As usual, we travelled down to Southampton on the previous day and stayed, for the first time, in the Novotel, very close to Southampton Docks. This was a good choice and we will be using this hotel again in October when we join MSC ... Read More
As usual, we travelled down to Southampton on the previous day and stayed, for the first time, in the Novotel, very close to Southampton Docks. This was a good choice and we will be using this hotel again in October when we join MSC Magnifica. As it is so close to the hotel, we had decided that we would eat at TGI Fridays and we booked it a couple of days prior to driving down. Good job we did, it was exceedingly busy and, if you like Burgers, the food was excellent.
We checked out of the hotel at 12 noon and drove the new route to the dockyard, which has been much improved since the roadworks have been done. As we arrived at the terminal, a red helicopter flew over our car and landed adjacent to Dock Gate 4. As we dropped off our bags, the luggage-handler informed us that Prince Edward was going on board the Oriana for lunch and the helicopter had just delivered him.
We did not have parking included in our P & O deal, as it was a very late offer and really reasonable, so we had selected Cruise Parking online and were told to go into the Short-stay car park after dropping off our bags and look for the yellow flag. We did as instructed and were met by one of their representatives who completed his paperwork, had our key and told us that the car would be back in the same Carpark from 8.30 am on the day we returned. So off we went with our hand luggage.
There was some delay in boarding due, according to the announcements, to an electrical inspection, which had resulted in conveyor belts and lights not working for a little while. Whilst we were waiting we saw Prince Edward being introduced to the P & O booking staff, before he went on board for lunch. At about 1300 boarding was started and we were surprised how quickly we boarded after that, and we were on board before 1400.
Another announcement informed us that our cases would be delivered by early evening, but we had only been in our cabin for about 15 minutes (unpacking our hand luggage) when I decided to have a quick look outside the cabin window, which looked out on the aft deck pool. As I was walking back to the cabin, I spotted our cases (all three of them) in the corridor leading down to our cabin, so that was a bonus.
The reason I had been looking outside our window was that we had been allocated an outside cabin that had a promenade view and we were worried about how easy it would be for passengers to see into the cabin. I didn't need to worry as, unless you had the nets open and lights on, this was not the case. We were also a little concerned about any noise issues if people positioned chairs or sunbeds just outside the window as we do like an afternoon siesta sometimes. Again, noise was not an issue, even when the Sailaway parties took place on the aft pool deck which was just one deck lower and overlooked by our deck's promenade.
We had, however read a number of reviews stating that the vibration in these aft cabins was a real problem, so this was a worry. In fact, the only time I noticed this vibration was when we entered or left port, when the thrusters were used, so it didn't disturb us as much as the reviews suggested it would. We usually choose our cabin in mid-ships if we have the choice and this would still be my preference as I like looking out across the sea, rather than where we have just been.
Our cabin was a B2 cabin which was an upgrade on our Guarantee Cabin, I think by virtue of it being quite high in the ship. It was very clean and had plenty of storage room. Our three cases all fitted under the bed although it was a bit of a struggle getting them there because there was no a lot of room at either side of the bed. However we both had bedside cabinets with drawers, dressing table with good lighting for putting on my makeup and doing my hair, three-door wardrobe, chest of drawers with four half-width drawers on top. Tea-making facilities were provided (proper English breakfast tea) and we used these on a number of occasions. There was a small TV, which also broadcast the captain's announcements if you elected to leave the TV on the ship's Information channel. The bathroom was a reasonable size and the configuration of the shower meant that I was never once attacked by the dreaded wet shower-curtain. All in all, the cabin was everything we needed and my only complaint about it was the size of the safe. I know they say that size doesn't matter, but this safe just held my purse, a wallet and my travel document wallet. As someone who always puts jewellery, IPads and phones away in the safe, I was less than impressed. We had a lovely steward who had also joined the ship that day, but she had been on 2 other P & O ships so she was well used to the routine.
We left a sunny Southampton as we joined in the Sailaway Party, which was a really good way to start our trip.
