Archive for February, 2016

Catamaran Capers

We were up bright and early again this morning; from our balcony we could see that the Adonia was just about to drop anchor off a series of small hilly islands; this was Mayreau, St. Vincent & Grenadines, another new port of call for us.

From our vantage point the sea looked very choppy, in fact below us we could see the pontoon from which the liberty boats would be launched; the boat was bouncing around, creaking and groaning, and it looked as if the passengers would have to be pretty sure footed to board!

After our breakfast we went along to the Curzon lounge to await the call to embark the tender which would take us to the pier. Today we were booked to take an idyllic ride on a catamaran to the Tobago Cays, where we could swim, sunbathe or snorkel (or all three). What a lovely way to spend a day – bliss. 🙂

We waited in the lounge where there was a safety film running on a loop, on the correct way to board a tender boat. As if we haven’t done it before, loads of times. It got annoying after a while, hearing the same spiel over and over again. We were pleased when our group, Gold 1, was called to disembark.

The queue for the liberty boat was long, and stretched back and up the stairs. A crew member apologetically explained that it was taking longer than usual to get everyone on board, due to the two-metre swell which was causing the boat to rise and fall steeply. They called us forward in groups of five, and slowly the queue reduced until it was our turn.

What an experience! We could hear the grinding, screeching, creaking noises that the liberty boat made as it bashed against the rubber buffers of the pontoon, and was tossed around like a cork. We had to stand at the edge of the pontoon, one at a time, with a crew member holding on to us either side, and another couple of guys in the boat. When the threshold of the boat was momentarily level with the pontoon, the crew member would shout “Now!” and you had to step across immediately. Once we were inside the boat, we were bounced around in our seats as we watched other people trying to board; it was quite entertaining but the crew guys were spot on with getting us all safely onto the boat.

The ropes were then loosened, the engines revved up, and we were away! It only took about 10 minutes and I thought we’d have to go through the same charade at the other end, but disembarking was relatively easy after that.

We then had a short walk along to the pier, where a large white catamaran, the Sun Spirit awaited us. I was so looking forward to this; this is what holidaying in the Caribbean is all about. 🙂

We all got aboard the catamaran, and she set off through the azure waters. Trevor and I were seated near the front, facing the direction of travel, and it was just so relaxing and blissful sailing along, with the wind in our hair and the warm sun shining down, sparkling and glittering on the sea.

In front of us, cargo nets were stretched across between the catamaran’s twin hulls; the captain, Bruno, said we could sit or lie on the nets as long as we took our shoes off before doing so.

We sat for a while and watched them hoisting the sail; then the captain switched off the engine and let the Sun Spirit sail along under wind power alone. It was gorgeous – this is certainly the life! I decided to see what it was like on the netting, and crawling over the mesh, I lay face down, looking into the sea. It was quite hypnotic watching the water flashing past beneath me, as the catamaran skimmed over the waves.

After about 45 minutes, we reached a lovely sandy beach, and the Sun Spirit dropped anchor while another guy lowered a ladder into about three feet of water. We climbed down into the warm sea and onto the beach, then took off our clothes as we were wearing our cossies underneath.

Then it was down to the sea and the lovely warm Caribbean water. We wanted to go swimming, but the seabed was pretty stony here, and you really needed water shoes, which we didn’t have. So it was quite uncomfortable wading out until it was deep enough to swim, and there was quite a lot of seaweed getting tangled around our legs.

After a short swim (the current was quite strong, and swept me along diagonally) I waded back to shore and, placing my towel on the sand, happily sat down. 🙂

We watched the other small boats and catamarans gliding in and out of the bay, as well as some of our fellow passengers who had come better equipped than we had, with water shoes and their own snorkelling masks and tubes. We couldn’t help but compare this with what we would normally have been doing on a Monday morning – being at work, the weather cold and damp outside. Instead, here we were on a tropical island without a care in the world. 🙂

After about an hour, we all went back to the Sun Spirit and, once everyone was aboard, the ladder and anchor were raised, the sails hoisted, and we were off again. Bruno then asked “who wants some rum punch?” and everyone replied “ME!” He said the ‘bar’ was open and it was happy hour. I was the first in the queue! 😉

I got Trevor and myself a plastic beaker of iced rum punch, and we sat and enjoyed it as the Sun Spirit glided along in the turquoise depths. Bruno put on some reggae music (Bob Marley) and the scene was set.

It was perfect just sailing along merrily as the catamaran tacked her way across the bay. We enjoyed several more beakers of rum punch (seven each!!) as we headed back towards the Adonia, anchored in the near distance.

