to him “No thank you. I am just making the suggestion because with the number of Scots on board if you were to do the same thing with Andy Murray you would make quite a lot of people very unhappy.” “I have the technical manager on the phone – he says there is a schedule to follow – I’ll just see what was on next”. “It’s a Katy Perry concert” I tell her “and I have nothing against Katy Perry” … at which point she started laughing. “No really I don’t dislike Katy Perry….” …. At this point I am wondering why I bothered – it was just a case of making a suggestion to Guest Services that on a British ship maybe they ought to look at who is playing on the screen before pulling the plug – and I end up discussing whether I like Katy Perry or not – I did not even know who Heather Watson was at the start of the day.
The rest of the evening was quite uneventful – a very good ventriloquist who managed to choose the bloke sat on the left of Sandy and the couple to the right of me. Not the first time we have been avoided – I guess it is the look Sandy has on her face. Then just a quick wander along to the Star Lounge to check on the kids running around on the dance floor while the band are playing some Pink Floyd number.
And so to bed – expecting to get a call from the Activities Director tomorrow. How to play this one? Try to explain that I was just making a suggestion, make out that I am a big Wimbledon fan or simply tell him the message got confused and that I was unhappy with the attitude of some of the other passengers because I was looking forward to the Katy Perry concert.
Day 6 – At Sea
It’s the 4th July – I think I will have French fries tonight in recognition of the pesky French contribution to American Independence. How fickle that their frites were renamed in some quarters as freedom fries in recent years. Let’s just let bygones be bygones and call them chips. Thought I’d wear a dark t-shirt today and on opening it out found it was my ‘Cheers’ one – I’ll save it for another day. A Brit wearing a Boston t-shirt on 4th July? I don’t think so.
Phone call from the Activities Director – “As a result of your complaint, and looking at the schedule, we will no longer be showing evening films on the pool deck – it will be Wimbledon from now on.” Hmmm … not sure that was what we were suggesting but then again I have not seen more than a handful of people on deck for the evening films. I wonder if we could have stopped the seventies disco music. May have played our hand at the wrong time.
Went for a walk this morning and looked through the window onto the bridge. I am sure that is our waiter driving the ship.
There has been a development. The cruise TV presenters give us safety tips each day – such as hold on to the rail when going up and down stairs/steps (stairs inside – steps outside) and washing your hands every time you enter a restaurant “No sickie sickie on the big shippy shippy.” Today the advice is …. “Don’t let your young children run over the dance floor as they might get hurt.” We will be checking the Star Lounge at 10pm tonight … it’s the “Don’t forget the lyrics quiz.”
Went for a cup of coffee this morning and got talking to a couple from Gloucester – my home city. Many years ago he was based at RAF Innsworth – which brought back memories of my Granny Smith (Yes – Smith is my mother’s maiden name). She worked at the Naafi in Innsworth and my Grampy Smith worked at Dowty Rotal. They could even recall Glevum Press in the Docks where my father worked fifty years ago – in the days when the printers had typesetters. Time moves on.
Second boat we have been on with an ice rink. We saw the show today – again excellent. Must be one of the best shows on the seas. They even included Christmas songs with snow falling from the ceiling and the skaters wrapped up in winter fur – it’s about 32 degrees outside.
6pm was a gathering for Americans for Independence Day. We popped along for a few minutes to see what was going on. They sang the national anthem – and at the back of the room was… a huge …. apple pie
Quite a social day today – we got talking to another couple – our neighbours. I had previously seen him wearing “Adam and the Ants” and “Darkness” t-shirts so thought we might have something in common. Out neighbour has a tattoo of Adam Ant’s signature. Adam signed his arm earlier in the year. I’m just glad I didn’t get Gary Glitter to sign my arm - otherwise this blog would now be taking me twice as long to type.
Due to our socializing we were late checking up on the kids in the Star Lounge and by the time we got there they were nowhere to be seen. I do hope they are OK. In fact we didn’t get back to our cabin …sorry ‘stateroom’ … until gone midnight. “Look at the time,” says Sandy. “There is no need to look at the time on a cruise.” I reply “We go to bed when we are tired and get up when we want to. We could even get up now and go to the night club if we wanted.” But by this time she was asleep. Time to trade her in for a younger model? I’ll sleep on it.
