Mike and I boarded ship in Southampton on January 4th. An extremely cold, wet and very blustery day. Our departure marked the start of a World Cruise but we were undertaking the first leg from Southampton to San Francisco, a duration of 22 nights. 700 of our fellow passengers were doing the whole lot and so we were asked at regular intervals if we were “Going round?” Not a reference to expanding waistlines but if we were staying on to complete the 109 nights. I was at my limit of cruisability at the end of the three weeks and so it was good to understand that a world cruise would never be for me. When we set off we were warned that the weather would be bad crossing the Bay of Biscay. In the fullness of time we learnt that this storm was a Gale Force 11 and the first time our captain had ever been in charge during a storm of such magnitude. As he was Italian I was pleased he didn't jump ship to seek solace from his Mum. I'm sure he gets loads of stick at dinner parties.
For me the highlight of the cruise was always going to be the transit of the Panama Canal. After all, that was my whole raison d'être for making the journey. I was not disappointed. In fact, I marvelled at every aspect of the day, which was over far too quickly. This isn't the place for facts and figures concerning the Panama Canal, but needless to say, with technology that was advanced in the 1800's it was so impressive in every conceivable way. Over 1 million ships have passed through since its completion in 1914 and the current rate is 14 000 a year. It's quite an operation. There was less than a foot to spare each side of the ship as we were guided by powerful locomotive engines. Strong and helpful, they could have been the wise elders to Thomas the Tank Engine. I also attributed friendliness as one of their personal qualities because they communicated with each other using bells. There were four in total, one at each 'corner' of the ship. The lady that did the presentations for the onshore excursions told us that P & O pay US$350,000 to go through. As I write about this it just seems too expensive and when I quoted the figure to other passengers they didn't believe me either but I'm 99.9% sure that's what she said.
The cost guarantees the passage of the ship at the appointed time during daylight with no delays. We started the first lock at around 7:15 AM and finished at approximately 5 PM, so certainly a long day.
After about two weeks on board, the ship took on quite an institutionalised aspect, particularly in the laundry. Hot as hell with tempers rising to match the temperatures inside the room. Such competitiveness to use the machines and dryers, people seemed to forget that they were meant to be on holiday. It was all out war in there. On one occasion I was standing at the stainless steel table folding our clean laundry. Mike turned up to give me a hand and stood next to me at the table. He was folding some clothes when an obnoxious woman opposite me moved the pile along the table. As she did so she instructed,
“Excuse me! This man is trying to fold his laundry!”
My instant retort,
“Excuse me! This man is my husband and he is helping me with our laundry!”
Need I say more?
A cruise ship is basically a large floating hotel. All the amenities on board, including shops, restaurants, spa and gym. Entertainment is provided day and night with cinema, theatre shows and other performances and activities. There is a strong emphasis on food but you don't have to do the formal dining if you don't want to. Mike and I enjoy getting dressed up in our finery for dinner and find it all adds to the experience.
Cruising provides an opportunity to meet new people and make friends. Of course a bunch of people that you don't agree with or like could prove a problem for 22 nights. Fortunately, we had a marvellous table, sharing experiences and anecdotes, the next bout of laughter never far off.
The comedian, Roy Walker was on board for a few nights and Mike got on very well with him. So well in fact that he even consulted him on the appropriateness of joke. Yes, you read that correctly. Mike was asked by the comedian, Roy Walker on the appropriateness of a joke. I know this sounds as implausible as US$350,000 fee to go through the Panama Canal.
Another stop off I looked forward to was in Nicaragua, a country I have never visited before. It has a history of revolution, communism and appalling bad luck with the weather including hurricanes and earthquakes. Our stop off was in the charming fishing village of San Juan Del Sur, a haven for backpackers. I hope to return one day, not as an overstuffed cruise passenger but as an independent traveller looking for R and R in one of the hostels. The locals were friendly and welcoming. As a family survives on $3.00 USD a day they certainly can do with revenues of tourist trade.
The final highlight was entering the San Francisco bay underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It made a grand arrival into the USA and we couldn't believe our luck when we were greeted by a really warm spring day, T shirt weather. There was also a yacht race in the bay and swimming competition. I expect this was a bit of a headache for the captain to negotiate but the view for us was stunning. I have taken hundreds of photographs and some of them will be on the January 2014 photo gallery page,
Thanks for reading and all the best, Ali and Mike