Wednesday 10th December 2008 ~ Southampton
5 minutes to 12 and guess who was first to step onboard Aurora’s Winter Wonderland cruise? Yes a combination of being two types of priority embarkation plus needing wheelchair assistance for Mr C worked a treat and we found ourselves being whisked through the crew security check and straight onboard. The champagne was lined up waiting for us in the Crows Nest and we were soon settled back in. Champagne and bucks Fizz flowed and the sandwiches looked impressive if nothing else. I did miss the soggy crisps though!
At 2.00pm the cabins were announced as ready but the effort of making our way to the Vectis Suite was too much for me and I just wanted to stay there. Maybe just one more drink? I did eventually pull myself out of the chair and gathered the bags to make our way to our new home for the next 10 days. Oh it is lush in here, and oh so much room. Will I ever have a standard cabin again I ask myself? The cases are here already, must be those gold tags that helped them. Suddenly I started to regret packing 7 cases. Good job there was plenty of storage place to put it all away. Lizy decorated the cabin and put the Christmas tree up, so its officially Christmas now.
We went down to Promenade deck for Sailaway in the hope that we would find some mulled wine, but only Champagne was on offer and I think we have had enough of that for one day. So we headed upto Crows instead and watched us sail down the solent.
Pre dinner drinks in Andersons. No Geoff though, which is strange after all these years. Cosmopolitans are just as good though.
Table 50, second sitting in the Medina is our table for the next 10 nights and we are soon settled in with a couple of bottles of wine on order. The meal and service is very good and we all leave full and contented.
The usual ‘meet the officers’ was on but it seems we had the same thought as everyone else as it was really busy. We did manage to find a sofa around the corner though in what used to be the smoking area
Thursday 11th December ~ at sea
Clocks went forward an hour last night so it took a while to work out if we had put the clocks forward or not before we got in bed. I think we worked out it was 20 to 6 ships time so I felt obliged to lie there for a little while longer and try and go back to sleep. But it wasn’t happening. I knew I had work to do and I knew I had to get to the other end of the ship for a wifi connection, so it was time to get up and put my work head on. After an hour or so’s work in the library I was ready for some breakfast. We decided on breakfast in the Medina and had a nice table for 2 by the window. Nice pot of tea, fruit n fibre and some bacon egg and baked beans, oh and some toast of course. What a lovely civilised way to start the day. So what to do next? Well a nice Baileys coffee in Raffles went down rather nicely. We sat there for a while and watched people come and go and then decided to go to Crows Nest for a drink. Nice to see Al behind the bar so had a quick chat with him. Oh I love my days at sea, just taking it easy and doing as little as possible. There were big decisions about where to have lunch and we decided on Café B, but I think Marco Pierre Whites talk this morning had encouraged them all in and it was rather busy even at 2.00pm.so we ended up in the Orangery. Me and Amanda went to the craft class to make some Christmas crackers but we couldn’t fit in the room so we gave it a miss and somehow ended up in Champions drinking Kir Royal. Well we are on holiday. The Jacuzzi and my big bed are calling me, but which should I do first? Oh decisions decisions!
Captains Cocktail party in the Crows Nest but poor old Mr C was worn out by the time he had hopped all the way up there. We took the fast track route in, as lovely as Captain Hutley is we really didn’t need a photo and we like Peter Thomas the exec purser so we went through his door. Drinks were flowing thick and fast, sometimes too fast and we were struggling to hold them all at one point.
We have the most charming and witty officer hosting our table. Apparently we are lucky as not any officers are hosting tables this cruise, or is it a case of Martin being unlucky to be hand picked by myself as the best man for the job! Nobody can say we re a quiet table and the laughter was flowing thick and fast, just like the wine and the food. Why did I feel the need to have every course tonight, and then we still fight over the after dinner mints, like we have never been fed. We were about the last to leave the restaurant. There was a dance in Carmens but we headed for a sofa in Andersons. I had a signature Cosmopolitan which about blew my head off. I think someone offered to rescue martin at one point but I think they realised he was probably having more of a giggle than they were. Martin had to depart anyway for his bed and to get his thermals ready for the early hours as he was our lookout on the fore deck as we sail up the river Elbe. Do they have icebergs up the river Elbe? But the night was still young for us so we hit Masquarades. I think they were about ready to close but we put paid to that. Lizy decided that me and her Auntie Amanda needed to learn the Cotton Eyed Joe! Maybe not such a good idea after our alcohol intake, but we weren’t given a choice and ive no idea how well we did. Oooh and I remember having a dance with Uncle Mick but what dance that was I have no idea. Time to check out Café B, but shock horror the croquet Mossieur have been taken off the menu. Other things looked not very appropriate for silly o’clock in the morning so he agreed to make us some chip butties! Don’t you just love P&O crew who go that extra mile. So hot chocolate and chip butties all round and they went down a treat. Lizzy missed out because she found someone to talk to in the nightclub.
Friday 12th December 2008 ~ Hamburg
I woke up this morning feeling none too clever but decided that it is way too far to the fridge to get some water (really you haven’t seen the size of our cabin this time!) I could see the shore side of Hamburg passing by the balcony through the small gap in the curtains but then I could hear a jazz band so had to get up as I was intrigued. I opened the balcony door and there was a jazz band full of Santas dancing about on the dockside. Ooh dear I was drinking some strong stuff last night!
I went up to Crows to sit and do some work, and the singles gathering seemed to take place around me, the very nice host got me some coffee though while I was working and I needed it because it was very chilly up there.