As the Sun Spirit leisurely skimmed the sea, a sudden very large wave took us all by surprise. It rose up out of nowhere and crashed over the deck, cascading over those people reclining on the cargo nets and completely soaking them. A couple of inches of water sloshed around on the deck while everybody rushed to rescue their rucksacks, shoes and other belongings, everyone laughing uproariously. 🙂

All too soon we arrived back at the pier and disembarked, making our way back to where the liberty boat would come in. We’d just missed one, but we didn’t have too long to wait until the next. By now, the sea had calmed down somewhat, so embarking the boat was not the challenge it had been at the start.

Back on board the Adonia, we went up to the pool deck for some lunch. Very few other people were about, so we got served very quickly and enjoyed some scampi and chips, washed down with a cold pint of John Smith’s each.
Afterwards it was back to cabin A006 for a rum punch-induced afternoon nap. 🙂

When we awoke we didn’t really do much; just pottered around a bit, sat out on the balcony, then got washed and ready for dinner. We decided not to go to the Pacific restaurant tonight as they were holding an Asian buffet in the Conservatory, so we went to that instead, enjoying some tasty Thai and Indian dishes.

We then enjoyed a drink in Anderson’s bar before making our way to the Curzon theatre to see tonight’s show by the Adonia Singers and Dancers, called From West End to West Side.

The show was OK I suppose, although the well-worn musical theatre medleys didn’t really do much for me; I think Guys and Dolls and West Side Story have been done to death on these cruises, and it gets a bit boring. It passed a pleasant 45 minutes though.

Then we went up to the Crow’s Nest to listen to the band, “Quintessence” until it was time to go along to the syndicate quiz. John and Linda were both there this time, so we were able to share our winnings and put in a concerted effort to the quiz. We didn’t come last tonight, but we didn’t win either. Nevertheless it was good fun.

Afterwards we returned to the Crow’s Nest, because tonight was karaoke night! I put my name down and did a few numbers, including Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U and Dido’s White Flag. One or two other passengers got up, as well as some of the entertainment team. As midnight came and went, people left one by one to go to bed, until Trevor and I were the only passengers left in the Crow’s Nest apart from the entertainers and bar staff. Ruth, one of the entertainment team, kept asking me to get up and sing.

It was after 01:00am before we returned to our cabin, but we had a sea day to look forward to tomorrow, so a nice lie-in in the morning then. 🙂

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Sightseeing in Scarborough

We woke up early again this morning, and eagerly went onto the balcony to have a look around, as we were shortly due to dock in the seaside town of Scarborough. But this wasn’t Scarborough, Yorkshire – this was Scarborough, capital town of the island of Tobago. 🙂

This was our first time to this port, although we have already been to the sister island Trinidad, on the Arcadia in 2007. Tobago is the most southerly of the Caribbean islands and is a small island of lush rainforests, hills, waterfalls, small bays and beaches as well as charming little villages. We looked forward to exploring.

We enjoyed an al fresco breakfast before going to the Curzon lounge to await the call to disembark for today’s excursion. We were doing the Tobago Highlights and Folklore half-day tour, and I made sure to cover myself liberally in factor 30 suntan lotion, as the tropical sun was already very hot.

We disembarked the Adonia and walked towards the line of waiting coaches. Our guide was a very friendly, smiley young lady called Priscilla; she was only about 18 or 19 and explained that she was working as a guide during the tourist season before resuming her studies. You could tell that she hadn’t been doing the job long because at times she was unsure of what to say, or said the wrong thing, but these mistakes were met with a hearty laugh, showing all her very white teeth. At one stage she sang us Tobago’s national anthem, God Bless Our Nation, to which she received a resounding round of applause from all of us. 🙂

We visited various places on the island, including Pigeon Point, Plymouth, the Tobago museum and Fort George, which gave us superb views through the palm trees and bougainvillea flowers across the bay, where we could see the Adonia in the distance below us, her white paintwork gleaming in the sun. Fort George was built in the late 1770s by the British, and was occupied at times by the French. We could see the former barracks and chapel, as well as the officers’ mess and cannons overlooking the harbour.

We finished the trip off with a visit to the cultural centre, where we were treated to a plastic beaker of rum punch and an hour-long folkloric show of singing and dancing, accompanied by three drummers enthusiastically beating out a catchy rhythm on their bongo drums. I found my feet tapping more than once, and all around me I could see others doing the same. The ladies’ costumes were bright and colourful and easily influenced by African culture and tradition.

Then it was back onto the Adonia in time for lunch, before disembarking once again to walk into the town on our own to get some postcards.

