New Year’s Eve at Sea

Another long, leisurely sea day today as the Boudicca just glided along placidly in the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean; it was great to wake up this morning on the last day of 2018, and look forward to just doing what we wanted, when we wanted.  😊

What we wanted to do first, in fact, was greet the day with another Buck’s Fizz breakfast, as tonight was obviously formal night once again.  We enjoyed a couple of glasses of the free fizz in the Tintagel restaurant, before going out on deck and wandering around in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh sea air and just marvelling at he vastness of the sky and the ocean.  We never tire of this; the pleasure never fades.  😊

At 11 o’clock we attended a talk called “Discovering the Plants and Flowers of the Seychelles”, given by botanist Tracy Foster.  It was a fascinating talk and we learned all about the plants that were native to the Seychelles, including the famous coco de mer, the female tree of which produces a large, heavy fruit reminiscent in appearance to a female human’s thighs and lower belly.  Coincidentally, the male tree produces a long, phallic-looking catkin to accompany the coco de mer – they’ll probably be the most suggestive fruits you’ll ever see.  😊

After the talk we strolled around the deck a little more, and listened to the captain’s noon navigational information.  At the end of his announcement he made a little quote: “We never grow up, we just learn how to behave in public”.

We then decided to eat lunch up on deck by the pool, along with a refreshing glass of cold cider.  We were joined by another lady, a solo traveller who was a first-time Fred passenger, although she was a regular cruiser on other lines.

In fact, one of the things that is a constant conversational theme on cruises is the element of “one-upmanship” that is prevalent among the passengers (and Trevor and I are as guilty as anyone!); it’s a case of who’s been on the most cruises, who’s been to the most countries, who’s in the better cabin grade and who has the higher Oceans Club level. Conversations are peppered with destinations visited, sights seen and famous persons met.  It’s all good fun, however, and you can often get good recommendations or hear interesting stories to bear in mind for future trips.

The time passed in its usual pleasantly relaxing way, then at 1.45pm we went along to the Neptune Lounge to participate in the dance class, as today the dance instructors were covering the rumba and the cha cha cha, which Trevor and I have been learning at home.  We really enjoyed the lesson and danced to some good music. No doubt we’d be putting it into practice later on.

As it was warm in the Neptune Lounge and we’d worked up a thirst dancing, we decided to go along to the Lido Lounge and have a drink.  While we were in there, we listened to the passenger choir practising some songs for the concert they’d be putting on later in the cruise.  Ruth, from table #31, is in the choir.  Trevor enjoyed a “Newky Broon” while I had a very moreish Sangria cocktail.  😊

We then returned to our stateroom (suite!!) and had a 30-minute power-nap, as we knew we’d be up late tonight and there was still a lot of the day to come.  Afterwards, I got showered and put on my makeup and did my hair, in readiness for the New Year Cocktail Party which was on in the Neptune Lounge at half-five for early dinner (i.e. first-sitting) passengers.

As tonight’s formal evening was “hint of tartan”, Trevor wore a Black Watch tartan dickie-bow and cummerbund with his dinner suit. I didn’t have anything tartan, but I dressed in a long black and copper satin, velvet and lace Gothic dress which I wore with long black evening gloves and a black lace choker.  As expected, my sartorial tastes attracted a lot of comments from other passengers and staff, particularly a very pleasant couple, Ken and Lynn, who we’d got talking to on the first formal evening and who asked us to join them.

We enjoyed three or so glasses of the (free!) fizz and listened to the excellent Boudicca Orchestra playing, before the music and conversation were interrupted by a blast of bagpipes blaring out Scotland the Brave.  Along came Allan Tait, the cruise director, fully kilted up and accompanied by the chef, in his whites and tall hat, and a couple of the dancers, also dressed in tartan.  The chef bore a large platter on which rested a haggis, and Alan tried to put on his best Scottish accent and read out Robert Burns’ Ode to the Haggis.  Then Alan stabbed a long knife into the haggis and everyone cheered, as the procession left the stage and dinner was announced.