The logistics of trying to get ashore was a little trying. I layered myself up but by the time I had pushed Mr C and the wheelchair down to deck 7 I was rather warm. The shuttle bus was waiting for us and we were soon into town. A lot of building work was happening in the dock area and the new cruise terminal was taking shape in the place where they normally have the fair to welcome QM2. it would seem that Aurora doesn’t draw the crowds like QM2 does. The shuttle bus dropped us at the top end of town and not down by the main square like the QM2 bus does. It was late morning and the town was crowded with shoppers. I think part of the reason for dropping us so far up the town could have been so that we had to pass 80% of the Christmas markets. There were quite a few off the main street., but eventually we got to the one down by the main square. Very very busy indeed, and very hard work with a wheelchair.
We went to our usual café by the lake and had some mulled wine and only lizy needed feeding so she had a Hamburger in Hamburg which she found amusing! We decided to walk to the other side of town to yet another Christmas market, so naturally more mulled wine was involved. The air was getting pretty biting by now so we had a shot of rum in it too. Back across town and back at the main square. It was way to busy to walk through so we stopped off at a little bar just off the main square and whilst they had brockenhurst and chips with mayo I just felt the need to check out the mulled wine again, with rum. It was the best one of the day. We trecked back up the main street through the crowds and straight onto a shuttle bus. Soon back to the ship, but I then spent the next 20 minutes putting away all the layers of warm clothing. Must surely be time for a drink, so upto Crows with the laptop just in case there was work to be done, and that of course involved another drink.
5.30 and time for a little snooze in my big bed. Bliss! Then I hear first sitting dinner being announced and I know that’s my queue to get out of bed and in the shower, but oh the effort involved. Had a bit of a crisis this evening choosing a casual outfit. It would seem that I had planned my formals and semi formals, my outdoor wear, my daytime ship wear but casual seems to have been forgotten. Of course I managed though.
Pre dinner drinks in Andersons and the nibbles have been found! Hooray. Trouble is you cant get them out of the jars because they are too big. Not to worry they were bringing round smoked salmon hor deurves. The restaurant was not very busy this evening so service as very slick. We decided to go to 60’s & 70’s in Carmens which started at 10. what we didn’t realise was that the 60’s n 70’s quiz would start at dead on 10, and by the time we got in there at just gone 5 past they were already on question 8.
I surprised the hell out of the lovely Paul Carrington as he had no idea I was onboard. Oh I wish he was cruise director because I heard only good things about his stint as CD at the end of the summer. I know he will get there permanently eventually because he is such a star! I was there on his first cruise when he was just a baby ents all those years ago, and he is going to be the new generation of CD. There was some interesting dancing and very interesting interpretations of casual dress code around this evening but hey they are on holiday. I fully intended going to bed and having a nice sleep but it never really happened. We were last out of Carmens and last out of Café B.
Saturday 13th December ~ departure from Hamburg and day at sea
We sailed from Hamburg at around 7.00am I think? Not that I was awake. And we disembarked our river pilot at around 10.30 and embarked the sea pilot at the same time. We saw the entrance to the Keil Canal which we cant fit down, and we weren’t going that way anyway.
A very lazy morning in bed. Lizy has a can of pop and some malteesers sat up in her huge bed watching a film. Mr C is cranking his neck to try and watch the same film from his bed, and im here typing away and pottering. I have just put the 3 Christmas ducks in the bath that I bought yesterday and when I am dressed Im going to pop down to the Christmas Market in Carmens. Im loving this cabin, its just like home. Im seeing the advantage now of upgrading to the higher end accommodation. So much room! Plenty of space to store everything that I insist on bringing away with me. All the little extras that go with the higher grade cabins well worth the money. I told you that Silversea experience ruined me earlier in the year! It’s a pleasure to wake up with such lovely surroundings. I see in the daily news that there is a second class to complete the Christmas cracker they started two days ago? How long does it take to make a Christmas cracker?
Well I did eventually get dressed and we nipped down to the Christmas Market. It was very good and they created a really good atmosphere in there. We had mulled wine and warm mince pie for breakfast, I won a formal portrait photo in the raffle and I bought a few bottles of spirit that were on offer.
We had a very relaxed lunch in MPW Café Bordeaux. The Chicken and mushroom soup was very good and so was the salmon fishcake. We washed it down with a bottle of Beringer which left me wondering if it was time for bed again yet? Somehow I found my second wind and found enough energy to stomp around prom deck six times. There is a very cutting wind blowing across the open deck and it was braising to say the least, but I can say I have had my exercise for the day.
I tried to have a bit of a snooze but it never really happened so I opted to have a Jacuzzi with my new Christmas ducks, but they don’t swim!
Formal night this evening and I admit to feeling a little light headed by the time we got to dinner. I think the appletini and the melontini might have contributed to that. We had a bow tie tying masterclass at the table led by a certain officer. As usual we are one of the last to leave after another delightful meal. Ive heard very mixed reviews about the food prior to this cruise, but honestly you have nothing to worry about the food is as good as it always has been, if not better.
There was a ladies night ball in Carmens and Doris Day tribute in the theatre. We didn’t venture near to Carmens but oh dear Doris Day was not holding an audience. We settled into a sofa in Andersons and drank our way into tomorrow. Of course we had to stop by Café B for a chip butty and hot chocolate. I tried a cookie this evening, but they were like the muffins the night before, chocolate less!
Sunday 14th December 2008 ~ Oslo
Mr C is on Fjord watch this morning. Breakfast arrives at 8.30am and I managed a cup of tea and breakfast later when I was ready. We went into the narrow part of the fjord at 10.30 and Mr C was in his element wrapped up on the balcony with his camera. Amanda and Mick popped in and I provided hot chocolate with rum to keep them warm. The scenery was breathtaking. We really were sailing in a Winter Wonderland! The Fjord was covered in snow and we were just moving fast enough to break a ripple in the sea. It really is ‘Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas!’
