Friday 21st October 2005 – Operation Secret Squirrel Day!
Well 5 days ago I spotted a bargain for a cruise, and there’s no way you can dangle a carrot like that in front of me and me not take it. The cruise just happened to be the same Artemis cruise that had been booked months and months in advance by loads of other WLC’rs so we decided to book it and surprise them onboard. From then on “Operation Secret Squirrel” was born and and Jeannie, Amanda and Dave Hellon were let in on the secret. The main objective of the secret was to surprise Cruisa and Jules.
Packing is quickly completed (packed and zipped up by Wednesday morning) a few last minute essential items are purchased and a few sleepless nights followed.
So it’s the morning of the cruise and my stomach is churning. Mr C cant wait to leave the house and the car is loaded up and we are away. I text Jeannie, Mr H and Amanda (the troops) to tell them we are on our way, and the next two hours are a constant stream of texts flying backwards and forwards. I know that Cruisa will be checking in at noon, so we arrive into Southampton at around12.30 knowing that he and his party is well out of the way. First stop, Wallis in West Quay to collect a ‘must have, to die for’ pair of diamante evening shoes I just ‘needed’ Well, I don’t know what shoplifters feel like but I felt like every single pair of eyes in that shopping centre was watching me. I was so paranoid that another Artemis passenger would spot me, and mention it to Cruisa later in the day, blowing our cover. I walked through the shops with my head down at 90 miles an hour. Im sure the assistant in Wallis thought I had got some sort of nervous disorder. Shoes in bag and another mission accomplished!
Next stop the Quayside pub and a straight double southern comfort goes straight down the neck, to try and settle the nerves.
Me & Mr C have hardly spoke all day we are so on edge. A call to Cruisa reveals that he has just boarded and is in the Portunus lounge supping complimentary drinks. Mr C wants to go check in and pounce, but we had decided to wait until sailaway, so I hold him back. By 2.30 there is no holding him back and we are back in the car driving to dock gate 4. Straight to the Gold checkin desk where we are served by a very very nice lady. I explain our plight about needing to board the ship without being seen by the people in the embarkation lounge and she lets us board via the ‘back door’ I am shaking and nervous wreck as we walk up the gang plank and my stomach is in bits, but no time for first impressions, its head down and straight to find our cabin. The door slams behind us and we are safe!
So the cabin – KA grade B349. Great position midsghips. Well first impressions, errm it wont blow your socks off, and I certainly wouldn’t want to spend a world cruise in here, but its ok. Large picture window looking down onto prom deck below, the thick flaking paint around the outside of the window reminds me of good old Canberra. We have double bed against the wall, complete with duvet as ordered, one bedside cabinet, a poorly lit dressing table with two sets of narrow drawers below, and two good sized wardrobes with loads of hangings space, but no shelving! The folded clothing has to be placed on the floor of the wardrobes. We hve fridge and a TV which to be honest looks like its come out of a skip and is abit of a 80’s throwback – the chunky TV controller is, well, huge! The bathroom is well, a little tatty around the edges, but is clean and has a good sized cabinet to store the toiletries. We also have a bath with a hand held shower as well as the one above the bath.
A tense hour of trying to keep Mr C in the cabin follows, he wants to get out there and spring the surprise, but I want him to wait until sailaway now we have got this far.
At 3.35 pm we get a call from Jules to say the whole gang is sat in Tiffany’s, and that’s the green light Mr C has been looking for. He’s like a dog out of a trap, no holding him back. We haven’t set foot outside the cabin and we have no idea where Tiff’s is but its soon located. Amanda is informed of the rendezvous, and the ‘troops’ are linked up via 2 mobile phones. We enter Tiff’s via the port side and theres no sign of them, so we head past the bar and I spot them. Cruiser Louise seems to spot me straight away but her eyes are fixed in disbelief. Jules is busy, sipping champers and chatting when she catches a glimpse of us out of the corner of her eye. Shes straight to her feet and screaming and using a few words that I don’t really think are suitable for a P&O cruise! Oh well if anyone was having a quiet drink, they’re not now!! I have no idea what it sounded like to the Troops on the phone but it must have been deafening! Me & Jules are in tears and I collapse in a chair shaking – wheres the champagne?!