Day 7 – Villefranche. France.
It is hot, hot, hot. The word ‘Hot’ does not really do it justice. CNN warned about severe heat – it is that hot. The Brits are complaining about the heat – I am complaining our personal rain cloud has failed us. Still it is good to have a bit of a moan once in a while.
Time for a positive thinking tip: We have a number of friends who tell us they would never do a cruise in a million years. I can understand that - ‘horses for courses’ it certainly isn’t for everyone. But when something which we think is worth moaning about occurs we simply ask “What would ***** say?” Try it next time you are on holiday. Think of friends who would really not want to be on the holiday with you and ask what they would say when things aren’t perfect - it brightens up the situation no end.
So our main moan about this cruise is lack of space on decks during sea days. Finding a sun lounger can be difficult if not impossible at times – but we have our own balcony to revert to if necessary. The main reason for lack of sun loungers is people bagging them first thing in the morning with their towels. And the Brits cannot blame the Germans as I do not recall hearing any on this trip. No - the Brits are clearly as bad, if not worse, than any other nationality for hogging the chairs. And those who put their towel on a sun lounger and then disappear for three hours … why do they do that? How does someone justify to themselves that they can stop other people using sun loungers when they have no intention of using them for such a long period of time? Perhaps I need to take a look in the dictionary as next to the word ‘selfish’ would be dozens of photographs of these people.
The cruise itinerary likes to imply that today we are in Nice. But Nice is a bus or train ride away – as is Monaco. However there is no need to go to either of those as Villefranche is perfectly adequate for our needs with a couple of small beaches, a market, cafes and bars. We are happy to get off, wander the streets and take a few photographs of the boat.
Today there is a tender service – the first one on this cruise. This means we can’t walk off the ship. We are taken by ‘tenders’ or, more accurately in this case lifeboats, to land. It allows me to take pictures of Sandy stood in front of a lifeboat and say “Can I take a photograph of you with a tender behind?”
We find a small bar which has free wifi and sit there during the F1 grand prix. There is rain in the UK – we are jealous even though my clothes are now as wet as if I had been in a rainfall. Back at the quay I take a photograph of Sandy and her tender behind – it never gets old
On returning to the boat we find a free sun lounger on deck – in fact there are many free sun loungers – it is that hot. Even with sunblock I don’t think most people could take more than an hour in direct sunlight.
We don’t see the children in the Star Lounge for the ‘Battle of the sexes’ game this evening. The result of the battle is genuinely mistakenly called a draw but quite understandable as a total of four points are involved. The men should have been declared the overall stronger gender based on the number of balloons they put up a t-shirt. I decide not to complain and we wander down to watch the second show with the ‘S-bend and eyes and teeth’ dancers. It is pretty good.
On the BBC news they are reporting Princess Charlotte’s christening – is she named after her grandfather?
And so to bed – after 12:00 for the second night in a row. I decide not to suggest going to the night club. We have met a couple whose 24 year old son always goes to the night club. He stays there until 5am then has breakfast before going to bed at around 8am each morning. His parents could have just paid for one cabin – sorry stateroom – and used it in shifts.
Day 8 - Provence. France.
Drew the curtains this morning to see half a dozen battleships – we must be in a naval port. Then opened the window to hear reveille being played. I stood to attention on the balcony in my underwear – wouldn’t want to offend anyone.
Today we are parked near Toulon. The choice is a twenty minute walk into the local town – or pay USD12 each to get a return tender to Toulon itself. Seeing as I did the ‘tender behind’ joke to death yesterday and that there is a fee for using the tender we decide to walk to the local town. Big mistake – nothing there. A little harbour with a few boats but business must be booming as all the shops shut between 1230pm and 3.30pm. Why else would you close when you have the potential of a few hundred cruise ship passengers looking for a cup of coffee and wifi? Completely uneventful walk in to town – on the way back Sandy was smelling flowers and smelled so hard the petal went up her nostril. Yep – that was the highlight.
