Friday 7th January 2011
Im tempted to skip the first 14 hours of this blog and move on as in many ways they are best forgotten. But in many ways the first 14 hrs contained many amusing bits. We were dues to flly out at 9.15am from Birmingham but on Wednesday evening I received a late phone call from P&O to say that due to “technical issues” our flight had been rescheduled to 1950hrs on the same day. Of course I questioned it, in varying forms and within 10 minutes I had turned into my own worse client from hell. I quickly got onto the booking system and found some available flight seats from LGW. P&O was still open for a further 10 mins so I was back on the phone to swap my flights, but after much cafuffle it was decided it wasn’t possible and I needed to speak to a different department the next day. So officially my blog starts on Wednesday and becomes known as the start of the ‘longest day’. All that night I’m tossing and turning mentally driving to Gatwick, re adjusting my Thursday plans to accommodate an overnight at Gatwick etc. But by 9.00am, after 30 mins on the phone to P&O I was back to square one as someone else on the Birmingham flight had nipped in and taken the last two Gatwick seats from under my nose. Thursday then became a day of bad mood and good mood mix as I readjusted all my plans once again to go to the airport late afternoon for our much delayed flight.
I couldn’t help feeling bitter at 4.00am on Friday morning knowing that I should be getting up to go to the airport, instead I had another full day at home. That means I had even more time to myther about what I had packed or hadn’t packed, weight the cases a further zillion times, and find little bits and pieces to take with me that I didn’t know I needed over the next 14 days. By midday we were both pacing the house. We had so much time on our hands we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. At 3.00pm I decided I could take no more and the airport was the best place for us. We arrived there over four and half hours pre flight and yet we were in about position 50 in the queue. It seems there are a lot of people keen to get away! I would love to say check in was a breeze, but to say they were being strict is an understatement! My cases had been subjected to our digital weighing scales every 5 mins and there is no way they weighed even a gramme over 23kg, but not according to our checkin person. She even had the nerve to slap a ‘heavy’ sticker on my case! I think se had decided it was ‘heavy’ because it was 23.something, but even so, i have no idea how the weight was more for her than me. Then there was the hand luggage. Yes, she wanted to see it, and she wanted to weigh it. I even got a slapped wrist for the 6.something weight but thankfully no excess baggage charge, unlike the two ladys next to us who were getting a 15kg excess baggage charge!
Yay, we have made it airside. Priority’s first and we position ourselves in Yates. It was the start of the holiday at long last, but a headache, due to the stress of it all, meant I started with a full fat cola! Next stop for me was Boots to purchase all the toiletries. £50 later that was sorted! Im still confused as to why the airlines are so strict about luggage weight, when airside you can go into the many outlets and load yourself up with half hundred weight of toiletries, several litre bottles of spirits etc etc. Does this weight on aircraft not count? Back at Yates an air of discontent is starting to emerge. All around there are unhappy bunnies mumbling about the rescheduling of the flight. Im trying my hardest to just chill, accept the delay and move on, but its all people want to talk about. At more than one point I found myself defending P&O and advising passengers that P&O would look after us, all would be well etc. But instead the cynics around us decided to be very much ‘half empty’ and go with the ‘what if’ scenarios. We were supposed to go to Gate at 1945hrs for yet another rescheduled flight time of 2010hrs. I always knew that the times from gate to take off were not enough, so I guess I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but still we decided we would get up and stretch our legs and join the gaggle of people that were stood watching the departures board at the entrance to the gates. 1945 came and went, as did 2000hrs. At 2005 the fatal words appeared on screan, delayed until 2220! Ooh you could hear the drones of groans around us. Even the laid back Mr C was not a happy bunny and muttered a few choice words. No choice but to reposition in Yates and get another drink. Again I got myself into a couple of little semi arguments regarding P&O’s handling of the situation, but despite being cross myself, I just knew that P&O would do everything they could to make up for things in anyway they could, so I was back on my defensive high horse. There were little groups forming all over the place and talk of meetings and committees etc, talk about giving P&O a chance! People were demanding a P&O representative to be made available etc. I didn’t expect one to materialise out of anywhere and would they really want to stand up in front of some of these unhappy passengers. There were times when I may not have helped the situation by reading out texts from someone who had already made it as far as Azura thanks to the MAN flight being on time, and their whole process completely effortless. I have to say, all of the P&O charter flights I have done have always been just that – totally effortless and ran like clockwork! I kept those around updated with the latest Barbados weather if nothing else, lol.