Being Sunday, a lot of the shops were closed, but nevertheless we got half a dozen postcards and stamps in a little souvenir shop, then off we went to find a bar to have a beer and sit and write the cards out.  🙂

We walked along the road, the sun hot on our backs, and found a local bar which had tables and chairs set outside, under a canopy. The happy sounds of soca music issued forth from a massive speaker outside the bar.

We enjoyed an ice-cold bottle of Carib beer each as I sat and wrote out the cards and just generally watched the world go by. The bar, however, didn’t have wi-fi so we thought we’d go and try to find another bar that did; in any case, Trevor had paid for the beers with US dollars, but received his change in Trinidad & Tobago dollars, so another couple of beers was a good way to get rid of them!  😉

We found a nearby bar that looked a friendly and lively place and was doing a roaring trade with the locals. In we went, and got another couple of Carib beers that were ice cold, as they were straight out of the freezer. We sat at a table enjoying our beers and soaking up the atmosphere, and Trevor got talking to a guy who introduced himself as Gerry and said he was a motor mechanic at a local garage; he insisted on giving Trevor a pen advertising “Malik’s Automotive Repairs” and said he hoped we’d look him up “next time” we were in Tobago.  🙂

After our beers we decided to walk back and find a post-box, as it was now nearing 4:30pm and we had to be back on the ship by half-five at the latest. As we walked throug the terminal building we asked one of the tourism guys where we could find a post box, but before he had a chance to direct us, the lady from whom we’d bought the cards and stamps came out of her shop and said she would post them for us.

Back on board we got showered and dressed and sorted out, ready for the sailaway party. As repeat passengers on P&O we’d received a voucher for a free glass of champagne, so we went up to the pool bar, perched on a bar stool and enjoyed our free glass of fizz, whilst listening to the Amethyst Duo trying to sing. The sun was shining and a little playful breeze caressed our skin as the Adonia slipped her moorings and put to sea once more, around 6:00pm.

After our champagne we made our way to the Pacific restaurant and table #8. Bob and Thelma were there, and this time we were joined by another couple – the aviation speaker Colin and his wife Christine. We all regaled each other with tales of what we’d done today, and dinner passed in its usual pleasant way.

When we went along to the Curzon lounge we managed to get front-row seats. Tonight’s show featured a classical crossover Welsh singer called Gwawr Edwards. She was a soprano with a lovely voice, and she did some classical numbers such as O mio babbino caro as well as more contemporary songs. We enjoyed her show a lot.

Then it was up to the Conservatory for the syndicate quiz. We brought the bottle of wine we’d won last night to share with John and Linda, but when we got there, John was waiting to tell us that Linda was unwell so unfortunately they wouldn’t be joining us tonight. Our team was two down!

We didn’t do so well this time, coming last. 😦

We then returned to our cabin and settled down for the night, at the relatively early time of 23:15 hours.

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Streaks of Silver

We were awake just after 6:00am, as we were still on British time. I went out onto the balcony, where the air was already pleasantly warm, and watched the Adonia gliding along sedately in the turquoise water; she was not going very fast, maybe only nine or 10 knots.

At around seven o’clock we gathered together our swimming things and went up on deck, where only a few people were around. The crickets were still chirping away, competing with the hypnotic sounds of the waves washing against the Adonia‘s side. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it looked as though the day would be a scorcher.

We enjoyed a swim of half an hour or so as we watched the rays of the sun burst over the ship’s funnel. Then, getting showered and dried off a little, we returned to cabin A006 and got dressed, before making our way to the Conservatory for our breakfast.

Back in our cabin, we sat out on the balcony for a while, gazing out at the sparkling azure Caribbean, searching for flying fish, which we always see when we are in the Tropics. A flash of movement on the sea’s surface caught our eye; sure enough, here and there we spotted streaks of silver as the fish skimmed the surface, the sun flashing off their scales. Sometimes we’d see large shoals, with the fish taking off in all directions; other times we’d just see a lone fish gliding along on its own.

We went up to the pool deck and sat in the shade for a while, and I spent some time doing my kumihimo braiding. I like to keep my hands busy and the repetitive nature of kumihimo is relaxing and doesn’t take much concentration.

At 10:15 we went along to the Curzon lounge where a bloke called Colin Hobbs was giving a presentation/talk about the early days of aviation, particularly the first successful transatlantic flights achieved by Allcock and Brown. It was all very interesting.

