All the Way to Arcadia

Well, it might seem strange to be writing about cruising so soon after our last one, but it seemed to be a long time until our next cruise, so we decided to squeeze in a mini-cruise of three days on board the P&O ship Arcadia, a beautiful vessel on which we’ve cruised three times previously (2005, 2007 and 2013).

On this occasion, however, we decided to bring along my Auntie Iris.  We had been trying to persuade her to come with us for a couple of years now, but this 3-day voyage would be just enough to give her a taster of life on the ocean waves, to see if she liked it and, like us, caught the cruising bug for a future, longer cruise.  😊

We decided to drive down to Southampton as it was probably cheaper, when there was three of us, than taking the train.  We picked up my aunt at 8.00am to allow and arrival time at Southampton of around 2.00pm, when we hoped we’d be able to board more or less immediately.

The Wednesday morning traffic was busy, with many lorries thundering along the motorway.  The weather, however, was crisp but bright, and we hoped that it would remain so for the duration of the cruise.  Crossing the North Sea in November is a bit of a gamble; we’ve crossed over to Rotterdam before, in December, and the sea was like a mill pond; another time we did it in March and sailed straight into a Force 12 hurricane.  High waves and heavy seas never bother Trevor and me in the slightest, but we didn’t want the weather to put my Auntie Iris off cruising for life!

At around 11.00am we decided to stop at Watford Gap for a half-hour break (particularly for Trevor, who was driving) and a cuppa and something light to eat, as we’d been up since 6.30am.  We didn’t want to eat a lot as we could easily do far too much eating and drinking on the cruise ship – cruises are, after all, famous (or infamous) for their gastronomical delights.  😊

A previous look at the Marine Traffic app on my phone had told us that Arcadia was the only cruise ship in port today, so that meant that it wouldn’t be too crowded.  Therefore, the remainder of the run down to Southampton Docks was straightforward and not too heavy on traffic, and we arrived around 1.30pm, driving along the front to see if we could spot the Arcadia moored up.  We didn’t see her this time, so we went along to the place where we were to park for the next three days.

Instead of using a traditional car park, we had decided to take advantage of the trend that sees local residents in an area renting their drives or garages as parking space to visitors.  It’s a great idea; the homeowners are getting extra income from spaces that would not otherwise be used, and the visitors and getting cheap and secure parking.  Web sites such as MyParkingSpace and ParkAtMyHouse are the ones to go to if you want to look for cheap, longer term parking.  The three days would only cost us £15.00.

Once we arrived, the homeowner greeted us and parked our car in his spacious driveway.  For six quid, he agreed to give us a lift to the passenger terminal, and we arrived just before 2.00pm.  The Arcadia looked different; she had just come out of dry dock in Hamburg where she’d had a refit, and her livery had changed.  Instead of the white hull and yellow funnel, her white bow was decorated with the red, white and blue of the Union flag, and her funnel was dark blue.

It was exciting being back in the familiar cruise terminal.  We had time for a quick drink; Trevor enjoyed a well-deserved bottle of Spitfire after his six-hour drive, and I partook of a glass of chilled Prosecco, cold and sparkling and gorgeous, tasting all the more so because it was the prelude to a cruise.  Yay!  This is our 44th cruise but the excitement never dwindles; I am just like a kid on Christmas morning every time.

Once our drinks were finished, we joined the quick-moving queue to board, got our cruise cards and happily made our way through security and up to the sky walk to board the fabulous Arcadia.  She may have looked different on the outside, but inside she was just as familiar as ever, and it was great to be back again.  😊

We took the lift to Deck 8 where we had been allocated cabin A103, a spacious balcony cabin.  It had a queen size bed and a sitting area with a sofa and coffee table and a dressing table and chair.  The sofa would convert into a bed for my aunt to use, and there was a curtain that pulled across to allow for a modicum of privacy.

Despite the fact that it was November, a wintry sunshine streamed through the balcony doors, and we went outside where there were a couple of reclining chairs, a footstool and a small side table.  As there was no wind, it was pleasant to sit outside if you were wrapped up well.

Our suitcases had not yet arrived, and we had about 40 minutes until we had to attend lifeboat drill so, leaving my Auntie Iris to rest and take in her surroundings, Trevor and I decided to go to the Spinnaker Bar and kick-start our cruise with a nice glass of something; Trevor had a pint of John Smith’s and I had a chilled prosecco.  Looking around, it was hard to believe it was nearly five years (January 2013) since we had last sailed on Arcadia; it was just like coming home.  😊

After our drink we returned to cabin A103 and waited for the signal to collect our lifejackets and proceed to our muster station, which was the piano bar on deck 3.  We had to touch our cruise cards to a scanner so that they would know we’d attended, as it is compulsory.  This was obviously the more modern way than the usual roll call.  The safety briefing over, our time was now our own and we could enjoy our unexpected mini-cruise, which we’d only booked a fortnight ago!

We went out onto the promenade deck with Iris and had a slow walk round in the calm weather.  Three times round the deck is the equivalent of a mile, but we only took a gentle stroll to the other side before going back into the warmth of the Arcadia’s interior.

As we’d booked last minute and hadn’t yet been allocated a table for dinner, we went down to the Meridian Restaurant on deck 2 and joined a short queue to see if we could get a table on first sitting at 6.30pm; we were assigned table #45, a table for three.

We returned to cabin A103 and saw that the Arcadia had set sail and was slowly making her way down Southampton Water.  The Solent was flat calm and, as we were high up in the ship, we were unable to discern any vibration; in fact you’d hardly know you were on a ship.  Our luggage had arrived by now, so we unpacked everything and stashed the cases under the bed.  As the cruise was only three nights it didn’t take long.

We got ourselves washed and changed and ready for dinner; tonight the dress code was smart-casual so I wore a dark purple lace dress with a pair of nude-coloured high heel shoes.

We were ready around 6.00pm, so we all went down to the Spinnaker Bar which was just along from the restaurant and we enjoyed some pre-dinner cocktails.  I had a Marguerita while Iris enjoyed a Piña Colada and Trevor stuck to his usual pint.  Then, at 6.30pm, we made our way to table #45 and enjoyed the usual delicious four-course meal, washed down with wine and finished off with a nice glass of amaretto.  Iris remarked that she could see how it would be very easy to gain weight on a cruise!  😊

After our leisurely dinner we went along to the Palladium theatre and bagged ourselves some good seats down at the front.  Tonight’s show was called “Walk Like A Man” and was a tribute band to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  The show was really good, and the guys did the Four Seasons proud; they sang all their hits such as Oh What A Night, Sherry Baby, Grease Is The Word, Working My Way Back To You and, of course, Walk Like A Man.  It was an excellent performance and we all enjoyed it a lot.

Afterwards we made our way along to the Rising Sun pub for the Welcome Aboard quiz and to enjoy a few more drinks.  Iris was flagging a bit by now, so she said goodnight and Trevor went with her to make sure she could find her way back to A103, where Savio, our cabin steward, had made the sofa bed up to a comfortable-looking bed with crisp sheets and pillows.

Trevor then returned to the Rising Sun, where we remained until around midnight, listening to the music and just enjoying being back on the Arcadia.  Because this is just a “taster cruise” and a lot of first-timers were on board, we noticed that the average age of the passengers was much younger than the usual 50+ demographic; there were quite a few people in their 30s.

Then we went back to cabin A103 and settled down to sleep, while the Arcadia glided along on the flat-calm English Channel.  We had a day at sea to look forward to tomorrow.

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