It was announced that we could go and queue for a £5 refreshment voucher that we could spend, but it couldn’t be spent on duty free or alcohol. Trouble was the airport was closing down around us with the outlets shutting for the night. Even Yates tried to close but the deep queues at the bar prevented that. They stopped serving food other than a bowl of fries! Clearly a ploy to make as much profit from a bag of frozen chips as possible. Thankfully we had already eaten at our own expense. WHSmith and Duty Free were the only other two places open, so i wandered down to Smiths with the idea of buying some Cream Eggs. I had no sooner set foot over the threshold than the assistant called out ‘you cant spend those in here!’ I decided to walk over to the information desk to politely ask where I could spend them. But mutiny was taking place. The two ground staff ladies were taking a verbal battering that they really did not deserve. A lot of raised voices, finger waving, demand for explanations and replacement aircraft were being hurled at the two ladies behind the desk. They didn’t deserve that. Don’t shoot the messenger and all that. I retreated without asking my questions and by the time I got back to my seat, there was yet another announcement for flight delay. This time we are knocked back to 1125hrs!!! Oh dear, the passengers are not a happy lot. Well, some of us are ok. We make the best of a bad situation. How else could you deal with it? We had managed to keep the bar open this long in a closed down airport so challenge was on to keep it open a little bit longer. I dread to think how much we spent that night in the bar. Ooh and then there were the earrings I just ‘had to have’ from duty free.
Latest explanation was that our allocated plane was in Manchester waiting to taxi down the runway. It started to look a little bit hopeful when some Thomson Airlines uniformed people walked across the departure lounge with their heads down and gaze fixed firmly on the route to the gates. Suddenly it was announced that Premium seat passengers and rows 6 – 12 could make their way to gate. Amazing that 80% of the passengers decided their seat were in said rows! We were in row 8 but by the time we got to gate we were at the back of a very long queue. Quickly processed through the gate doors though we were some of the first on the aircraft and sat in seats.
You would think it couldn’t get any worse, but I soon became aware of a bit of a medical emergency in the Premium cabin ahead. A lot of ground staff with clip boards, flight attendants, a cylinder of air and a stethoscope were in attendance, and all that was going through my head was ‘please don’t be an offload, locate baggage situation’ for this unfortunate person. Thankfully what ever the problem was he stood up and let out a cheer to himself and all was well again. Phew! Close one! Then another miracle happened. We had boarded so fast and efficiently that we were able to take off 20 mins early. Wahoo, we are going to Barbados, all be it some 14hrs late!