We then decided to go back up to the pool deck and sit in the sun with a nice cold beer. Although it was only 11 o’clock it was already very hot, and the sea breeze could lull you into a false sense of security. We enjoyed a pint of John Smith’s each, whiled away the time and listened to the noon navigational information from the bridge, where we were informed it was 29ºC. At this point we decided go and get some lunch, and seek refuge in the shade; “mad dogs and Englishmen” and all that. 🙂

We enjoyed a light lunch sitting out on the rear decks, before wandering around for a bit. We could see several frigate birds circling around; they too were taking an interest in the flying fish, and every now and again one of them would go into a steep dive and try to catch the fish as they jumped out of the water. We didn’t see the birds catch any, though.

We then returned to our cabin for a post-luncheon nap, as we were still quite jet-lagged from yesterday. Then, at 2:00pm, we went up to the Crow’s Nest to take part in the “Battle of the Sexes” quiz. This is good fun; men and ladies were split into two teams, and each team took it in turns to answer questions. You got 10 points for a correct answer, but if you got it wrong or didn’t know the answer, it was passed to the other team who could get five points for the ‘steal’. Each team answered 10 questions, and it was pot luck as to whether you got a hard or easy question. As usual, several times someone in the team would come up with the correct answer, then allow themselves to be talked out of it by other team members. The ladies were losing after the first round of general knowledge, but the next round was the music round, and that’s where we came into our own, as 70s and 80s music tends to be my forte in quizzes. So the ladies won the quiz overall. 🙂

The points for both teams would be carried over until the next sea day, when the battle would continue.

Back in our cabin I took my Kindle and went and sat out on the balcony for a while, before starting to get ready for the evening, as tonight was the Captain’s Cocktail Party and was a formal evening. I took my time getting ready, and wore a long black velvet dress with a necklace I’d made containing several Swarovski crystals and beads. Trevor looked very smart in his dinner suit with a winged-collar shirt and black bow tie and cummerbund.

We made our way up to the Curzon lounge and were photographed with Captain Sarah Breton before taking our seats, whereupon a tray-bearing waiter appeared and offered us a glass of Prosecco each. Then the Captain introduced her senior officers and gave a little speech which included the weather forecast for the next few days; hot and hotter. 🙂

We enjoyed a second glass of fizz before making our way to the restaurant to our allocated table, #8. There was only one other couple there, Bob and Thelma and we enjoyed their company whilst partaking of a delicious meal, washed down with rosé wine and finished off with coffee and amaretto.

Then it was along to the Curzon lounge once again for tonight’s entertainment; a cellist called Andrew Scrimshire. He was very good indeed and we enjoyed his performance a lot. In between his musical numbers he made us laugh with his subtle, dry humour. An excellent show.

We finished the evening, and indeed a very pleasant day, by going along to the Conservatory for the syndicate quiz. We were joined by another couple who introduced themselves as John and Linda. Our team was a good mix because we all had different ‘special subjects’ and this paid off, as we won! We received a bottle of white wine as our prize and, as it was now getting late, we said we’d keep it until tomorrow night and share it then.

So ended our first full day at sea, and we slept well back in cabin A006.

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Bridgetown Revisited

Last night I didn’t bother going to bed at all. We had to be up at 3.00am this morning and, given our usual bed-time of around midnight, I decided I’d no sooner be in bed asleep when it would be time to get up again. So I didn’t have to get up and get ready, because I was already up and already ready!

The reason for our early start was because we had to drive down to Manchester Airport in time for our 09:35 flight to Bridgetown, Barbados. Yes! Once again it was holiday time, and we would be joining M/S Adonia to start our fortnight-long Caribbean cruise. 🙂

We have been on the Adonia before; in May 2013 when we did a cruise around the British Isles. She is the baby of the P&O fleet, at just over 30,000 tons and 900+ passengers. We liked the balcony cabin we were in last time, B117 starboard side aft, so we’d booked it again and looked forward to being back.

Of course, we have also been to Bridgetown several times before. It is probably the most popular starting port for Caribbean Cruises and its tropical familiarity always brings a happy sense of anticipation of a fantastic, idyllic holiday. We would be leaving behind the cold, wet, frosty, dark British climate to jet off into blue skies, sunshine and temperatures into the high 20s (Celsius). We couldn’t wait! 🙂

We negotiated the run down to Manchester Airport in good time, and parked in the adjacent Jet Parks car park, before awaiting the shuttle bus to transport us to Terminal 1. We didn’t have to wait too long which was just as well; I’d already dressed in anticipation of a tropical climate and the frigid, early-morning February air was nipping at my exposed toes, clad in flip-flops.