Muster drill sort of happens around us – ooh haven’t been to a P&O muster for years, gosh they do go on!
Sailaway, is promoted as some sort of big Trafalgar event with a brass band on the quayside. I go out there expecting to see a full naval marching band but its just 5 men and a couple of brass insruments. Sailaway is a bit of a damp squib really on a drizzly, miserable Friday evening!
So we head for the Horizon lounge – the room with a view and watch the Isle of Wight come and go, and Arcadia follow behind, all aided by a few drinkies too of course.
A quick change of clothes and its time for pre dinner drinks in Tiffany’s before dinner in the Coral Dining room, table 60 a table for 8. A family of 4 is already seated but the son and wife make a quick exit as he has been struggling to cope with the bumps in the sea since we passed the Isle of Wight! Charles and Anil Vincent provide first class service, but the wine stewardess needs to get her act together!
After diner we all meet up again in Horizon where most join in with the karaoke, but I find it more entertaining to sit back and watch! Dancing goes on into the very small hours. Cruisa still seems to still be suffering from shock and keeps looking at me in disbelief, but it seems he is more shocked at my recent weight loss and keeps putting his arms around my much smaller waste in disbelief! LOL
I retire for the evining at 2.45am – its been a big day, but Mr C, Dave H and Cruisa manage a few more stella’s and brandys until 4.45am!!!
Saturday – the sea is still a bit bumpy and we are woken by the Captain announcing that due to the rough sea the piolet isn’t going to be able to come out via boat to take us through the canal, so they make preparations to airlift him in!! Bit drastic! But they no sooner make the announcement, than they announce he will infact be coming via boat. However , we are going to be docking sone 4 hours later than planned.
We have breakfast in the Conservatory which is the usual bunfight, Ive never been a fan of these places but its not usually so bad if you can take your food outside to eat, the weather obviously doesn’t permit this but it looks like there is a nice deck area at the aft and the pool area at the other end of the room.
Mr C is needing a stella by 11.00am but we have trouble getting served in Horizon as Oscar (barman) decides he isn’t serving anyone sat at the bar!! So we have to take our custom to Tiffany’s bar. Over the next hour most of the gang find us and the group gets bigger and bigger. At 11 Jules left Cruisa in the bath and Mr C is sent to check on his wellbeing as the drink of last night seems to have taken its toll (lightweight) hes still in the bath! Mr C actually goes to the cabin 4 times over the next hour and half and still Cruisa is in the bath. He’s not a pretty sight when he emerges either but a bloody mary seems to bring him round!
13 of us troop in for lunch in the Coral Dining Room, its very busy but amazingly Jan finds us 2 nice tables.
I need to walk off some food so I start lapping the prom deck, its so small it makes you dizy, but I keep it up for 35 minutes while we transit the canal. Prom deck isn’t the widest of decks and passing traffic does become a bit of a problem, but most can see Im on a mission and move out of the way. 3.65 laps = 1 mile but I have no idea how many laps I did.
Time now for afternoon tea and a chance to catch up with Amanda and ‘mum’ mmm lovely warm scones and jam! We finally dock at around 5.00pm but we seem miles from the cruise terminal, which apparently we cant use due to building work.
Now seems a good time for a nap and the duvet is calling. Next thing I know is First sitting for dinner is being called and I have to get up and make the effort for the night ahead.
Pre dinner drinks in Tiffany’s. Im getting quite attatched to this place which is just as well because we don’t have a huge choice of bars on this ship. We have the dinner table to ourselves this evening and again, the service is first class. Charles is on the ball and more or less pre guesses what I will order. Carrot and sweet potato soup, salmon in whiskey sauce and fruit salad in kirsh!!! Yum!
Well’ its not very often I do this, but I went to the show in the International lounge and it was excellent. Stadium Theatre Company perform Musical Mystery Tour. I prefer to watch a show in a lounge where I can get a drink rather than feel confined to a theatre. We then move to the other end of the ship to Starlights for 60’s & 70’s night and chance to dance off a bit of that dinner. When everything finishes in there we move up to the nightclub in Horizon, and I perch on a barstool for a birds eye view of the evenings activities. I have no idea what time I turn in for the night, but Mr C and Cruisa need to stay up just a bit longer – always ‘one for the road’!