We wrapped up in as many layers as we could muster and went to the sail in party up by Pennant Bar. There was something pretty magical about berthing in Olso next to a big castle with snow on the ground while Winter Wonderland was playing. We had mulled wine to keep us warm, and whilst it was a complete contrast to a steel band and a rum punch in the hot Caribbean sun it was amazing. We docked starboard side too today, as apposed to starboard side one lol.
As we were all wrapped up we decided it was a good day for a sidewalk café lunch, so it was fish chips and mushy peas for me.
It was only a short walk into town. There was a small Christmas market at the end of the dock. To the left was a very trendy bar and shopping area and many of the shops were open, but not many bars. We then walked back and to the right up into the town and found the ice skating ring in the main square with Hard Rock Café and other bars surrounding it. We then went on a bit of a route march up a hill, which was great until we realised we needed to get Mr C and the wheelchair back down again! We parked the boys in a beer tent back in the Christmas market while we went and did a bit of retail therapy. Boys were not impressed with their £8 beer though!
Back onboard there was a Norwegian choir in Carmens but you couldn’t get near it. I would have liked to have seen it and those that did said it was very good.
Im cold and tired so went and crawled into bed for an hour, but there is no chance of being allowed to close my eyes. We left Oslo at about 5.00pm but it felt much later because it had been dark since 3. The castle looked lovely as we pulled away and the lights of the harbour reminded me of Sydney or the like.
Big night out tonight and I hosted a table of 12 in the Captains Lounge this evening which was a great way to sample the new Marco Pierre White menu and celebrate my recent award of ‘Sales Agent of the Year’.
How many champagne buckets were lining the entrance, we will never drink all that? Will we? There are 3 different menu’s and today was menu number 2. I had the asparagus which was very good, lots tried the frogs legs and I had a nibble but decided they tasted of nothing.. Broccoli soup which sounded like something your granny would make you eat, but was actually very nice indeed. I then had beef Burginion with crusty pastry top. It was delisious but would have fed two quite substantionally. I just couldn’t get through it and I don’t think anyone else did either. Mr C had a seafood platter which I didn’t think looked that impressive but he assures me it was. Others had pork belly which got excellent reviews, steak and duck. Oh the strawberry shortcake was to die for and could eat again despite being totally full. I was surprised afterwards by the spice boys and a ‘congratulations’ cake, but I dont think they understood what they were congratulating – but then I guess not all award winning agents sell and cruise with them? After dinner entertainment comprised of the second masterclass in bow tying and as much laughter as we could muster. We got some very strange looks when we came trooping out of there gone midnight whilst others were tucking into their horlicks. We were going to hit masquerades but decided a comfy sit down in Andersons was what was needed.
So MPW at Café B was I impressed? Yes I was actually. Service was as spot on as it always has been. I don’t quite get why they have reduced the cover charge from what café b used to be? If I had one comment it would have to be the table wear? It just doesn’t fit the style of café B. those lovely big server plates have disappeared and very contempory plain white tableware in its place. The plain white fine bone china is very nice but it just doesn’t say anything, and who ever picked the dreadful flowery pattern desert wear needs shooting. It reminds me of something out of the BHS sale! It just didnt fit with anything, but anyway that’s just my thought and I know ‘some of you’ like to know my opinion! I like the new décor in Captains Lounge, but cant really see why someone felt the need to change it? The various plaques etc were good conversation pieces before. Ooh talking of conversations… ‘Tea Coffee and Conversations’ were served at the end of the meal. Conversation pieces they certainly were! I thought they were mince pies but no, they were most definitely ‘conversations’ ok if you like pastry, but good if you like a conversation! See you all want to try MPW Café B now for the ‘conversations’
Monday 15th December 2008 ~ Copenhagen
I think someone moved the bow thrusters up to deck 10 aft this morning! What bit of our suite didn’t move and shake this morning? No chance of a lie in then. Personally I think it was the revenge of the port side people. But port side should be happy today because we went Portside too for the first time this cruise. They had a Umpah band to play to them but I noticed the portsiders didn’t get out to see them as much as we on the starboard side would have done! I went upto Crows to do my work but it was freezing up there. The singles get together also seemed to happen around me again despite me changing location. Jo the cabin steward is twiddling his fingers this morning as he is struggling to find a vacant cabin to attend too. We decided to do not a lot today, a because I Have Aurora flu and because its hard work wih Mr C on crutches or in the wheelchair. We did a brief visit to the outlet shops that lined the dock and then walked up to find the Little Mermaid.
For those of you that don’t know where the little mermaid is she is about 10 minutes walk away to the left as you disembark the ship, past a tiny harbour and there she is. If you carry on the same path for about 30 minutes you arrive at the Palace for changing of the guard and then into town. Or you can pick up the no 26 bus for DK. We just had a very lazy day on the ship before heading off into town at 4.30 to be at the Ice Bar for 5.00pm. we went via taxi for DK180 and at least we were door to door. Ice Bar was cool! Entrance fee was approx £17 and included thermal cape, gloves and a cocktail in an ice glass. It was empty when we first went in because we had pre booked but it soon filled up. I think I left my gloves off a little too long because my hands refused to warm up again. But when we stepped outside it felt really mild! The entrance to Tivolli Gardens was just over the road so that was our next port of call. Entrance fee was about £10 each but if you had a wheelchair it was Free! Mr C was in his element with his camera taking his photos but there is nothing worst than being out on a cold dark night when your not feeling well like poor old me. It wasn’t long before we were back in a taxi and back on the ship. We could have gone to dinner in the restaurant but didn’t like the look of the menu, it was best of British Buffet in the Orangery but didn’t fancy that too much either so we had a vast selection of room service and got ready at leisure. Lizy had an early night in bed watching TV and we ended up in Crows listening to the Celieh band. Most enjoayable.