Inside the Tintagel Restaurant, everyone’s place setting contained a party hat and a blower and the captain’s little quote of the day came to mind, with everyone donning their hats and a cacophony of tooting, squeaking and blaring filling the air.  It was a happy party atmosphere, made even more so when the maître d’ approached our table with a bottle of chilled cava to apologise for forgetting to bring our “anniversary” cake yesterday.  We shared it around the six of us and everyone clinked glasses.  😊

The meal, unsurprisingly, was Scottish Hogmanay themed, and indeed any Scottish people (including Ruth and Mike on our table) had come attired in their best formal jackets and kilts.  We started off with haggis, tatties and neeps accompanied by a “wee dram”, then I enjoyed fresh salad, followed by steak accompanied by rosé wine.  When it came to the dessert stage, we waited to see what would happen.  Sure enough, we heard the sound of approaching tambourines and a guitar, and the waiters all gathered round and sang Congratulations, to an accompaniment of squeaks and hoots from people’s blowers. 😊

Then we were presented with a cake with the words “Happy Anniversary” on it in chocolate, and it was shared out around the table.  John very generously paid for everyone to have an after-dinner liqueur, so I enjoyed my usual amaretto.  What a lovely meal it had been, such good fun and a lovely atmosphere, and the evening was far from over.

Then it was along to the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s show company production, called “Musicology”, which was described in the daily programme as “a collection of various musical genres from pop to rock to opera”.  We sat with John and Margaret off our table, and Don the entertainment host came round with some glow-in-the-dark necklaces (or head-bands) which everyone put on, along with their daft hats.  It was really excellent, and a certainly a very different show, in fact all the entertainment so far has been superb.

Afterwards we just watched the dancers (we didn’t join in this time because I didn’t want to trip over my long dress!) before going out on the rear decks to bag a good table for the grand New Year’s Eve Deck Party.  Outside, we found ourselves sitting with Dave and Julie.  It seemed surreal to be sitting out in the balmy air, looking at the stars above and feeling the warm breeze on our faces – on the last day of December, the depths of winter at home. 😊

Ruth (from our table in the restaurant) had returned to their cabin after dinner for a sleep, as it was a big event tonight for her – she had brought her bagpipes with her and was going to pipe in the New Year from the upper decks!  So she hadn’t had a drink and was keeping herself right for her moment later on.

The music started and people got up to dance and the champagne and cocktails flowed.  There was such a festive, happy atmosphere; everyone was having a great time.  At one point the bar staff appeared bearing trays of fizz (more free drinks on Fred!), and the ship’s photographer came round to capture spontaneous photos of people in their formal/tartan wear along with their daft hats and glow-in-the-dark necklaces.

At 23:55 hours, Trevor and I went up to the deck above the Lido Lounge (Deck 8) where Ruth, Mike and a few others in kilts were waiting for the big countdown.  Soon the band leader bellowed into the microphone “Ten… nine… eight…seven… six… five… four… three… two… one… Happy New Year!” as 2018 became 2019.  Then Ruth struck up with Auld Lang Syne played on her bagpipes and everyone joined in with the familiar “Shud auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind…” and all that.

It was now 1 January 2019.  Trevor and I went back downstairs and re-joined Dave and Julie and had another couple of drinks.  We were glad we were under shelter because, about 30 minutes later, the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour, sending everyone on deck running for cover.  Talk about raining on one’s parade!  We decided it was as good a time as any to return to our suite just after 1.00am.  As Frank Sinatra declared “What a swell party” it was.  We went to bed and were asleep almost immediately.

Tomorrow we’d spend the first day of the year in Praslin Island, Seychelles.

Cruising the Indian Ocean


We got up about 8.00am and went out onto our balcony, where it was already a very fine day, although there had once again been showers of rain overnight.

We went along to the Tintagel Restaurant for breakfast, then decided to go an do a few laps around the deck, just taking our time and stopping every now and again to look out to sea.  As we were in tropical latitudes, we looked out for flying fish, and sure enough we spotted the familiar streaks of silver on the surface of the ocean, as they fled from the approach of the ship.

As we were walking round, we came across the Chief Officer again, and said our good mornings as well as acknowledging other passengers we’d spoken with.  The Indian Ocean looked very blue and sparkled in the sunshine, as far as the eye could see.  I took lots of photos of the Boudicca; with her classic lines and wooden decking, and lovely cascading stern, she is a proper ship and not one of those “big boxes” we’d heard Captain Sartela speak of so disparagingly last night.

After we’d done five laps we decided to go and get a cup of coffee from the Iceni Room, then take it into the Neptune Lounge for 11 o’clock, as the port lecturer Daniel Thebault was giving a 45-minute talk on Praslin Island, our next port of call.

It looked absolutely gorgeous, just as you’d imagine the Seychelles to be. Judging by the photo-slides, accompanied by Daniel’s excellent and informative talk, we knew we’d be in for a treat later on.

The end of the talk brought us nicely to lunchtime, and we had another wander around deck before going into the restaurant for a light lunch and a nice chilled glass of rosé wine each.