So we had a flight delay, followed by a couple more flight delays, an almost medical emergency, nothing else could go wrong could it? Well, depends on your feelings on finding yourself in the middle of what was effectively a creche in the air. Did I really voluntarily pay £50 to reserve these two seats to have somebody else allocate small our section of the plane as the flying creche?! n our section of 6 rows of seats there was a toddler and tiny baby on one row and a tiny baby on the row behind. I love babies, but not after 3 days sleep deprivation and the ‘I want to be somewhere else’ feeling. They were all very sweet little children but oh how their crying and screeching can go through you at that time of night. I couldn’t help but feel for the parents. Clearly they were as tired as the rest of us, and Im sure just wanted to keep their little ones quiet for their own sakes as much as for the rest of us. They had little opportunity to rest their own eyes as they had little ones to watch. As it happened they did sleep for the majority of the flight but again I was thinking that the poor parents knew that come morning, UK time, little ones would be wide awake and they would be dead on their feet. I used my headphones as ear defenders when necessary and actually managed 3 sleeps during the flight. By the time the flight attendant bought round the second meal i had no idea what was going on, where we were, or what time of the day or night it was. The plane was on Caribbean time of about 2.30 in the morning , I was still on UK time of about 6.30 in the morning and I was taking part in afternoon tea! Work that one out! P&O’s in flight bar bill must have been very low for this flight as even I declined the use of the complimentary bar facility. I had one glass of wine with my ‘lunch’ at gone midnight, and one bottle of Baileys (which I still have for a balcony beverage)
Our lady flight Captain even managed to make up time in the air and we landed in Barbados at about 3.20am (it really all is a bit of a blurr)
We boarded straight onto the waiting coaches and were whisked to the side of the ship in a little over 20 mins, no messing around with a mini tour of the coast and all that malarkey. We quickly checked in at the dockside and walked up the gangplank. Loyalty Manager and Future Cruise had been allocated the Meet & Greet duty and all I could do was wish them luck! Not all passengers were in as chirpy a mood as we were.
We arrived in our cabin to find the bed turned down, chocolates on the pillow, a letter of apology for the delay etc, a lovely gesture of a bottle of wine with a cheeky little note that made me smile as it state “Finally….Welcome onboard, with the compliments of P&O etc” and for those of you that were wondering, yes the letter did clarify what P&O intended to do to make up for our hassles and disappointment of our delay, and for those of you that are ever in a similar situation, just have a bit of faith, stay calm and as chilled as you can. P&O do care and will make amends where they can. Getting yourselves wound up and threatening mutiny will not do you any good.
So Im in my cabin, the heat is wafting through from the balcony and my head has not got a clue what time of the day or night it is, or even what day of the week it is. I sat for a while on the balcony nibbling on the plate of extremely fresh sandwiches that had been provided for us. Then I unpacked the hand luggage so that was one job out of the way. Mr C’s had showered and climbed into bed and was happily snoring. By now it was 6.30 ships time and 10.30 UK time in my head. What to do? I too got in bed and decided on a little shut eye.
So…. this is the point where my two days merge to become one, but I will split them into two again for ease of reading.
Saturday 8th January 2011 – Barbados
I woke up to see Royal Clipper approaching in full sale. Fabulous sight. But next time I glanced across she had morphed into QM2. Clearly my eyes had closed at one point and I was not aware! I got up and went out onto the balcony and Royal Clipper was now in the harbour and QM2 was just coming in. A fantastic early morning sight.
The cases had arrived, so I unpacked and got the cabin organised. A quick shower and it was time for breakfast. We had a very special invite this morning to attend breakfast in the Aurora suite. There were many times when we never thought we would make it this far so its fair to say that there was a fair bit of hugging and maybe just a watery eye or two. A quick tour of the family suite to refresh my memory of the facilities and it was decided it was my perfect suite with a separate cabin which would make an excellent office at sea for me. Deepak did an excellent job of doing his Buttling and it was declared the start of all of our holiday! It was the perfect start to our holiday too, a lovely chilled out breakfast on a suite balcony, in the Barbados sunshine, with Royal Clipper and QM2 as the backdrop.
We needed to chill, so it was decided that Mullins Beach would be the ideal spot. I went back to my laptop to check Mullins webcam and make sure the sea was calm today. We went last year, but the sea on St James coast was so rough that it ended up washing away Mullins bar decking! All was calm at Mullins so we were soon off the ship and into a cab. $10pp each way which isn’t bad because it is a fair way. We arrived at the beach with a bit more knowledge of the surrounding area and the cost of houses and hotels as we passed them, thanks to JJ Winston as he drove us there. We were dropped off and told to pay him on the way back and when we were ready we just needed to get the staff to call him for us.