Tuesday 16th December 2008 ~ Copenhagen
Ooh dear Im proper poorly person now and I cant get out of bed. Life was such and effort today so between us we did nothing. Entertainment came in the form of 3 engineers trying to encourage the sofa bed to fold back up again, and then when they did get it to fold back in again it refused t come back out again. I thought the 3 blokes were going to throw it overboard. Its sort of fixed now but its 50/50 if it continues to work.
We had a fantastic sailaway with the girls marching band down on the dockside for an hour before sailaway. They were absolutely excellent and looked superb dressed up in the Christmas outfits. We had a stowaway Santa and he was being chased around prom deck. As we slipped our lines and blew the horn across Copenhagen there was a brilliant firework display over on port side so lots of activity as we sailed for Amsterdam.
We had invites to the Captain and Executive Pursers party this evening and what a superb party it was too. We had mulled wine and mince pies, as well as all the usual champagne, drinks and lots of canapés. I thought it was nice to get a bit of fresh air under the Crystal Dome, ok it was chilly at times but it was great for me to be out of the air conditioning. I felt like a bit of a mini celeb at times as just about anyone with stripes came over to speak to us, and it appears that most know about my recent award, thanks to a press release. Needless to say we made a late entrance to dinner and obviously a late exit followed. But as parties go it was one of the best!
There was all sorts of things happening over the ship tonight, starting with a Christmas Extravaganza in Carmens which kicked off with a Queen tribute at about 7.30 and finished with all sorts of TV game shows. It was like they had had to fit 3 nights worth of entertainment into one room in one night. Peter Goodwin was in the Theatre and I hear he didn’t have the biggest of audiences. The Caleih band were in Champions and that was rammed. So we went to our sofa in the lounge that is Andersons!
Wednesday 17th December 2008 ~ at sea
Gosh have we been here a week already? I had no choice but to get out of bed this morning and go do some work, so I crept out and left Mr C and Lizy sleeping.
My office at sea is working quite well. I get my usual sofa in the Crows by a plug socket and the really nice barman sends my coffee over. I managed to avoid the singles get together this morning but was rather insulted when some lady interrogated me to see if I was anything to do with ‘fatbusters’ or something of the like. She seemed quite put out when I informed her I had no idea what or where that was. Anyway you have guessed it, 10 minutes later I was in the middle of a ‘how to burn fat class’
I worked for a couple of hours and then realised it was only 20 mins until Gold Portunus lunch in Alexandria Restaurant. Quick change and we had joined the queue going back through Champions. We were on table 29 right at the back and I was placed next to El Capitain!
As much as people moan about it always being a lunch for our ‘special event’ I have to say that the food is always a step up. Presentation and food was superb, and it was a very enjoyable occasion once again.
We somehow found ourselves in the progressive quiz in Champions after lunch, but I had other things to do like sorting out party invites for the GoCruise with Jane cocktail party, so while they racked their brains for answers to quiz questions I sat and wrote all of my party invites and then trotted off and delivered them, so that killed two birds with one stone and gave me a bit of exercise too. Back at the cabin I decided that I really needed to do a bit of packing as the end of the cruise was approaching with two busy port days. So while lizy sat and watched yet another film and Mr C crawled under the duvet, I packed as much as I could, and then neatly arranged the cases back underneath the bed.
The canapes arrived, which is usually at 5.30 on the dot so I realised that time was ticking on, but I carried on packing, then treated myself to a nice bubbly Jacuzzi. I lay on the bed thinking it must be at least 7.00pm and I needed to get a move on, but was informed that it was only 10 to 6. What time did those prawns arrive then, that will teach me to look at a clock. I tried to have a snooze but it wasn’t happening so it was hair and makeup time. Another beauty of having such a large cabin is that me and Lizy can get ready at the same time, now that’s unheard of in a standard cabin where a strict rota for mirror time has to be worked out.. We have plenty of mirror space for makeup and plug sockets a plenty for hairdryers. But oh dear I put my black n white dress on and its too big! Yes, shouldn’t that be too small at this point in the cruise? No choice but to wear it and remember not to lean forward.
Portunus party in Carmens. Of course we chose the fast route in via Peter Pursers door but the Captain was not impressed that we didn’t queue to go through his door. LOL, I’d not long had my lunch with him, so he must have known that I couldn’t give up a drink or three by waiting to say hello to him again. We didn’t win the goblets, not that we needed any. But as always the drinks were flowing fast and a good cocktail party is always measured on the availability of drinks and the socialising of the ships company – high scores on both.
Chain de Rositeur dinner this evening, but I was struggling to find a main course fancied. I had had lovely beef at lunch so didn’t really want beef Wellington at dinner too. I opted for the poached salmon which is always available but that turned out to be a mistake as it was dry and bland.
The Captain was supposed to be leading carols in the restaurant tonight, and he was there but I wouldn’t say he was leading, more blending into the background behind the theatre company, and not loo9king terribly comfortable with the situation. We were treated to 4 carols ending with ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ so that made us all very Christmassy.
I fancied going to the black n white ball but that’s a no no with Mr C on crutches. Others fancied seeing Gary Lovinni in the theatre so we use Andersons as a half way house. People keep mistaking Dave for Gary Lovinni but we don’t really know why? He keeps popping back to the theatre to brush up on his violin skills.
We had quite late night in Andersons and saw off most of the other passengers and bar staff were cleaning down, then somehow Mr C and Dave had conspired another drink in Champions, allegedly to watch the news! Dave made the mistake of asking the bartender what a Niolly Pratt was (as in Vodka Martini) but she blinded me with science and I was the most sober out of the group.
Couldn’t go to bed without a visit to Café B. Mr C had jalapeno peppers, ham and cheese toasties and fries plus his horlicks! I just ordered hot chocolate but the waiter warned me I wouldn’t like it as the brand had changed, and he was right it was disgusting. But he had a stash of the old stuff tucked away and he made me a nice cup, bless him.