Outside the Secret Garden café, we noticed several ornate and intricate Christmas lanterns on display.  It was a competition in which crew members had created a lantern out of recycled items, creatively using a wide range of materials such as plastic bottles, drinks cans, bottle caps, polystyrene packaging, paper and even a lot of old cruise cards.  The imagination and work that had gone into them was incredible, and it was difficult to know which one to vote for.  In the end, I chose a delicately carved polystyrene creation, that featured doves and flowers and Nativity figures – stunning.

Back in our cabin we pottered around for a bit, just relaxing, before we were due to go along to another presentation, where there would be yet more free fizz on offer while Melanie, the Future Cruises manager, tempted us with the itineraries Fred Olsen Cruise Lines had on offer in 2019 and 2020, showing us some short video clips and really whetting our appetites.  We are already booked to go on the Balmoral for 16 nights in March 2020, but this presentation had me wanting to try to squeeze in another cruise in 2019 (we already have two booked!) or book another one for 2020.  So many cruises, so little time, particularly as Trevor and I both still work full time and are limited to the number of days we can take off.  ☹

Anyway, I must at this point explain the meaning behind the subtitle of today’s entry, “Our 30th Wedding Anniversary”.  Regular readers of this blog may remember that Trevor and I celebrated 30 years of marriage on board the Queen Victoria on 15th October.  So how come it was our anniversary again?  😊

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offer special birthday, anniversary and retirement packages for an additional fee.  However, if it’s a milestone birthday or anniversary (as ours was) and the date falls within three months of your voyage (which it did), then the anniversary celebration package was complimentary on production of a copy of your wedding certificate.

A month or so ago, therefore, I emailed FOCL a copy of our certificate and they confirmed they’d added the anniversary goodies to our booking.  Therefore, in addition to our having been upgraded to a suite and receiving daily fresh fruit and canapés and a free bottle of fizz, we had more goodies to look forward to, courtesy of good old Fred.  😊

Around 4.00pm therefore, a gentle knock on our stateroom (suite!!) door indicated the arrival of another free bottle of fizz on ice, and an exciting gift bag.  Inside the bag was a lovely Anniversary card, as well as a silver-coloured double photo frame, our little gift.  Trevor popped the cork and we each took a cold glass of fizz out onto our balcony, toasting Fred and each other.

We could not help comparing the service we were getting on Fred compared to that which we got from Cunard in October.  On Queen Victoria, despite it being our actual anniversary and a formal evening, we received sweet FA from them, not even the usual serenade and cake at the dinner table.  We’d even told them at the time of booking that we would be celebrating our Pearl Wedding, but all we got was a crappy card, printed off on a computer, with a rubber-stamp signature from the captain and cruise director.  Wouldn’t you have thought, when you spend thousands on a cruise, that they could afford to give you a free cake and bottle of fizz?  I found out afterwards though that, since 2011, Cunard have started charging for birthday and anniversary packages, the tight-arsed buggers.  ☹

It was fair to say though that Fred had more than made up for that, and it added another little special something to our day. We also had the cake and serenade to look forward to at our dinner table tonight, when we could share it with Mike and Ruth, John and Margaret.  😊

Afterwards it was time to start getting ready for dinner, and we took our time, listening to some music on my iPad, and enjoying some more of the cava and the canapés when they arrived around half-five.  Then along we went to the Tintagel Restaurant once again.  Sometimes it feels as if we do nothing else on a cruise apart from eat and drink!  😊

We had a splendid meal as ever, and interesting and amusing conversation, as we worked our way through the different courses and washed it down with chilled rosé wine.  When we got to the dessert stage, I looked inquiringly at Trevor, whispering “where’s our cake?”  Just then, we heard a tambourine and saw the waiters come out of the side-door with their guitar, but they went past our table and went to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone else instead!

The coffee and the liqueurs came and went, and still no cake.  The restaurant was starting to empty out now, and I looked around at our waiter who immediately came over to our table.  I explained we were supposed to receive a cake tonight, for our 30th Wedding Anniversary, but now it was too late as everyone was leaving.  He apologised profusely, as did the Maitre d’ when he came over, but we would just have to put it off until tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve.  It’s not as if it had cost us anything anyway; it was simply a little slip-up.

After dinner we adjourned to the Neptune Lounge where we got up to practise our ballroom dancing, doing the rumba and the cha cha cha (badly!).