Sunday – we’re in no rush to go anywhere and head for Amsterdam via the shuttle at around 11.30 as the shops are closed until noon. It pours with rain and we walked from one end of the town to the other, from the canals to China town and of course Mr C insisted on going to look at the ‘ladies’! Back onboard we have light lunch in the Conservatory then go back to Tiff’s to watch the passengers getting off the shuttle buses – some of them pretty stoned!
Another afternoon sleep and bubbly bath and before I know it Im all dressed up and in Starlights Lounge for the Gala Reception, very pleasant and plenty of drinks flowing. A chat with the F&B Manager also ensures I get my dining request and usual table sorted for the Aurora cruise next month.
We arrive at dinner quite late expecting to see our table companions but for the second night running they are not there!! Ooh dear! Now dinner, gosh easier to say what we didn’t eat – I just had everything! Smoked salmon, chicken & swwetcorn soup, champagne sorbet, fillet of melt in your mouth beef, trio of lemon desert and a bowl of fresh strawberries – well Charles knew I wanted them and it was a tough decision!
Next its up to the international lounge to see Mike Doyle – yes me another show!! Well all I can say is Mike is very funny and most of the room was roaring with laughter, but there is only so many times you can watch the same old routine, so it didn’t really do a lot for me. We head up to Horizon for a boogie but I know that the huge meal has beat me and I just need my bed, so one drink later Im tucked up under my duvet having a lovely sleep whilst the rest of the gang party into the very late hour of around 6 the following morning!
Monday – Zeebruge for Bruges. Its raining and blowing a flipping gale and Im tempted to say Im staying onboard, but I had promised myself that as it was actually my 5th visit here and I’d never been off before I would make the effort. Would have like to gone to Bruge but couldn’t be bothered so we took the shuttle into Blankenburg and had a stroll around the shops, bought some chocies and came back to the ship. A nice soothing Souther comfort warms me up and we head to the coral Dining room with Amanda & Mum for a relaxing no hassle lunch. Amanda is vey excited as another ‘secret squirrel’ surprise is releaved and she was off for a bridge visit.
Feel like Im a cross between Cilla Black in Surprise Surprise and Jimmy Savilles Jim’ll Fix It this week!
Last afternoon so we have to pack L but not to worry another cruise is always around the corner.
Time to get booted and suited again and we are out of the door, booted and suited, for another evening of merriment.
Tiffany’s is the place for pre dinner drinks and it’s a sure bet we find the others in here. We arrive at dinner a little late but it is obvious now that our table companions just don’t like sharing with us. We have the best seats in the restaurant with full view of the rest of the dining room. Our waiters Charles and Anil have been fantastic, and Charles gets my nomination for this ‘cruise’ staff incentive scheme thing – although he admits he doesn’t really want to win a cruise! Amanda and her Mum have been such great company each evening at dinner, we’ve had such a giggle and been so relaxed, we just couldn’t have wished for anything better.
After dinner we head for Starlights for a game of ‘Hullabaloo’ which is just a silly quiz, but good fun and Mr C decides to join in as chief heckler! Mrs Ents officer doesn’t really appreciate it though!
We moved onto Horizon which was buzzing and karaoke was in full swing before the disco kicks in.
But time to face reality, its almost all over, its no use delaying it, might as well say my goodbyes and go to bed L
Now then, I don’t know quite what route the Captain took last night but I think it was somewhere near the mid atlantic and Hurricane Wilma – god we took a battering!!! I never got a wink of sleep and we were definatley going over a few bumps! Lots of bangs, crashes and jolts – it was bad enough midships so goodness knows how it felt uptop and forward?
Here’s a quick guide to all the public area’s
Reception – Really over the top happy smiley friendly staff, located around the Atrium with a nice waterfall.