The first port we went to was Olden, where we had not been before and it was beautiful. We did our own thing, buying a motorised train tour as we left the ship. As you expect in Norway, this was not cheap (about £15 each), but we had a running commentary with humour and lots of information, and our driver was also very informative and helpful. He slowed down/stopped to give us time to take photos of some breath-taking views, making sure we all crossed the road safely. It was here we saw our first examples of the hairy houses that abound in this region of the world.
Our next stop was in Alesund, where we had been before, but we struggled to recognise the port until we remembered that the first time we visited there had been a festival in progress to the area had been covered with marquees and exhibitions.
It was getting colder as we crossed across to Akureyri in Iceland, probably due to the fact we sailed inside the Arctic Circle - definitely another tick on my bucket list - and something we didn't realise we would be doing when we left home. When we docked In Akureyri we took a stroll around the town, up to the very modernistic cathedral, which was perched at the top of some 100 steps. Of course, those people who had been before knew that there was a much more accessible entrance from around the side, but we did not know that then. There was plenty of colour in the town with brightly painted houses and shops fronted by polar bears and trolls, great backdrops for the 'funny' pictures we took. We really liked this place and we stopped at a cafe called the Backpacker hostel for a cappuccino and free Wifi. Our coffee was lovely and the place was very well used by walkers and tourist alike.
As we left port we had the first experience of the Captain using the TV when it was not turned on, to make an important announcement about our next port. The weather was deteriorating quite appreciably so it was not really surprising when the Captain explained that he had decided, in conjunction with the local Pilots and Carnival Headquarters, to avoid the journey down the western coast to Isafjordur and instead travel down the eastern side of the country and on to Reykjavic. Although many people were disappointed, I never heard one adverse comment about the decision. In fact, soon after we left Akureyri they had a snowfall of 45 cms and the weather we avoided was very rough with a 5 metre swell. It was a little bumpy as we cruised around to Reykjavic, but we were so pleased when the Captain took us very slowly past the largest Glacier Field in the whole of Europe. This was such an impressive sight that I was almost pleased we had missed out Isafjordur to allow us to have this experience.
When we got off the ship in Reykjavic, it was all we could do to stand up in the wind. We did a little wandering around, but did not stay ashore too long as it was quite cold and rainy. We did find our free Wifi, at a cafe called Café du Paris.
We are not particularly into shows on board, but our dining companions were very complimentary about the ones they attended. We did visit the cinema on board twice, and saw another film in the Theatre. The cinema is definitely far more comfortable than the Theatre if you are sitting for a couple of hours, but for shows lasting about an hour, the Theatre is fine.
Our next stop was in the Faroe Islands at Torshavn where we again wandered around, stopping again for our usual Wifi and cappuccino at the local library/cafe. This was where we took more photos of the houses with their hairy roofs made from grass, which provide a greatly enhanced insulation from the icy boasts.
Our last stop was at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. I loved this town and we enjoyed the local Craft Fayre, the Cathedral and the ambience of the place. This is definitely somewhere I would like to return to, perhaps as part of a roaming holiday around Scotland, as there is a Ferry that runs from Aberdeen to Kirkwall.
By this time we had got to know our dinner companions quite well and looked forward to our evening meal. We usually chose a table for two whenever we can, because my hubby is quite deaf, so sharing a table can be quite challenging as he misses much of the conversation. However, we did enjoy our table for six on this cruise. We did dine at the Sorrento Restaurant (additional charge of £5 each, plus £6.95 for Hubby's Lava Rock Steak) and enjoyed eating together at a table for two on this evening. Our starters were so large, however, that I was not able to do justice to my Lasagne, which was a little too large and a bit stodgy. It was still a good night but I wouldn't say that the meals were any better than those in the MDR. In fact, the two Marco Pierre White menus we had in the MDR were exceptional, and the Beef Wellington was the best I have ever had, cooked exactly as requested.
Overall, we so enjoyed this cruise, perhaps all the more because we booked it so close to the sailing date because it was a last-minute decision.
Would I recommend this cruise - yes I would! Would I do P & O again - again yes I would!