Andy Murray’s tennis game was shown on the big screen up on deck today. At least I know that I have done my bit to make sure they won’t cut into it. I don’t really watch tennis but I didn’t have much choice as it was on the big screen. Anyway it seems every time they ‘challenge’ a decision they simply show a cartoon confirming the original decision. Why bother challenging?
The “Love and Marriage Game” tonight – a sort of ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ game – I don’t think they can use that title for copyright reasons. No – we didn’t take part but we did ask each other the questions. I know Sandy’s bra size better than she does….and apparently picking my toenails is my most annoying habit. I thought it was my most endearing.
Day 9 – Palma de Mallorca. Spain.
We had the buffet breakfast on Deck 3 today. When you arrive at the restaurant you are asked if you would be happy to share a table. I always reply “Only if you sit us with nice people.” And they did – with two very pleasant couples. One couple come from Bristol – where Sandy and I first met. I asked whereabouts and they said next to the M4/M5 junction. Then followed a typical British discussion between the two couples about transport links in the UK. I chipped in with “Isn’t that the junction with two roads over another? Did you know that was the first place in England where that happened?” I think both couples were suitably impressed and will probably share that nugget of information in future road themed conversations.
Sandy and I are going to be working to a slightly different schedule today as we are in Palma de Mallorca until late. A quick visit to a wifi zone when we dock (exam results came out yesterday), back on ship for an early meal (no we are not going to pay for a meal on the island when we have paid for full board on the ship) and then a wander into town for the evening. I am thinking of wearing all white – not just the socks. I would not normally do this at home but I think I can get away with it here – an opportunity to show off the glow of my tan. I’ll remind Sandy that there is no need for a flash if she takes a photo.
At home I have a drawer full of foreign coins and before we left I gave the Euros to Sandy for spending money this trip. Trouble is you can’t really take a big bag of coins with you when you go out. So Sandy is responsible for putting together a total of ten Euros in change for each of us. I expect the staff at the exit are starting to know us by the chinking of our pockets as we pass - we can be heard from a distance. Yesterday she paid for our two drinks with a mountain of bronze coins. We escaped the bar before the waiter collected it.
Arriving in Palma de Mallorca we saw the pilot boat pull up alongside the ship. It is my understanding that the pilot is the guy who knows the local waters/tides and so helps guides the ship into the quayside. Might be useful to extend this practice to car parks at home. Especially those with multiple pillars.
Why is it when you need a decent internet connection you can’t get one? McDonalds may not be the best place to eat or drink but at least you can get wifi – or so we thought. Two iced fruit smoothies, which we didn’t really need, Euro 4.40 paid for by Sandy with a fistful of coins - and the internet teased me by opening the background of a page I wanted to see. “This just isn’t happening.” Fifteen minutes later and I have yet to read the message I can clearly see in my inbox. We are just finishing our smoothies when there is a little bit of progress. “Best buy another couple of smoothies” I say to Sandy emptying my pocket of the shrapnel she has provided me with today. Twenty minutes later she returns with the drinks and the internet is not playing ball again. So we finish the second drink we didn’t want and wander along the street to a bar where we order yet another drink. We’re on, sorted, done and dusted in ten minutes – but then have to sit there finishing the third drink we didn’t need. We feel bloated for the rest of the day.
This afternoon we bump into one of the couples we met at breakfast. “Morning breakfast people” I say loudly in their direction. They look startled, then recognise us and smile. I spend the next hour thinking about what I said. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever. “Morning breakfast people? What on earth did he mean?” I think I will just keep saying this whenever I see them.
After the early evening meal on the ship we wander along to the cathedral we can see in the distance. Yippee! The estimated twenty minutes turn into more than half an hour. At one point I tell Sandy there is no need to go any further as “I can zoom in using the camera from here.” But oh no … we have to keep going. “Is this close enough?” I ask. “Is this the cathedral?” she questions looking directly at it. “There are two bloody nuns walking out of it – what more evidence do you need?” I ask caringly.
We walk back looking at the private boats in the harbour and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how big your boat is – someone else will always have a bigger boat. And that’s about as philosophical as I can get.