Coral Dining Room. Very pleasant dining room, we had first class waiter service, and Section Waiter. Wine waitress needs to step up her act a bit but hopefully she will get there. Almost Art deco style, very relaxing décor. Mainly tables for 6 or 8, I think there were 12 tables for 2 and even less tables for 4.
Conservatory – Very ‘Princess’ décor and were like a very scaled down version of Adonia/Oceana. Served great variety of food for lunch and breakfast but because it was all laid out in a line you needed to know what was there because there was no going backwards and forwards to make your selection as it was quite compact. They also used this area as the ‘Grill’ for evening meals and I would imagine it would have been quite nice and intimate in there. We would have tried it if we had been on a longer trip.
International Lounge – Main show lounge/caberet room. Bar on the port side screened off from main room with glass panels so you could still see the show, also flat screen TV’s behind the bar for viewing shows and sports.
Starlights lounge – bar to port side with plenty of barstools. Bit of a lounge type area in the entrance with leather sofa’s and flat screen TV’s. Large room with plenty of seating, stage & dance floor. Used for balls, dancing etc. A spiral staircase at the back of the room was screened off and an officer told me this is because its having a bit of a refurb and will become the ‘chapel’ area for weddings! Mmm, not sure how that will work but he said they had know where else to use.
Mayfair Shops – quite a big shop for size of ship. Perfume and usual jewellery, very poor selection of formal clothing. Did notice a few different logo souvenirs though.
Cyber café – Hardly had satalite connection all the time we were onboard.
Library – fair size and full of books!
Future Cruise sales and Loyalty Managers – always busy whenever I passed.
Tiffany’s – probably the most used bar. Set at the top of the two deck atrium, pleasant décor, nice bar area and a great people watching place.
Trumps card room – maybe it gets used on longer cruises? But on ours it was a walkthough.
Horizon Bar – at the top of the ship at the stern. Panoramic views. Quiet in the day and on our cruise a buzzing nightclub at night.
Pool area – well the Jacuzzi would fit two people in comfort and the small round swimming pool would be ok for a cooling dip but no chance of a swim, two paddling pools. Plenty of sun loungers around. More loungers on the deck above and another paddling pool!
So MY overall opinion of the ship? Well, its very nice, but it wouldn’t be my choice of ship. I think it’s a great size for my Mum and Jack and I think she would love it on there.
For me it just doesn’t give you that ‘wow’ factor but there is nothing wrong with it. I guess its not luxurious enough for me, I was surrounded by nice things but not luxurious things. There was nowhere really to go. On a sunny cruise I probably wouldn’t feel so confined but on our 4 nighter we were confined to the inside areas. There was no chance of going for a stroll to pass the time away, as there was no where to go and there was no where to curl up and feel comfy – no big dumpy sofa’s like in Raffles on Aurora that you could go and curl up on etc. Every room had the same tiny little bucket chairs which weren’t that comfy, they were just the same but in different colours. The crew were great, very friendly and most seemed to like working on there.
I think that they need to look at the pricing for cruises on Artemis and I would really consider she was not worth paying around the same amount for a cruise on her when I would get better facilities on another ship in the fleet. But its good that they are providing something for everyone with different ships to choose from.
There are a lot of areas that I think would benefit form a sprucing up, but having said that it does seem to be a bit of an ongoing project. Carpet fitters were onboard for the duration of our cruise replacing carpets in all the passenger corridors. Carpets in other area’s such as foyers and lounges were definatley looking tired. I don’t really understand why she has been left so ‘original’ in certain areas and she could do with being a bit more P&O’ified in certain public rooms.
To be honest I don’t think Artemis knew what had hit it this weekend and I doubt she will see anything like it for a long long time passenger wise. I think she will suit the market she is aimed at and I think she will be very popular with a loyal following.
If you want Glam & Glitz don’t book Artemis, if you want a small ship with a great atmosphere you will love her.
Overall, we have had a great time and Im sooo glad we did it! We had fantastic company, met some great people, seen two interesting ports, and most of all had a laugh and enjoyed ourselves.
Please feel Free to leave a comment below and you can view the rest of my pictures here in the Artemis October 05 Slideshow