I have no idea what time I crawled into bed but I just couldn’t sleep. My throat was tickling and I just kept coughing. Lizy was out of bed watching our approach to Amsterdam and at 5 in the morning me and her are stood on the balcony getting very excited about being in a lock. There was one other man sticking his head out on a C deck balcony but he didn’t want to wave. There is something exciting about being in a lock in a big ship that really doesn’t look like it will fit. I guess Martyn was standing out on the for deck again watching our every move?
Excitement over and I got back into bed and managed about and hour and halfs sleep! Hooray!
Thursday 18th December 2008 ~ Amsterdam
Oh what a grey miserable morning. No shuttle bus today either, but there was the tram just outside the terminal building so will decide what to do later. First I have to get to my office, which this cruise has been the Crows Nest, not very convenient as that’s at one end of the ship and I live at the other. I have really missed not having internet access in my cabin this time. Still the coffee is good! We finally got ashore mid morning and decided that it was easier to push Mr C in his wheelchair than try to negotiate trains or trams or whatever they were. Amsterdam is a very busy place and it was hard to know which way to look with trains, trams, cars, buses and cycles coming at you from all directions. It wasn’t a particularly wheelchair friendly place either and we did have one scarey moment when the front wheel of the wheelchair got lodged in a tram track just as a tram came around the corner, but luckily the tram stopped for us. Ive been to Amsterdam a few times, and it was Lizy’s first visit here, but she wasn’t impressed and I have never been a lover of the place. Its pretty enough in spring along the canals etc and for the bulb fields, but the town centre isn’t the most inviting place. We did take a very brief walk along the red light district, but some of the sights left a lot to be desired!
It was an early return to the ship for us and a nice leisurely afternoon doing not a lot! I did manage to do a fair bit of packing though and get all the cases back under the bed out of the way.
I had arranged a pre dinner drinks party for GoCruise guests in our suite this evening, so we had to be ready early and have a quick tidy around. Guests were spot ontime and it wasn’t long before the drinks were flowing and the canapés were being passed around. The little sausages were a big hit as usual. Disappointing that Martyn couldn’t attend in the end, but someone inconveniently arranged for us to be going through the locks at the same time so Martyn had to go and stand on the flippy out bits at the front (that I’ve forgotten the name for) and stand watch to make sure we didn’t hit the sides. It is a bit of a tight squeeze into that lock. Anyway it was very nice of the bridge team to lay on some entertainment for our guests and the balcony was big enough to accommodate all that wanted to watch the lock activities. Really pleased that Paul Carringtom found time in his busy schedule to pop along though and nice to catch up.
Amanda was giving guided tours of the bathroom, and the phone by the loo was causing great interest. Initially when I set this gathering up I was worried that an hour would be too long, but we could have done with 2 hours. We were very late for dinner and I had to apologise for all. I dont think he was too cross with us though. Im pretty sure that the evening must have ended in Andersons on a sofa? Yes, its coming back to me now. We did end up in Andersons and Mr C was given a late pass to stay out with his ‘Uncle Arthur’. I wasn’t best pleased when he came back to the cabin and fell over his crutches and then got into bed and put the TV on very loudly, Men!!
Friday 19th December 2008 ~ Bruges
Oh you know you have arrived in Bruges when you open your curtains and there are several hundred yellow JCB’s on the dockside! I can here a band playing and as I look over to the other dock there is a military ship coming into dock with a marching band marching along the dock to meet her.
We had decided to go into Bruges on the train this morning and were on the shuttle bus in plenty of time to get us to the train station in good time. Trains leave at 10 past the hour and it was about half past when we got off the shuttle bus. But then I spotted a 7 seater taxi and knew that there was a party of 4 just behind us who were also going into Bruges. I had always thought that the taxi drivers worked on a set price into Bruges of €35, but this one said it was on a meter and would be around €45. The other 4 agreed to share and it was easier all round as the taxi was able to drop us right in the main square. Because of the cobbled streets Mr C had decided that he would manage on his crutches today (loosely translates to ‘manage to get to a bar for some beer’) and the walk from train station to the square would have been too much. The others thought sharing a taxi with ‘GoCruisewithJane’ was a benefit because I was able to tell them the best chocolatier to go to, and where all the various must see’s were etc, LOL. Although the train would have only cost around €5 each return we decided that this was much more convenient and we arranged to meet back at 2.30 to share a taxi back. I have never seen Bruges so quiet in the pre Christmas week. Maybe it was something to do with it being a week day and I have always been here on a Saturday? We were in the town just before 11 and the Christmas market was only just opening up. It was nice to be able to get around and see things for once though. It was a lovely bright crisp sunny morning so we decided to take a horse and carriage ride again and show Lizy what a pretty place Bruges is. Cost is €34 for about 40 minutes. We were biting our lip not top chuckle at our driver who insisted on giving us a fully guided tour. Im sure he was full of useful information, but just like the last one on our last visit here, we couldn’t here a word he was saying apart from the occasional ‘17th Century …’ in a very strange accent. We were beginning to think that everything happened in the 17th century in Bruges, and I think there are 17 churches in Bruges? but towards the end we picked up both the 14th and 18th century, so we decided to put the numbers on the lottery when we got back. When they say it’s a 40 minute tour what they actually mean is that its about 15 minutes each way to a little square by the priory where they take you to let the horse have a feed, but its still worth the money and it’s a great way to see the sights clip clopping around the town. We passed a place that declared it served the best hot chocolate in town, but trouble was we had gone around that many twists and turns that I have no idea where it was.