Day 10 – At sea
The newsletter today contains a reminder that we must not save sun loungers. If a sun lounger is not used for thirty minutes staff have been instructed to remove towels and personal items which may then be collected at the towel exchange. Personally I’d throw their personal items over the side. That would learn ‘em.
Shared table for breakfast again this morning. Met a very nice couple from Wolverhampton which I thought was in the Black Country – apparently not. I asked them if they knew Bilston. “Oh yes. Now that is the Black Country. They have a different accent to us.” “How far is Bilston from Wolverhampton?” I ask. “About two and a half miles.”
As with all guests at breakfast I wish them luck in finding a sun lounger on deck and they tell me of a woman they watched put towels on two loungers in the sun and on two loungers in the shade for her and her husband. They did not use the loungers in the shade all day. That woman will burn in hell. They also told me of a couple they saw put towels on sun loungers at 8am in the morning – they then went ashore, returned, had lunch and used the loungers for the first time at about 2pm. I hope I don’t have to share a lifeboat with any of these people should the ship go down. Remember these are Brits – not Germans who most Brits complain about. Still – first world problems I guess.
There is the “Rob and Elizabeth Daily Morning Show” on the TV every day which is quickly becoming compulsive viewing for us. People hand in birthday requests and jokes – the type you get in Christmas crackers - and Rob and Elizabeth read them out. They answer questions about the ship and its operations. It’s a little like those Saturday morning kids shows but without the cartoons. I think I will compose a sun lounger related question for them today. After all it is a sea day and I have time on my hands. I will also include a joke for them.
Sandy’s stumbling started early this morning. After ten days on board we came out of breakfast and ended up on the corridor on the wrong side of the ship. Not to worry – we thought we’d walk the length of the corridor and simply walk round to our side. Then – crashes of all crashes – Sandy had walked directly into a room service tray lying outside one of the stateroom doors. The contents of the tray went everywhere and people all along the corridor turned to see where all the commotion was coming from. I supportively pointed to myself and shook my head whilst pointing at Sandy who was kneeling on the ground trying to put everything back as it should have been.
It’s arrived!!!! We knew it would. Laundry is notoriously expensive in hotels and on board ship but at some point in the cruise you always get a special “wash and fold” deal. I figured it would be in the last few days because most people would start thinking they would simply take their dirty laundry home with them. Not us – we have been waiting for this deal. We did discuss pricing on our walk yesterday – I first thought about $25 per bag and then changed it to $35 per bag. I asked Sandy for her estimate and she said $30. We did have a little fall out over this because I felt she was basing her guess on my initial estimates - I had inadvertently given her some guidance. Well the deal did not arrive last night and I must admit to having some slight doubts as to whether it would actually be happening. However, on opening the stateroom door this evening, there it was! And I let out a big “WooHoo!” Sandy told me that was a little excessive and told me to be quiet. The cost is $30 per bag but I consider the bet null and void. So tomorrow Sandy has two responsibilities. The first is to distribute Euro 10 for each of us in coins – and the second is to get as many clothes as possible into the laundry bag. I guess it is a little bit like the “battle of the sexes” game but using dirty washing instead of balloons.
Comedy hypnotist tonight followed by a 50s & 60s party. I’m not sure if that refers to the era or the age of the passengers. Most 50 & 60 year olds watched a few people dance while some young children played tag on the dance floor. You’ve got to question why the parents think this is appropriate. Anyway we thought we would watch and see how things developed but the activities staff gently moved them off the floor.
Bad news – the ‘wash and fold’ deal only applies to undies, socks, t-shirts and pyjamas. I have now downgraded my “WooHoo!” to “Woo!” At least Sandy will have no problem getting everything into the bag tomorrow morning.
Day 11 – Cadiz. Spain.
Well Elizabeth and Rob did not read out my sun lounger suggestion on the morning show. I guess they deemed it inappropriate. Oh well. They did read out my joke.
Sandy managed to get all our washing into one laundry bag quite easily – result! But when we called our stateroom guy he told us we needed to use a different bag for the ‘wash and fold’ deal. He then gave us a much smaller bag. Sandy still managed to get everything in it but let’s say one more sock would have been one sock too many. Well it confirms the ‘battle of the sexes’ result.