The show tonight consisted of a fantastic singer and instrumentalist called Shaun Perry.  He had a gravelly, bluesy sort of voice a bit like Joe Cocker in some places.  We thoroughly enjoyed his show before hot-footing it along to the Lido Lounge for the quiz.  Once again, the floor-to-ceiling doors were concertinaed open, allowing the gorgeous warm sea breeze to infiltrate the room, as people sat out on the rear deck enjoying their drinks.

We were joined by Joe-the-Irishman once again, but we did absolutely appallingly, only scoring 8 out of 15.

Then it was just a case of listening to the pianist and enjoying another drink or two, before going out on our balcony and having a nightcap glass of our free fizz before bed.  Tomorrow would be the last day of 2018, and what a place to be spending it in.  😊

The Tropical Island of Réunion

We had to get up early this morning, at 6.15, in order to participate in our half-day excursion.  In any case, tonight was the first of the formal evenings, so we knew (from experience) that there would be Buck’s Fizz available in the restaurant to imbibe with our breakfast.  😊

In the Tintagel restaurant I enjoyed a platter of fresh fruits accompanied by smoked salmon, cheese and ham, washed down with coffee and a couple of glasses of the free fizz.  Then we gathered together phones, sun protection, local currency (the Euro, as Réunion is an overseas département of France) and cagoules (in case of rain, which had been intermittent).

We didn’t have long to wait in the Neptune Lounge before we were called to disembark for bus number 6.  Even at 7.30 in the morning the sun was already very hot, and the weather was sultry. We had been to Réunion before, in January 2015 on the Voyager, but today we were visiting a different part of the island.

Réunion lies between Mauritius and Madagascar and enjoys a multi-cultural population with a Créole soul.  It is very mountainous with lush tropical vegetation and grows sugar and vanilla.

Our guide today was called Jean-Luc and our driver was Laurent.  Today we were going to take a scenic ride up the mountains to the Piton Maïdo, a peak rising to over 7,000 feet, to get an amazing view of the island.

Our bus set off and we drove along the ever-changing scenery of the west coast, passing through the small town of Saint-Paul with its colourful little houses, shops and gardens, as well as fields of sugar cane, geraniums and tamarinds, beaches with black volcanic sand and other little villages.

Soon the coach started to climb, and the landscape changed to scrubby bushes and trees as our driver negotiated the steep hairpins bends.  The road was pretty narrow and would allow two cars to pass, but not a car and a bus.  Several times therefore, when meeting a car coming the other way around the bend, the car would have to pull right over into the side, or reverse back, to allow us to pass.

We enjoyed the scenery as the view opened out before us, and soon we noticed we were above the clouds; it was like looking out of an aeroplane window.  Eventually the bus parked up and we took a short walk to the viewing point at the edge of a cliff.

It really was something else.  We looked out at a stunning range of mountain peaks interspersed with clouds which never stopped moving.  You might look out to mountains and sky one minute, and then the next minute look again and only see a bank of white/grey cloud.  We also knew we were at 7,000 feet because the air was noticeably thinner up there, although not enough to make us suffer from the adverse effects of high altitude, the way we did on our visit to Peru in 2014.  From here, we could look across to the Piton des Neiges, the highest peak in Réunion, as well as three erosion-worn cirques (volcanic basins surrounded by sheer rocky walls).

We had about half an hour at the viewing point before making our way back to our waiting coach.  Then it was time to make the twisting and turning ride back down the mountain and along to our next stop, which was a geranium distillation plant at the small village of La Petite France.

It was lovely at the geranium place.  We were shown around the garden which contained many different types of pelargonium or geranium, with highly-scented leaves and flowers.  The leaves are pressed and distilled into essential oil which is used in perfume-making.  The distillation process, which takes place approximately every two months, needs 700 kilogrammes of geranium leaves to produce one litre of the essence.  We smelled various types of geranium leaves; one was like roses, one like lemongrass and another one smelled amazingly like carrots.

In the small souvenir shop I bought a bottle of frangipani oil and one of tea-tree oil, then it was back on the coach again for the return trip to the Boudicca, where we arrived just after 12 o’clock, in nice time for lunch.

After dumping our bags in the cabin, we decided to go up to the Poolside Restaurant and enjoy an al fresco lunch and a cold drink.  Trevor had fresh fish and chips with tartare sauce which I enjoyed a ploughman’s lunch. We each washed it down with a glass of chilled cider as we sat and people-watched, then we returned to our stateroom and had a half-hour power nap.

