Hidden Gems of the British Isles

In all our years of cruising, many thousands of nautical miles right across the globe, we’ve tended to neglect our own green and pleasant land with all its history, heritage and rugged beauty. So it was at 4.00am this morning that woke up and got ourselves ready for the long journey from Durham to Southampton, where we were due to join P & O’s Adonia for a cruise around the British Isles.

We joined the luxury coach at Washington services on the A1(M) and set off at 5.30am. There are several ways you can get to Southampton from Durham; on the train, the coach or driving, each of which take about six hours, or by flying from Newcastle, which takes about 1.5 hours but you have the hassle of going to the airport, checking baggage in etc.

In any case our shuttle coach with Eavesway Travel was included in the cruise package, and the beauty is that once the cases are loaded on to the coach, you don’t see them again until they are delivered to your cabin, so it’s a really convenient way of doing it if you don’t want to lug your bags about.

The time passed surprisingly quickly and, at 9.00am, (it felt more like lunchtime when we’d been up since 4.00!!) we cracked open a bottle of rosé wine we’d sneaked onto the bus and enjoyed a couple of glasses each before the coach took its second comfort stop in Warwick.

At 1.00pm we pulled up outside the departure terminal at Southampton docks. We alighted from the bus and were pleased to see that the lengthy queues we’d experienced here in January were absent, and we were able to approach the check-in desk immediately, thinking we’d be on the ship within a few minutes.

No such luck, however. It seemed there was a problem with our cruise cards; they’d apparently got stuck in the machine. We were asked to take a seat nearby while they sorted us out with some new cards. It took about 15 minutes by which time we were champing at the bit, dying to get on board Adonia and start our holiday. 🙂

Eventually we boarded but couldn’t go to our cabin as it wouldn’t be ready until 2.00pm. No problem; we headed for the Lido self-service buffet on Deck 9, got something light to eat, and took it outside onto the rear decks, where the sun was valiantly attempting to break through the clouds. One thing about holidaying in Britain is that you can never predict the weather; it doesn’t matter what time of year – spring, summer or autumn – you can never guarantee any sunshine, and in fact so far in 2013 we have had unseasonably cold weather, still getting hard frost and snow on high ground even in the middle of May!

Last May (2012) we took a five-day mini cruise around the Scottish islands and the weather would have rivalled that on the Mediterranean; cloudless skies, sunshine and temperatures well into the 20’s (Celsius). Today, however, there were cloudy grey skies and a tiny threat of moisture in the air, as well as a brisk breeze. When packing our cases to come away, it seemed strange packing my coat, cagoule and umbrella instead of my shorts and flip-flops.

So we found ourselves hoping that if it wasn’t going to be sunny, at least let it be dry, and it’s quite depressing to be looking out at the rain pouring down, and we’d done too much of that this year already. 😦

We enjoyed a drink with our lunch and then made our way to cabin B117, a balcony stateroom on Deck 7 aft. It was very nicely decorated and spacious, with twin beds pushed together, a settee, coffee table, dressing table and chair, fridge and tea and coffee making facilities. The bathroom was a bit on the small side, but would serve its purpose.

Athough we’ve never been on the Adonia before, she felt very familiar to us. She was one of seven identical small ships built at Fincantieri yard in Italy, and we have already been on one of her sister ships, the Azamara Journey, when we cruised around the French riviera in 2011. At 30,300 tons Adonia is the smallest in the P & O fleet, holding 712 passengers. As this cruise doesn’t involve any flying and is staying in British waters, we predicted that the majority of passengers would be in their “later years” and indeed, so far, I seemed to be the youngest person taking this voyage!

After dumping our bags we decided to go up to the Crow’s Nest for one more drink before lifeboat drill at 3.30pm. I enjoyed a marguerita and Trevor had his “Newky Broon” (Newcastle Brown Ale) then it was back to the cabin to get our life jackets and proceed to our muster station. We were amused to see that the master of the Adonia is called Captain Cook (although his first name is Ashley rather than James). 🙂

After lifeboat drill we had an afternoon nap as the early morning start was starting to catch up with us. Then it was time to get a wash and brush up before making our way to the Pacific restaurant and table #43, where we were looking forward to meeting our table companions for the voyage.

We are sharing our table with two other couples: Charlie and Linda from Chelmsford in Essex and Ray and Lorraine from Weymouth, so neither of them had as far to travel to join the Adonia as we did, and they winced when we told them we’d been up since 4.00am.

It is always during the first dinner that you wonder about several things; what would the food and the service be like, and will you get on with the people with whom you are sharing a table, but this time we need not worry on any counts, because everything was excellent, including the company.

In fact, Charlie and Linda joined us after the meal in the Curzon lounge, where the cruise director was introducing the ship’s band and welcoming us to the first performer, a singer called Lorraine Brown. She was actually very good, but you could tell by her mannerisms she was modelling herself on Shirley Bassey (or trying to). Nonetheless we enjoyed her performance before we decided to end the evening by going to the Crow’s Nest for tonight’s quiz.

The quiz questions fell into three categories; general knowledge, picture round and music from the 70’s and 80’s. We only came up with an average score in the first couple of rounds, but we really came into our own on the music category, as 70’s and 80’s is my era and we only dropped half a point in that round. So we ended up winning the quiz – a good start to the cruise. 🙂

Our prize was a bottle of rosé wine and we decided we’d meet after lunchtime tomorrow to enjoy it.

We then enjoyed a nightcap after a very long day, then it was back to cabin B117 for our first night on board the Adonia.

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