(21st June) Embarkation Day
We had three days to get ourselves sorted for our next adventure to the largest island in the world and not very accurately named Greenland. Besides catching up with the many domestic chores, we had to pass an antigen Lateral Flow Test and upload the result to gain access to the ship. Equally important on Saturday was to catch the Tigers v Saracens final at Twickenham, which I managed to do with several chums in the garden room. For the day to be completely successful I wanted a negative outcome for the LFT and a positive result for the Tigers and they were!
Sunday was Father’s Day. Charlotte and family kindly invited Sue and I over for lunch, which also helped us out with a very tight timetable to get ready to cruise. Jamie and Sarah weren’t able to join us; Jamie was on a track day at Brands Hatch and Sarah was with in-laws in Skegness.
On Tuesday we travelled to Tilbury Cruise Terminal, on the Thames just outside London. This was also the day the Rail Unions chose to strike for better pay and conditions. As no trains were in operation, we assumed that the roads would be extra busy and opted to leave home two hours earlier than necessary they were very quiet and we had plenty of time to kill (does everyone now work from home?). Tilbury Fort lies just a few hundred metres from the terminal, so we parked up there and took a leisurely walk along the riverside path which took us around the well preserved, but unfortunately closed stronghold. We had parked near the 17th-century World’s End pub so opted to spend a little more time having refreshments in this delightful and historic Inn. Inside, on a wall, there is an original copy of Samuel Pepy’s account of the Great Fire of London.
Parking the car in the Cruise terminal proved problematic, primarily due to the organising staff giving contradictory information. However, we made it through check-in and security in double quick time as all necessary details had been submitted online over the weekend. Many who cruise are quite elderly and are forced to follow the slow paper trail to the ship. We were among the first to the cabins and the first into a buffet lunch. Unpacked and with tummies full, we were now ready to cruise!
After a brief exploration of the ship, we found the buffet again to refresh ourselves with coffee and tea before returning to our cabin to relax before the heavy work of the evening meal taken in the Buckingham restaurant on deck 7. Rather than having the usual two sittings for the meal, it seems that you turn up between 6 and 8 pm and you are allocated a table with those who turn up at the same time. We arrived at 6.45 pm and were seated with two other couples who were pleasant enough company, indeed, afterwards we sat with one pair to play a trivia quiz in the Purple Lounge before sitting with them again in the Palladium Theatre where we met the entertainment team.
Our cabin is high on deck 11 and is the last one at the stern of the ship at the end of a very long corridor. It seems to be very convenient for most of the ship’s facilities and hopefully be very quiet and stable. The night will reveal all.
(22nd June) Sea Day
A calm sea, gentle vibrations, silence, and the complete darkness of an inside cabin ensured that we had the best sleep in nearly a month. No Malagasy dogs barking in the distance and no worries that we may oversleep and miss our crack of dawn breakfast or even worse, the coach to take us to the next destination.
Having cruised so many times now, we eased into the ship’s routine straight away. Meals, activities, lectures, and showtimes are now second nature, even locating venues has sunk into our mind maps very quickly, there has been no wasted energy in long corridor marches to nowhere, nor mad dashes to catch the start of quiz or musical recitation. This is a million miles away from the lives of those we witnessed (but not shared) just a week ago. Very different priorities, aspirations, and circumstances, it’s not a fair world we live in.
Unlike myself, Sue has a phenomenal memory for faces, she recognises people from the briefest of encounters from years ago, recalling the minutest of details about their interaction. From the moment we stepped on board she has pointed out previous fellow passengers to me, and so far not a meal time has passed without at least one fellow diner being enlightened as to when and where we have met them before.
Unusually for so early in the cruise, the evening meal was formal; a photograph with the captain and a cocktail party followed by a Gala Meal. For the second cruise in a row, I left my bow tie at home. It seems I am not the only one as the ship’s shop had earlier sold out and unlike on the previous occasion, I had the chance to purchase one in the first port of call (Rotterdam). I attended the function choosing to wear my black dress shirt and no one seemed to notice, not even the captain.
Since Covid, there have been changes to cruising. Though guests no longer wear masks, all the crew do. All meals are served to plate, even in the buffet restaurant, hand sanitisers are everywhere and there has been a sea-change in attitude as they are used by everyone, regularly. On the Ambience the evening meal times are open in all restaurants, this is not to our liking. We would prefer to eat in a 2nd sitting with the same people at a table for six or eight. It ensures that you get to know people well (good or bad) and you can develop a comfortable routine. Under this system, you certainly get to meet much more people, but it is difficult to get past introductory conversations before moving on with your planned day. No doubt we will get used to it, at least Sue will have lots more faces to remember for years to come.
The theme for this voyage is The Frozen Planet. There are six lecturers on board who will be presenting various aspects of this, centering on Iceland, Greenland, and the North Sea. Today we had lunch with an astronomer who will be talking about the skies we will be encountering during the Iceland to Greenland section of our journey. It is his first cruise and first lecture tour, unusually, he had his wife with him for support. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, so knows his stuff and should be interesting.