We spent a pleasant afternoon pottering around the ship and doing five laps (one mile) around the promenade deck.  On the way, we exchanged pleasantries with the Chief Officer, Stefan Ravneng, whom we recognised from our voyage on the Braemar last year; in fact, he’d joined our table at dinner a couple of times.  We then went back to start getting ready for the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party at 5.30pm.

I took a long, leisurely shower and blow-dried my hair, before applying an elegant evening makeup and adding volume and length to my hair with a hairpiece, which matched my own hair colour exactly.  Then I slipped into a long black and purple velvet and lace Gothic dress, teamed with a neat little black velvet bolero jacket and sky-high heels.  Trevor looked very handsome in his dinner suit and crisp white shirt with black bow-tie and cummerbund.  Then we swept out of our stateroom (suite!!) and made our way to the Neptune Lounge for the party, my dress attracting several compliments on the way.

After stopping for a photograph with Captain Juha Sartela, we enjoyed the usual small selection of canapés washed down with a couple of glasses of (free!) fizz, then the Captain was clapped onto the stage to the strains of Anchors Aweigh! whereupon he introduced us to his senior officers and gave an amusing little speech.

Then it was time to go to dinner, and we went along to the Tintagel Restaurant and enjoyed the usual delicious meal, excellent service and convivial company.  This is only our third day on the ship and yet it has all been superb already; we cannot fault anything. 😊

Tonight in the Neptune Lounge we were entertained by the Boudicca Show Company, who performed an excellent production called “Swing’s the Thing”, with colourful costumes, fantastic singing and high-energy dancing.  We enjoyed it very much.

Then it was, as ever, off to the Lido Lounge to do the quiz; we were joined by one of the guys who joined us the last night, an Irishman who introduced himself as Joe.  We had nowhere near a winning score, however, so we just enjoyed listening to Colin James the resident pianist whilst partaking of some more of the gratis drinks.

To finish off an excellent day, we brought a couple of drinks back with us to enjoy out on our balcony to listen to the sounds of the sea as the Boudicca glided through the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean towards our next destination of Praslin, Seychelles, where we were due to arrive in three days’ time.  We therefore had a couple of days at sea to look forward to now, and we slept well in cabin (suite!!) 7038, looking forward to whatever was in store for us tomorrow. 😊

Exploring Île aux Aigrettes

It was a struggle to get out of bed this morning due to the 4-hour time difference (it felt like 3.45am) but we nevertheless got up and went out on our balcony, which was already very hot and sultry after the coolness of our air-conditioned room.  The deck was wet in places, however, so there had obviously been some rain overnight.

I decided not to go to breakfast, instead making the most of the tea and coffee-making facilities and the fresh fruit basket in our room, enjoying some grapes and a juicy pear for breakfast.

Once we were ready, we made our way to the Neptune Lounge where we only had a few minutes to wait until our bus (#4) was called, so we happily went down the gangplank.  The sun was beating down as we walked across to the line of waiting coaches, even though it was only 8.30am.  😊

We boarded our air-conditioned coach and set off through the colourful villages, interspersed here and there with lush tropical vegetation and now and then a tantalising glimpse of the sea.  The journey took about an hour and passed the airport on the way, where we saw aircraft taxiing to the runway and taking off, soaring into the distance over the mountains.

Eventually we arrived at a small jetty, and the coach parked up to allow us all to alight.  One by one we boarded the waiting motor-boat, then off we went for a short but exhilarating ride across to the natural island, Île aux Aigrettes, situated in the Mahébourg Bay, approximately one mile off the south-east coast of Mauritius.  Île aux Aigrettes is home to the last remnants of dry coastal forest, which were once ubiquitous around Mauritius.  Like the mainland, however, Île aux Aigrettes was affected by tree logging and land clearance, and the introduction of exotic animal and plant species almost destroyed the native flora and fauna.  In 1965, the island was declared a nature reserve and the immense conservational efforts of the locals and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has resulted in the restoration of the forest and the reintroduction of rare species that had long since disappeared from the island and were close to extinction.

It’s worth remembering that the Dodo was native to Mauritius, and it was under Dutch occupation that the bird was over-exploited and eaten by the Dutch, leading to its infamous extinction, which led to the well-known phrase “as dead as a dodo”.  ☹

Arriving at this fascinating and picturesque island, we all disembarked the boat and set off into the forest, watching our footing on the uneven ground, which was formed of limestone and coral.  It was gorgeous in the woods, shaded from the hot sunshine whose bright light filtered in through the treetops and leaves and created dappled effects on the ground and tree trunks.  We could see small lizards, about 10-12” long, darting along the lower branches of the trees and on the ground; you had to keep your eyes peeled so you didn’t accidentally step on one.  We learned that the lizards are called skinks and had been brought back from the edge of extinction.