Once back in the main square we headed for the Dumon chocolate shop before it got busy. I love it in here and she is so accommodating and lets you try before you buy. She had some new white caramel creams so that was Lizy sorted. We got everything we went in for and of course my chocolate stirrers to make hot chocolate and we got two bags full of chocolate and a fair sized bill at the end of our visit. You have to try Dumon chocolate for yourself to understand what I am talking about here. There are many chocolate shops in Bruges but the quality of the chocolate stocked here really stands out and is worth the money. If anyone wants to know where it is drop me a line and I will let you know. We parked Mr C in a bar infront of a roaring log fire and told him we would see him in an hour. I thought we were going for a look around the shops, but my fit and active young daughter had other ideas! She had her eye on a spot of climbing, quite a lot of climbing in fact. I should really look the name of this place up but for those of you who have been to Bruges will know that there is a very high bell tower in the main square? Well she had desires to go to the top. Ok, I can cope with that. Where’s the lift? There wasn’t one! Somehow she convinced me to hand over €10 each and the next thing I knew I was faced with the tiniest, tightest, spiralling staircase I have ever seen. I made it to the first and second resting point, not with the greatest of ease, but I was ready for a sit down (bear in mind I have a very heavy cold at this point) but jeepers the next stage nearly killed me. It must have been well over a third of the climb and I was gasping. Lizy on the other hand was still bouncing shouting words of encouragement from above. There was a couple of little resting points in the last stage, but I thought it was never ending, and to make matters worse people were descending on the same staircase! Halleluiah, I have made it and wow what a view! Well worth it but Im already panicking about the descent.
Mr C will never believe that I have done this so I get snapping with my camera. You could see for miles and lizy was convinced she could see the sea but my eyesight isn’t that good. At a few minutes to 1 the bells started chiming, and it was a bit loud to say the least. But just as I thought they had finished the big bell struck one and I nearly jumped out of my skin, flippin heck it was loud. The journey back down the tower was a very dizzy one and I was glad to be back at the bottom. But you should try it next time you are there as it was good really.
Couldn’t bring Lizy to Bruges without showing her the ‘biongy toy shop’ it’s a shop I love to go in a look at all the wooden toys and I have bought her a few things from there over the years. We played with the toys and then left empty handed this time.
Better get back to Mr C and he was on his 3rd beer by the time we got there so any longer and he wouldn’t have been able to walk. We decided to have some lunch which bought us nicely to our rendezvous time of 2.30 for the taxi. Mr C had muscles in wine with fries but I kept it simple with spit roast chicke. Had to have an egg nog though. OMG, they make them so strong here, so two glasses of mulled wine were required to wash it down. Decided we couldn’t leave Bruges without one last visit to Dumon to top up our supply.
Dave and Kath were in their and I think they bought more than we did! We met the others at our agreed meeting point and Taxi driver offered to take us back to the ship and on the meter it was only €42 so it was an excellent service and cut out the hassle of queuing for a shuttle bus.
Back at the ship there is a red carpet laid out and a ‘button’ on a lectern at the end of it. Ooh wonder what all that is about?
Back in the cabin I decide there is no putting it off until later and I open the cases and finish the packing. Yes, I did pack a lot and yes you are correct, you have read that id have been packing over 3 days now! All the Christmas decorations have to come back down in our cabin and its starting to look a bit bare. Mr C and Lizy were very busy over in the bar area of the cabin and if they think I really thought they had glasses of cola then they can think again!
There is a band playing down by the red carpet but we are still non the wiser what it is all about, and its too far for us to see from our balcony. Eventually I decide to go and take a walk down to prom to investigate but its all over and the place is scattered with huge red white and blue confetti, and it seems the party is over. Turns out that Bruges was using its new all singing all dancing walkway type gangway for the first time today and the President of Bruges had been invited down to christen it. So why weren’t we informed and invited to attend from prom deck? Well it turns out that not even the Captain was invited so I guess that’s why were weren’t kept in the loop. I hear that they closed the new gangway for the ceremony just as all the tours were returning and it caused havoc with the boarding of passengers up the one remaining gangway, so not good timing.
10 minutes before sailaway there was the usual call for a couple of remaining passengers who hadn’t scanned back onboard. This happens so often that I rarely take any notice of it these days. At sailing time the Captain did come over the address system to advise us that we were just waiting for two ladies who had missed their return tour bus back to the ship, so had got in a taxi back to the ship. Unfortunately that taxi driver took them to the P&O ferry terminal by mistake and it was getting late. So the ferry port phoned the port agents who advised the Captain that they were being put into another taxi and were on their way back to the ship. A journey which should take 10 minutes, but worst nightmare scenario, the taxi got lost and stuck in traffic. Eventually the Captain came back on to announce that he was being forced to move away from the dock due to a car transporter needing our berth and we had no choice but to leave without them. How must they have felt so see and hear the ship pulling away from the dock and then doing what seemed like a never ending turn to go back out to sea? What a way top end a cruise. Ok we don’t know the circumstances of how they came to fail to get back on the tour bus, but the moral of the story has to be that you allow plenty of time for errors? It does prove one point that I am always stressing and that is, that a ship will leave without you whether you are on an official organised tour or not. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, whether it’s a coach load or a lone person, if that ship has to move for whatever reason, be it wind speeds, shipping traffic, tides etc, it will leave without you! So what happens if you do miss the ship for any reason? Once it has been established that you are not back onboard, under normal circumstances security will enter your cabin and look in the obvious places for your passports, including the safe, and hopefully hand them over to the port agents. On this occasion I believe that the port agent was able to get the ladies onto a P&O ferry back to the UK and passports weren’t required so they weren’t searched for. Once the ship had departed 3 members of the ships company are dispatched to pack the contents of the cabin, two to pack and one to observe. Obviously if the next stop hadn’t have been Southampton the port agent would have assisted them in getting to the next port to rejoin the ship. If the reason any passengers miss the ship is the fault of P&O then it is my understanding that P&O pay their expenses, if it is entirely the fault of the passenger I understand that it is at the expense of the passenger.