Oooo – a bit of gossip! I’ll get to that in a while but I have an idea for those seeking a different stag or hen weekend. ‘Wifi hunting in Cadiz.’ You have a beer at each bar which advertises wifi and you stop when you manage to make an internet connection. Four bars and four beers it took us. I’m amazed we found our way back to the ship. And I have absolutely no idea what message I wrote for Jodell’s birthday when we finally managed to log on.
Alcohol can play a major part on cruises – especially if the country you are visiting has lax laws. I remember seeing a mother twice guiding her two teenage boys back onto ship after visiting islands in the Caribbean. The boat – which left from Florida - had a legal drinking age of 21 years. The lads looked to be about 17 years old and had clearly been hitting the beach bars where they weren’t checked for ID. We sat with the Mum for breakfast one day and I mentioned we had seen her bringing the boys back on board. She told us that was only the half the story – she had to twice release them from the boat’s containing cell.
Anyway, in the fourth bar, we got talking to a group from another ship and they told us that we must be on a lively boat. Apparently two families had been ordered off our ship at the previous port. They had the all-inclusive drinks package and had made the most of it to the point where the package was taken from them. This didn’t stop the group as they carried on drinking, giving alcohol to their underage kids and then fighting between themselves. How is it people on another ship hear about these things and we didn’t? I mentioned it to our neighbour and he confirmed he’d seen a couple of families getting off with their baggage.
Another difference between boarding at a US port and a UK port is the organised cruise ship tours. We find a much harder sell on US ships – with a heavy ‘fear factor’ built in. “Well if you don’t come with us the local vehicles might not be roadworthy and the local companies might not have the appropriate insurance.” and “If you do something independently and you are late then the ship will have left. If you use one of our trips we will be in contact and we’ll make sure the ship waits for you.” There are ship tours on this one as well but the selling is more along the lines of “If you’d like to come with us then this is what we offer – but you could do it yourself by taking a local bus at the end of the quay.” No ‘fear factor’ involved.
We don’t tend to take the ship tours. The last one I did was to visit Montego Bay – Sandy went elsewhere. $36 seemed reasonable for to me but first we went to a golf club “to look at the lovely view.” Then we went for a drive through a ‘nice neighbourhood’ to see American ex-pat houses followed by a drive through the centre on to a fenced-off bar where we could buy drinks and watch a DJ encouraging people to dance to the birdie song. I asked the guide when we would see Montego Bay and she said we already had. I told her I wanted to have a wander round the centre and not join in with Agadoo. She said I would have to talk with her supervisor who asked why I was unhappy with the tour. I made it very clear it was not the guide’s fault but the tour did say Montego Bay. He told me I would have to sign a waiver to leave the tour. So I sat chatting with the guide and asked her if she would get into trouble if I left the tour and clearly she would. I asked her about her job – she sometimes had two tours a week depending on when cruises came in. It wasn’t great but unemployment was high and so she could easily be replaced. Obviously I couldn’t leave the tour after hearing that but I did learn a lot more about Jamaica from her as we chatted. And, true-to-form, we were lucky enough to have some extra time to do a bit of shopping at a fenced off shopping area. I doubt the locals saw much of the profits from there. The rest of the tour party seemed quite happy and even ecstatic when they were allowed off the bus for ten minutes to get a photo in the ‘Seignior Frog’ bar. I vowed I would never do a cruise organised tour again.
Tonight we had a Queen tribute act who were surprisingly good – followed by the “Adult Scavenger Hunt” in the Star Lounge Creche where an added complication was for the adults to try to avoid the meandering children.
Day 12 – At sea
We are on a pink boat. It started off as a white boat but after the sunshine we have had it is now definitely a pink boat. It’s something I noticed the moment we got on the ship and I have been thinking whether I should mention this or not. I think I will but I am not sure where this is leading and it may come out all wrong. We’ll see – I’ll give it a go.