We came to a small sanctuary where there were a number of baby tortoises, and well as some large fruit bats hanging upside down, their leathery wings folded tight against their bodies as they hung on with one claw.

Continuing our leisurely walk through the winding paths of the forest, we arrived at a small nursery where the local plant seeds are carefully collected and preserved for later planting.  There were also some pieces of black ebony wood, as well as dried seed cases and pods, which were used for decoration.  As we were walking along, someone looking through the trees spotted one of the Aldabra giant tortoises.  We weren’t allowed to approach him so couldn’t get a close-up photograph, but we learnt his name was “Big Daddy” and he was approximately 100 years old.

After about an hour exploring the island, we made our way back to the small landing stage and rejoined our boat for the return journey to our bus.  We set off once again, through the colourful streets; it seemed that large, opulent dwellings rubbed shoulders with ramshackle buildings and no apparent town planning was in evidence, but this added to the charm and character of the place.  The only complaint I had was that we were still jet-lagged, and at times it was difficult to stay awake and concentrate on our guide’s excellent commentary.

After a spot of scenic driving along the coast, the coach pulled up at a restaurant called Jardin de Beau Vallon and we all went in, some making a beeline for the toilets.  The restaurant looked lovely; it was open-sided and was situated in lush gardens and had a swimming pool.  We sat down at a long table and shortly afterwards were invited up to the buffet table to collect our starters.  The food was all local dishes and I enjoyed fresh salad, cold meat and cheese, followed by an array of grilled or barbecued chicken, seafood skewers, lamb steaks and cheesy mashed potato and more fresh vegetables.  This I washed down with some well-chilled tropical fruit juice and water.

To finish with, I had a platter of fresh fruits accompanied by almond ice cream and washed down with a cold Phoenix beer, which is the local ale. (We’d passed the brewery yesterday on our way to the port from the airport.)

Thus sated, we boarded the bus once again (and I tried not to fall asleep!) for our last stop, which was to the Naval Museum.  Located at the entrance of Mahebourg village, the Naval Museum was inaugurated sometime around 1950 and specialises in the history of Mauritius relating to the sea; sea battles, ship-wrecks, naval war items etc  This was very interesting indeed, and contained parts of ship-wrecks, including cannons, a ship’s bell and a partly-reconstructed ship, as well as other artefacts.

Then it was back on the bus for the return trip to the Boudicca after a very interesting day.

We arrived back about half-four and had time for a short nap before lifeboat drill at 5.15pm.  We had a mission to accomplish; one of the entertainment staff on board is called Daniel Venton and it just so happens that his mother, Julie Venton, teaches us ballroom dancing every Wednesday back home!  We have been attending the weekly class since September, and when Julie discovered we were going on the Boudicca, she gave us some Christmas cards from herself and Dan’s girlfriend, as well as a small comedy gift, for us to take out to him.  We were sure he’d be delighted to receive something from home over Christmas, when he was thousands of miles away from his family.

After lifeboat drill we returned to our cabin (suite!!) whereupon I went straight into the shower and stood under the hot water, washing off the day’s grime and shampooing my hair.  Then I got dried off, did my hair and makeup, and changed into a navy flocked floral dress with a fluted hemline and silver sandals.  No-one on our table could comment about our appearance tonight!  😊

As ever, we enjoyed the usual scrumptious meal in convivial company, as we regaled each other with tales of what we’d been up to today, and past cruises and voyages.  We experienced a fantastic sunset over the Indian Ocean as the Boudicca put to sea to start our voyage.  Then Trevor and I made our way to the Neptune Lounge to try our hand at some ballroom dancing.  We got up and did the cha cha cha and the social foxtrot (badly!), then it was time for the evening’s entertainment to begin.  This featured Rick Green, a magician, who had apparently received “three yeses” on the TV programme Britain’s Got Talent, although I don’t remember seeing him.

The show was very entertaining; at one stage Rick borrowed Trevor’s right shoe and poured a glass of (what looked like) rosé wine into it.  Then he poured the wine back into the glass again and tipped up Trevor’s shoe, which emptied out a shower of confetti.  Of course, it was all an illusion and Trevor’s shoe was perfectly dry; all very clever sleight of hand and we enjoyed the show very much.