Well it certainly provided an evening’s topic of conversations but I could help wondering what those two poor ladies were feeling.
Last nights are always strange sort of nights and its not helped by my poorly cold getting even worse, but you have guessed correct if you imagine us all sat in Andersons on the nice sofa’s, just one for the road but there is no denying it, its time for bed.
Saturday 20th December 2008 ~ Southampton
Bed didn’t last long. The air conditioning was really getting to me and I could hardly breath. At just gone 4 I decided I needed to get up for some air and by 4.30am me and Mr C were sat in Crows watching our approach to Southampton. Ok I took advantage of my last remaining internet minutes and caught up with a bit more work. True to Martyns word at 10 past 6 we sailed past the Arcadia so we went outside to check out her new aft end. I admit it was still dark, and the ship looked lovely all lit up, but the new section on the back did look a bit obvious as a chunk that had been added. I will reserve judgement until I see her in daylight.
At 6.45am I noticed a queue forming for the Medina Restaurant. Breakfast wasn’t until 7.15am but knowing what a bun fight it could be on the last morning I decided to call Mr C and get him to join me. You have got to love the British and queuing. I only left Mr C in the queue for a few minutes while I nipped to the ladies, but despite a few polite ‘excuse me’s’ some people were very reluctant to let me back up the queue. Oh shudder the thought that I would eat all of their breakfast! We managed to get a nice table for two in the window overlooking the baggage conveyor belts. Breakfast service was very slick and fast, Mr C had two omelettes and full English with baked beans, lol, but I stuck to my toast and melon.
Back at the cabin, Lizy had pulled herself out of bed. I gathered up all the last bits and pieces and it was getting close to disembarkation time. We could have had wheelchair assistance from Andersons but we decided we could manage easier by loading the wheelchair with the majority of hand luggage and getting Mr C to hobble off on crutches. They were being very very strict about not allowing anyone to congregate in the Atrium area of the ship and people were being moved on as fast as they arrived. But when quite a high ranking officer places you in the atrium, lets just say that no one made much of an effort to move us. The majority were held back in the forward and midship staircases and when one family decided to defy the rules things did get a little angry between passengers. One man was very very abusive to the family who were standing in a place closer to the gangway than he was, and in my honest opinion he deserved a thump for his attitude, but fair play to the latecomers they remained calm and moved away once they had answered him back. The entertainment value this morning was priceless and I love people watching so I was in my element.
Shortly before 9 they announced that disembarkation could proceed, here we see a lot of passengers in their true colours. Most stormed down the corridor and were prepared to take a man off his crutches to be the first down the gangplank. Despite being almost ontop of the gangway, a huge crowd got infront of us. Its nothing new and is what I have become to expect. Luckily Dave & Kath turned up and were able to assist me with the two pieces of hand luggage while Lizy pushed the wheelchair laden with stuff and Mr C fought his way up behind us. Once down into the baggage hall we were able to get a porter to assist. The cases were easily located within the Gold area and we were across the road and collecting the car keys in record time. The car was right next to the key collection point being a wheelchair user, and by 5 past 9 the car had been loaded and we were on our way. I quick detour upto Mountbatten House to collect my award which had been given back to be engraved with my award winning name and then it was back through town to the motorway.
How I managed to drive home I don’t know. I was tired and full of cold, but in just over two hours we were back in the house and it was back to reality once more.
It was a fantastic cruise, one that I can highly recommend. I cant believe what excellent value for money it is especially when you compare it to the Christmas or New Year cruises. Yes I like to be away over New Year, but for me this was like having an early Christmas. The cruise has a Christmas theme, is decorated for Christmas, the ports are full of Christmas markets and Oslo even laid on some real snow for us! I loved being outside all wrapped up in the crisp fresh air, drinking mulled wine on deck listening to Christmas tunes. Evenings for us were very relaxed and lazy, but we still had a choice of shows to attend or dancing in Carmens. Masquarades was quiet but that doesn’t bother me. Would I do it again? Yes definitely, at the drop of a hat. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. There was no denying it was biting cold at times but we expected that and packed accordingly. I don’t recall finding any big lumps in the sea so no complaints about sea conditions. December has been like one big long Christmas. It was nice to have all the shopping done before we went away so that now we can just sit back and relax and we had a very enjoyable Christmas without the usual last minute dashing about.
A couple of things I might not have covered…
Our minisuite – We had chosen to travel in style this time around and were in Vectis Suite B265. Its actually a mini suite but it is one of the larger two onboard. Where as other mini suites are of more a conventional shape ours was L shaped, with the dining table, TV, cabinets etc being set back to give more floor space. We had a large 3 seater sofa which converted to a bed in the evening for Lizy. It wasn’t the most comfortable of beds and I think that is down to the mattress being a little old and worn. Lizy did have trouble sleeping on it and she is by no means a heavy girl. Accommodation did come and put a mattress topper on it, but it didn’t prove to be much help. We also had an oval coffee table and two comfy armchairs. To the sides of the sofa were two glass topped occasional tables with lamps on. Our king size bed could be curtained off from Lizys double sofa bed but there was no was I was going to allow that as she would have in effect got the outside balcony cabin with TV, while we had what would have become an inside cabin with no TV. The dressing table with 3 mirrors was at the foot of our bed. I cant begin to tell you how much storage space we had. I kept loosing stuff all the time because I couldn’t remember what cupboard it was in, the drawers were massive too and really deep so you could fit loads into them. There were also two ottomans at the foot of the bed which were great for throwing things in out of the way. One of the cupboards housed an ironing board and trouser press which was very handy when you just need to press the creases out of something at the last minute. I also found the safe about 3 days into the cruise!