Once inside, the queue to check in moved pretty quickly and, having rid ourselves of our cases, we eagerly made our way to the executive lounge to enjoy a few drinks and wait the 90 minutes or so until we’d be called to board. 🙂

Our Thomas Cook aeroplane was quite a modern A330 Airbus, and we were pleased to see that the seats were of the type that cannot be reclined. Yippee! This meant we wouldn’t get some inconsiderate person pushing their seat right back into our laps, something we’ve experienced far too often in the past.

The aircraft had quite a lot of empty seats around, including the one next to me, so I was able to spread myself over two seats and snatch the occasional nap to make up for missing my sleep last night.

We passed the time in the usual way, and eventually the captain put on the “fasten seat belts” sign for our final approach into Grantley Adams Airport, Bridgetown. It was brilliant to be back. 🙂

We disembarked the aircraft into a blast of tropical heat; we had already been told that the temperature was 29ºC. About 30 degrees warmer than what we’d left behind in Blighty.

We made our way to the waiting shuttle buses; our cases would be delivered directly to our cabin later. It was about a 40 minute ride to the cruise terminal, and as the bus rattled its way along familiar routes of lush greenery, palm trees and here and there a glimpse of the sparkling Caribbean sea, the driver put on some Bob Marley music and I had to resist the urge to join in and sing along at the top of my voice. 🙂

Eventually we arrived at the cruise port. We could see most of the space dominated by the behemoth P&O ship Azura, an ugly-looking floating apartment block. We also spotted Fred Olsen’s Braemar, a lovely little ship we’ve had the pleasure of cruising on twice before, and are already booked for another Caribbean cruise on her next year, March 2017! 🙂 Braemar looked as if she’d been given a makeover; instead of an all-white hull, she now had the lower part of the hull painted grey, followed by a red stripe with white above it.

When we arrived at the check-in the queue moved pretty quickly and we were given our cruise cards; it was at this point we were advised we were in cabin A006 and not B117 as expected. We’d been given a free upgrade! However, the cabin is more or less identical, apart from being a deck higher and being on the port side for’ard.

It was lovely to be back on Adonia again; she hasn’t changed at all in the three years since we last cruised on her, so it felt almost like visiting the home of a friend, such was the familiarity. After dumping our hand-luggage in cabin A006 our first quest was to spend some time sitting up at the pool deck, enjoying the tropical sunshine with an ice cold drink. I enjoyed a refreshing mojito while Trevor had a pint of John Smith’s. Britain and work and the daily grind seemed another world away, as we sipped our drinks with the sun burning down, and our hair gently ruffled by a cooling sea breeze. Ah… this is the life. 🙂

Afterwards we returned to our cabin and decided to try to snatch some sleep, as we were slightly jet-lagged and tired after our early start. We only emerged when it was time to go to lifeboat drill.

We have a female captain on this ship! In all the cruises we’ve done (this is our 38th) this is a first – we’ve never had a female captain before. Her name is Captain Sarah Breton and she looks fairly young, so she’s done very well. Girl Power!! :-

Once lifeboat drill was over, we returned our life-jackets to our cabin and went up to the Conservatory buffet for something to eat; I enjoyed some cold meats and salad, some cheeses and a portion of kiwi Pavlova, washed down with good strong coffee. While we were enjoying our meal we watched the Braemar slip her moorings, turn around, and glide past us on whichever exciting voyage she was beginning.

Our appetites appeased, we went back to cabin A006 to find our suitcases had arrived, so we spent the next half-hour or so hanging all our clothes neatly in the wardrobe and drawers. That was the chores over and the holiday could now being in earnest! 🙂

Back up at the Crystal Pool bar we enjoyed another couple of drinks whilst listening to the mediocre musical entertainers, the “Amethyst Duo”. It was supposed to be the “sailaway party” but “party” was hardly the word for it; there were only a few small groups of people dotted here and there around the pool; I think most people must have been tired and gone back to their cabins early.

Around 20:30 hours, just as the Amethyst Duo started murdering a Dire Straits number (Romeo and Juliet) the Adonia gave three blasts on her foghorn which signalled the start of the voyage. Shortly afterwards, we felt increased vibrations from the engines underfoot, and the lights of the port of Bridgetown started to recede. We were on our way! 🙂

We enjoyed another drink sitting in the balmy evening air, and listening to some crickets chirruping; they sounded more in tune than the singers! Adonia‘s previous cruise had been down to the Amazon, so the crickets had probably hitched a lift on the ship, and their exotic sound reminded us that we were well into tropical latitudes.

After our second drink tiredness was now starting to catch up with us, so we made our way back to cabin A006 around 10 o’clock, and settled down for the night, after first opening our balcony door to let in the fresh ocean air, and the soporific sounds of the sea.

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