We were offered sun loungers up in the shade behind others, but we hadn’t come to sit in the shade, so a bit of beach reorganisation was called for and we were settled. Rebs took much amusement from the system used to attract the waiters attention for drinks service. You simply need to place yellow flag upright in the sand and along comes the waiter. Rebs found it worked better if waved in the fashion of some sort of international distress signal. It bought him running and laughing at the same time. No problems with drinks service for us. Rum Punch! What can I say? Its Saturday, its January, the sun is blazing, clear blue sky, the sea is azure blue and refreshingly warm and i have a rum punch in my hand. We made it, we really were here and we were on holiday! The whole day was full of so much laughter it was unreal. We laughed so much we forgot what we were laughing at. Mr C had a waving incident which made us laugh. The many pedlar’s made us laugh. The coconut man was a bit of a classic. He made his living climbing trees for coconuts to sell them fresh to the tourists on the beach, so that he could go to the gas station to buy himself a rum and coke! What sort of gas stations do they have over here. He cracked open his coconut and tried to give us the guilt trip into purchasing it. But we were in hysterics at the thought of buying a rum and coke from the gas station so he gave up on is and decided that we were complete and utter nutters. In reality i like to think of him as the nutter. Who else came along? The old lady selling upside down dolls! The aloe vera man (you can see where that ones going cant you? Hello Vera!) The massage man who looked like Arnie, who looked capable of breaking bones with his little finger. The weave a hat or bowl out of palm trees man, And my favourite was the artist selling his picture of a bus stop for $80 which was a bargain, because one day he could become famous and we would have an ‘original’ Time for the yellow flag and more drink please. The sea was amazing, you could wade out with ease upto your neck and just cool off, then come back out and relax on the deep mattress sun bed. Effortless, perfect day! Mr C got a bit over energetic at one point and went water skiing. He was quite good! I was impressed. I even got a ride on the speedboat to take photos. I had always wondered what was just around the bay, but you will have to wait to see the photos to find out!
At around 3.00pm we decided it was time to make our way back to the ship. We had had had more than enough sun for one day and the beach was possibly in need of some peace and quiet. JJ Winston was telephoned and true to his word he appeared in 20 mins and took us back to the ship. A very quick recky of the duty free shops and we were back onboard. Mr C was wasting away from lack of food so headed to Breakers for beer and pizza while I had a quick shower and plastered on the aftersun. We sat out by Breakers until the sun went down and set behind the Royal Clipper. QM” slipped away quietly looking lovely all lit up. Celebrity Mercury also slipped off into the darkness. It was 20 to 7 on what had been the longest day ever know to me. My eyes needed to close and as soon as I was back in the cabin, thats exactly what did happen. 20 mins of short sharp sleep was hopefully all I needed.
Pre dinner drinks in the Blu Bar, which lets face it is clearly more grey than Blue! I had a Blue ‘Mr & Mrs’ cocktail which was rather nice. We were a little late making our entrance to dinner, mainly in the need to avoid the queue which always seems to form on the first night. John, the Restaurant Manager seemed more than a little surprised to see me. Cant believe that he wasn’t informed of my arrivals, lol, but it turned out he had only just arrived himself following some leave, so he was forgiven. Dinner was hard work. We were all tired and felt totally zapped by the Caribbean sunshine. Must make more of an effort tomorrow. Mr C was asleep before desert, his eyelids beat him, so he was ordered to bed. We headed for the Planet Bar. What a shame they have decided to make this the ‘quiet’ bar. Memories of the Meridian lounge came flooding back! One drink and we were out of there. Bed was calling. I must make more of an effort to reacquaint myself with Azura tomorrow.
Its been a fab day! Memory’s of the cursed flight are fading to a distant memory and seem like weeks ago. Was today really only 24 hours long? Was yesterday really only yesterday? We haven’t ventured very far, but everywhere we have been we have been greeted with crew welcoming us back to P&O. Some take a double take to see if that really is ‘Jane’ others know us as Mr & Mrs Chadwick from cruise X Y or Z. Its good to be back with my P&O and Discovering yet another new world!
I will try and keep you updated of our cruise as the days tick by, so keep checking back for regular updates…