Joining cruise ships in Florida and New Orleans my impression was that the passengers were made up of roughly 40% white, 40% black and 20% Hispanic or Asian origin. On this ship, leaving the UK, I would say the passengers are 99% white. With the make up of the crew this means we have an ‘upstairs-downstairs’ situation. White people are sunning themselves on deck – people of colour are working downstairs. White people are staying in the staterooms – people of colour are tidying up after us. White people are enjoying their meals – people of colour are waiting on us. I cannot recall being in a situation where this has been so clear-cut and I have to admit to feeling a little uncomfortable with it at times. Hmmm … now I know if I go to some countries and stay in hotels then the chances are the people working there are mainly local employees on local wages. But you usually find guests staying in the hotel are a mix of nationalities – including those from that country. But on this ship the passengers are almost all white. Why is that? I don’t know.
I do know that I am very lucky to be able to sit upstairs on deck but this is purely due to an accident of birth and the ability to do some basic maths. I also know that in a different life I could be the guy cleaning the staterooms for seven or eight months in a row just to make ends meet – relying on gratuities from guests.
When you book a cruise gratuities (tips) are not included. You get the opportunity to pre-pay gratuities – which we do. Some passengers prefer to wait until the end of the cruise and give gratuities to those who they feel deserve it. We give a little extra to our stateroom guy and the waiters on the last day. I’m not looking for a medal.
Cruising out of Miami a couple of years ago, on the last evening, I was watching the long line at Guest Services. I commented to a friend who worked on the ship “I don’t think I would spend my last evening sorting out my accounts.” He replied “Oh no. Most of these people have not handed over a credit card – they put cash on their account when they boarded. They have just found that gratuities have been added to their bill and have no money left. They are getting the gratuities removed so they can continue buying drinks from the bar.” These people are not worthy of clearing the dirt from between the toes of those who hog the sun loungers. Too harsh?
Day 13 – At sea
It’s our final full day and the main topic of conversation is packing styles. We tend to pack one suitcase each on the way out. I know, I know – it makes more sense to spread your clothes across the two cases in case one doesn’t arrive but it is what we do. However, on our return; ‘washing and shoes in one case – everything else in the other’. The lady we were talking to from Gloucester does ‘clean on the bottom – dirty on top’. When she gets home “I just open the suitcase and the top clothes go straight into the laundry.” Makes sense. Our next door neighbour has a ‘wear and pack’ system. When he has worn an outfit he packs it straight away. By the last day he has little packing to do.
Now you might think that this is the level of conversation all the time. And you wouldn’t be far wrong. But some people seem more than happy to tell us all their business even before we have finished our orange juice at breakfast. I now know the property and mortgage situations of a number of fellow guests. However I thought one woman jumped the gun a little too quickly when she told us she had forgotten to take her tablet. Turns out she was referring to going to use wifi at a cafe the previous day. Oh how we chuckled … and I wandered off to pick up some muesli. Later on Sandy told me that while I was away the woman told her all about the three operations she had had on her back in recent months. But this was not the most inappropriate meal time conversation. On arriving at dinner one evening we were met by a Jamaican waitress who asked us if we’d had a good day. “Oh yes” we replied “but it has been really hot.” “Have you been sweating?” she asked. “It’s good to sweat you know. It means the body is working well. Healthy people are always sweating. So if you have been sweating all day it means that you are healthy. Oh yes – I like to sweat” And it continued like this for about five minutes. I ordered the soup.
As mentioned before - we have friends who would never go on a cruise. And quite rightly so – it wouldn’t be for them. But you meet the opposite on ship. The extremists – cruising fundamentalists – those that would consider no other holiday than getting on a cruise ship. These people can name every ship and cruise they have ever been on – and they can run into 30+ - it’s an obsession. You also meet people who only cruise Royal Caribbean. They proudly display their Diamond Club cards and tell you about the free drinks they get and the receptions they have in the Diamond Lounge. As always – horses for courses.
This morning at breakfast we were again asked whether we were happy to share a table and for once I didn’t say “Only if they are nice” – Sandy had told me that this was almost as old as the ‘tender behind’ joke. Well we sat at a table for ten and after a cursory nod of ‘good morning’ the family of four at the other end of the table kept themselves to themselves. It then became one of those situations when you try to look in different directions rather than make eye contact. Which is always awkward when you are sat facing each other. At the end of breakfast they had no choice but to acknowledge us as they passed and they had the gall to smile and say goodbye as though we had just spent an enjoyable time together.