Afterwards we finished off the evening by going along to the Lido Lounge for the quiz at 10 o’clock.  This time we were joined by a couple of blokes sitting at a nearby table; a third one joined shortly so we had a team of five.  It didn’t do us any good, however, because we didn’t win anything tonight.

We then got a (free!) drink each to take back and enjoy on our balcony, relaxing and listening to the gorgeous sounds of the sea, and some crickets who had hitched a ride on the Boudicca chirruping loudly and adding to the tropical atmosphere.  This is certainly the life!

Tomorrow we were due to arrive at Réunion, and we slept very well.

Bound for the Boudicca

On disembarking the aircraft, if we’d thought our destination was minutes away, we had another think coming.  We may have arrived in Mauritius but, as it would turn out, we still had a long time to go until we boarded the Boudicca.

What can I say?  Here we all were; tired, dishevelled and disgruntled, impatiently eager to start our long-awaited holiday.  Instead, we were met with immense queues, and no-one seemed to know what to do or where to go.  Apparently, five flights had arrived at the small airport more or less at the same time, and it was utter chaos.

After joining a queue and not moving at all for 10 minutes, we spotted another queue that was moving, so a group of about eight of us went to join that queue.  At that point our queue stopped moving as well; in fact, the place got even more crowded as more and more people arrived in the immigration building. One of the five aircraft that had arrived was an Airbus A380, those absolute giants that hold over 500 passengers, so there wasn’t a lot we could do.  Needless to say, after a 12-hour overnight flight quite a lot of us were grumpy and disgruntled, and our patience was tried to the limit.

To cut a long and extremely boring story short… we eventually got through, out of the airport and onto the shuttle bus, where it took a further hour’s travel before we spotted the familiar grey-and-white shape of the Boudicca moored up in a sparkling azure Indian Ocean.  It was three trying hours since we’d disembarked the aircraft, but now we were here at long last, and our fantastic cruise could begin right now!  😊

We happily made our way up the gang-plank and were directed to the Neptune Lounge to collect our cruise cards.  Trevor and I had booked a balcony cabin on deck 7 (number 7043) but when we checked in, we were allocated cabin 7038 which turned out to be a junior suite! We’d evidently been given a free upgrade!

Our room was massive!  It was 260 square feet, 100 square feet bigger than the standard balcony cabins.  When you opened the door there was a little lobby with a bathroom to the right and large walk-in closet to the left.  Another door then led to the main cabin, which contained a king-size bed with crisp cotton sheets, settee and armchair, coffee table and huge dressing table and chair.  The dressing table had a large mirror above it, adjacent to a flat-screen TV fixed to the wall.  Floor-to-ceiling patio doors opened onto a balcony terrace, which contained a couple of chairs and a small table.  It all looked fantastic and was decorated tastefully in shades of turquoise and pale grey, with bright pictures on the walls.  😊

On the coffee table awaiting us was a vase containing a hand-tied bouquet of colourful flowers, a fruit basket with apples, oranges, pears, bananas and grapes, and a bottle of Cava on ice with a couple of flutes.  There was also an Oceans Club gift of a 2019 diary and pen, in a smart presentation box.  If first impressions counted for anything, then we knew we were going to have an absolutely memorable voyage.  😊

Our cases had not yet arrived, so we still only had the clothes we were standing up in, so we decided to go up top and enjoy a long-awaited, refreshing freezing cold beer.  We sat up on the deck with the sun warm on our backs and took a deep breath and relished that inimitable feeling of just starting a new cruise.  This is our 47th cruise and it is something we never tire of.

We enjoyed our drinks so much we had another one, then made our way back to our fantastic cabin (suite!!) 7038 to see if our cases had arrived.  We spotted them in the Deck 7 lobby and brought them to our stateroom ourselves.  It was getting on for dinner time by now, however, so we didn’t have time to unpack or get washed and changed.  We therefore decided we’d apologise to our table-mates for our somewhat scruffy appearance.

We have been allocated table #31 in the Tintagel Restaurant. It’s a table for six, and the other two couples have already been on the Boudicca for two weeks; those lucky people are doing the 28-day cruise instead of the 14-day cruise.  As Trevor and I both still work (it pays for all our cruises!!) we can’t take 28 days off work at one time, so we have to make do with a fortnight.  ☹

The other couples seemed very pleasant; there was John and Margaret from Norfolk, and Mike and Ruth from (believe it or not) County Durham!  In fact, Mike used to live in the next street from us, and we discovered, during the course of the ensuing conversation, that we knew several people in common.  What a small world it is!