I was slightly disappointed with the bathroom. Last time we had a mini suite was on Arcadia and that had a separate shower cubicle as well as a shower above the Jacuzzi bath. It was also larger. I found the mould in the silicone seal around the bath very off putting and if I had a stanley knife and a silicone gun I would have corrected it myself. It was such a simple little job that could have made a big difference and did niggle at me, but seeing as we had already had accommodation department out to investigate the air conditioning, the sofa bed mattress, the sofa bed that refused to fold flat in the sofa at times, the balcony partition door that repeatedly swung open for the first 24 hrs plus a few little other things I felt a daren’t report anything else, and apart from that I wasn’t there to moan I was on holiday. Just a little bit of TLC and maintenance would have made all the difference to that cabin. The dining table area was lovely and meant we had somewhere nice to sit at the laptop for loading photos etc. The glass fronted cupboards were full of a full range of glassware and there were some binoculars. We also had a magazine rack with two brand new magazines. The Nick Munro rose vase had a rose in it that was practically dead on arrival, and remained in the vase unti we disembarked very dead and curled up. They obviously trusted us with the Nick Munro sweetie tray though because that remained for the duration of the cruise and me and Liz are convinced that it was refilled as we both used to pick at them. I wish I could say that I used the seating area as much as Lizy and Mr C did for watching films etc, but in all honesty I just never had time as any spare time is spent working.
Entertainment – It realy was nothing to write home about and quite a poor selection of artists in my opinion. I would have liked to have seen a pantomime and I think it was a little short sighted of P&O not to include one on a Christmas themed cruise, especially as we have seen the pantomimes during late November cruises, but the new theatre company have a different repertoire, so there were different shows to be seen. Headliners were getting rave reviews for their Las Vegas performance and I did stick my head in on a couple of their other shows and I have to agree, that the little bits I saw, were excellent and to a very high standard. Linda Radford was the cabaret singer and what I heard of her wasn’t good or maybe ‘not to my liking’. But I also heard other people say that they left the show early. The comedian also got a similar sort of reception and feedback. I didn’t go to any of the talks, but then I never do so I cant really comment. I love listening to the Celieh Band and could listen to them and tap my feet all night. I wasn’t familiar with any of the other bands but we did miss not having Caravan onboard. They were back on as we disembarked so should be there for a few months to come. The entertainment team were mostly new to me but all were very visible, chatty and lively. Paul Carrington in my opinion should be a cruise director by now because he just excels in everything he does. Im sure it wont be long, but he is what P&O needs and would be a breath of fresh air.
Food – I had been reading quite bad reports about food on Aurora recently, but I have to say that standards of food served were probably higher than I have experienced in the past. Most of the soups were delicious and always piping hot. Lizy loved the curry ‘breakfasts’ in the Orangery, and Mr C liked to take lunch up there, but I have never been a fan of these sort of eating places and can get myself in a bad mood just queuing for a tray. I do like the addition of the sandwich man though and he made me some lovely sandwiches to order and even asks if you would like the crusts cut off. I also nipped up there a couple of times for a teacake at tea time, and have been known to sneak in a doody little filled roll at the same time. It was our usual haunt for breakfast too, but I was usually working and missed the breakfast bun fight. Sidewalk Café was surprisingly busy everyday, and it was strange to have to queue whilst wrapped up in hat and scarf. Im more used to standing their in swimwear and a cover up. But you have to have the fish, chips and mushy peas at least once a cruise and there were as good as ever. Lizy used room service on more than one occasion and it was always hot, fast and efficient. They do charge for some items and not others but I cant quite work out what the criteria is for how they decide what they will charge for as it seems pretty random. They are only nominal charges so nothing that breaks the bank.
Aurora was looking as good as ever. It was very strange to see my sunlounger sitting there every morning as I headed for the Crows Nest with me having no use for it on this cruise. We used Andersons a lot, but it was missing the focal point of Geoff the Barman. Masquarades was used very little, but we expected that. We used Crows a lot but the smell of cigarettes was very noticeable. Port side by the windows is set aside for smoking but it did creep over unless you could get seats on the very far side away from it. Only other smoking areas were Pennant bar and Riviera port side, but of course nobody wanted to venture outside in the cold to light a cigarette. As you can tell Im not a smoker and don’t like the smell of cigarettes, but im sure the smokers would argue that there isn’t enough smoking areas for them. After the World cruise believe that the entire inside of the ship will become non smoking and smoking will only be allowed on certain allocated deck areas and on balconies?
The entire ship was fully decked out with Christmas decorations and you cant fail to be impressed by them. It is lovely to return from a cold day ashore to the welcoming sight of Aurora. The Gingerbread Village was set up towards the end of the cruise which drew the crowds.
Winter Wonderland is a fantastic itinerary. It was a great build up to Christmas and I feel like I have had two Christmas’s this year. The Christmas markets and lights were excellent. If you like Christmas you will love this itinerary.
So is Aurora still my number one favourite P&O ship? Well, if I could have my choice it would be Ventura that takes the number one spot. The fact that she is bigger giving me more choices of where to go and what to do, plus more dining options etc all make her a winner for me. The cabins are much better laid out and the fact that I can have internet access in a Ventura cabin is a huge plus to me and saves me trecking about with my laptop every time I want to check emails etc.
But, now P&O have thrown a big ‘but’ at me! I like traditional formal cruising. Which is why I love P&O. I like the semi formal nights as well as the formal nights. But P&O’s recent decision to withdraw semi formal nights from Ventura might change my mind about cruising on her again. I don’t know, the jury is still out on that one. Azura will be here soon and fingers crossed that she is sophisticated, elegant and more formal!
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