The last day of a cruise is always a little bit of an anti-climax. We already have our disembarkation luggage tags and know where our holding area is for tomorrow morning. You can take your cases off yourself or have them offloaded. We’re having ours offloaded so we can go and have breakfast without lugging luggage around. But that means our cases need to be packed and outside our room this evening. Hence the feeling that we are already at the end of the trip. Mind you it doesn’t help that we are returning to Southampton – the weather has not really played ball with us for the last couple of days. Departing the UK may be convenient and it has been great not having all the announcements in several languages or having language-neutral entertainment but if you board in Rome or Barcelona, for example, you are more likely to get the sun for the whole of the cruise. Swings and roundabouts … No we don’t have either of those on ship.
With two sea days and slightly overcast weather we tend to have a coffee and a wander at various intervals. Tat is for sale on the main promenade. Mugs, scarves, cruise line t-shirts – those things the Spanish wave to keep themselves cool - and the stands are doing a roaring trade. Is there something in the human psyche that means it becomes necessary to purchase something if you are bored? Sandy’s shopping for the whole of the two weeks comes to USD10 – and that was above budget. One of the straps on her bag was starting to fray and probably wouldn’t have lasted the cruise. So she bought a tat bag for ten dollars. I accepted this but then the guy put the bag into a plastic bag. We could have just asked him for a plastic bag. That would have done the job. So, in short, a ten dollar overspend for the fortnight. Puts a bit of a dampener on the holiday really.
Everybody loves a parade!! I don’t. And that is not me being a sourpuss. I’m not talking about when a team has won a trophy and people come out to cheer them. I have no problem with that. It’s the parades where one group of people dress up in costumes and walk along waving at another group of people standing watching who, in turn, are expected to wave back. I find it awkward. What would someone looking down on us think? It doesn’t make sense. How about having all those in costume stand at the sides with the rest of us marching up the middle? We could still wave to each other. Oh the awkwardness of a man dressed in a pirate’s outfit waving to me – and me having to wave back at him …..purely because he is dressed as a pirate. We’d consider it madness if this were to happen when he was in his civvies. Putting on a pirate costume is a game changer and it has bothered me for years. However this embarrassment is amplified further on a cruise. It must be in the entertainment staff contract that the work involves dressing up and taking part in the parade. So the talented musicians in the band can be seen walking backwards and forwards in various costumes – and boy do some look uncomfortable. It must be the longest fifteen minutes of the cruise for them – it certainly is for me. They wave at me – I wave back at them. They feel awkward – I feel awkward. But together we somehow manage to get through it.
Our ‘wash and fold’ laundry has been returned – and they had to use two bags! Compliments to Sandy for managing to get our washing in one. You are forgiven the tat bag.
Day 14 – Southampton
Disembarkation. Couldn’t have been easier. Must be the quickest we have ever had. Breakfast on ship, collect luggage, short taxi drive to the station and sat on a train – in less than an hour. Pretty impressive.
So that is the end. Thoroughly enjoyed every second of the cruise and would do it all again. Already booked up for next year but it is going to be very different. This trip I have simply sat back and been an observer – next year will be full involvement, Jamie will make sure of that . So no time for blogging.
…. took the train to Woking where we connected to the Heathrow bus. The coach arrived and passengers got off. One of the woman then realised she had been traveling on the wrong one and had found herself at the wrong destination. She told the driver she thought the coach was going elsewhere. The following exchange took place in front of all the passengers waiting to board.
Driver: “Well I did announce we were going to Woking and the sign on the front of the bus says Woking. So really you are a Silly Billy. What are you?”
The passenger stays quiet.
Driver: “You are a Silly Billy. What are you?”
Passenger: “I am a Silly Billy.”
The driver then gets into the bus and we hear him radio to the main office. “I’ve told her she is a Silly Billy but is there anything we can do?”
It’s good to be back in England. Read Less