Our meal was, as ever, delicious.  I only wanted a light meal, so I had a vegetable terrine to start, followed by a salad of cold cuts and crisp fresh vegetables.  We washed it down with a couple of glasses of rosé wine (Free! Because we’re travelling all-inclusive!) and finished with coffee and an amaretto each.  By this time we were really flagging, and feeling tired and grubby.

After dinner we returned to our stateroom and emptied out the cases, hanging everything up and neatly putting everything away.  We decided we’d end the evening by going along to the Lido Lounge for the evening quiz at 10 o’clock, then go straight to bed as, not only were we jet-lagged, but we had to be up at 7.45am tomorrow for a full-day excursion.

The Lido Lounge wasn’t crowded, and it had the large glass stern-facing doors opened all along the width of the room, allowing the gentle tropical breeze into the cheerful venue.  We decided to sit at a table on the terrace, enjoying another drink while we took part in the quiz.  There was only the two of us in the team tonight.

Well, we scored 10/15 which we didn’t think was a winning score, but there was a four-way tie, with three other teams also scoring 10.  For the tie-breaker, we had to give the length of the Suez Canal in nautical miles.  We estimated 200, which was incorrect but was the nearest answer.  We’d therefore won the quiz!  😊

The prize, as usual, was a bottle of fizz.  As we already had one on ice waiting for us in our cabin, we shared it with a very pleasant couple who were sitting at a nearby table.  They introduced themselves as Dave and Julie, and we enjoyed their company and conversation along with the free fizz, until well after midnight!  So much for getting an early night!

Back in cabin 7038, we sat out on our fantastic balcony for a short while, before settling down in our big, comfortable bed for a good night’s sleep, the first time we’d been in a bed since Christmas night.  We looked forward to what tomorrow would bring.

From Manchester to Mauritius

Christmas 2018 was unusual in our house; instead of all the excitement and bustle and planning involved with the season of goodwill, we were immersed in the excitement and bustle and planning of another epic cruise, flying out from Manchester Airport tonight, Boxing Day.  😊

Yes! We will be jetting off to sunnier climes for a couple of weeks, taking in idyllic, exotic locations in the Indian Ocean, on Fred Olsen’s ship Boudicca, a lovely little vessel on which we’ve had the pleasure of three previous cruises (2008, 2014 and 2016).

Our flight wasn’t until 22.10 hours, so we didn’t have to leave the house until half-three in the afternoon.  Our run down to Manchester Airport wasn’t bad at all, there wasn’t too much traffic on the roads and the weather, for the time of year, was quite mild.

We arrived at the Britannia Airport Hotel just after 6.00pm, where we were leaving the car for the next couple of weeks.  This is because our return flight doesn’t land until 23.55 hours, so by the time we’d collected our luggage, gone through customs, waited for the shuttle bus then driven home, we were looking at an arrival time of around 4.00am (and on a work day too!)  Therefore, we are staying in the Britannia overnight on the 10th January and driving home the next day, at our leisure.

We parked the car and waited outside for the shuttle bus.  It was 15 minutes late and I was quite cold, as my attire was more suitable for our destination than northern Britain in December.  Eventually the mini-bus arrived and it was only a 15-minute ride to Terminal 1.

Well, all I can say is that I have never seen Manchester Airport so quiet, ever.  Apart from our own Thomas Cook charter flight, there were only another three departures, all of them before ours.  It therefore took absolutely no time to check in our cases and go and find somewhere to have a bite to eat and a drink before our flight was called.

We enjoyed a cold bottle of beer and shared a BLT baguette in Upper Crust, where we were the only customers.  The place was reminiscent of a staff canteen, with tiled walls and plastic chairs, so after we’d finished, we decided to go and find a bar, somewhere with a little more atmosphere.

Upstairs we found a place with music playing which seemed quite pleasant, so we each ordered a pint of Doombar and found a seat next to the departure board, so we could keep an eye on our flight.  By this time, the only other flights due to depart were one to Dubai and one to Cork.  As I said, it was surreal to see Manchester Airport so empty; even a lot of the shops were closed, and all the check-in desks were quiet.  We could safely assume that the others passengers we saw here and there were on the same flight as us, to Port Louis, in the sunny island of Mauritius.  😊

Eventually the notice came up for us to proceed to Gate 29, which we did so.  We could see our Thomas Cook A330 aircraft waiting on the tarmac, and we felt the usual surge of excitement at the impending holiday.  We had a 12-hour overnight flight to endure, but long-haul flights are a fact of life if we want to go to far-flung locations and see the world.

We were able to board more or less immediately, and we found ourselves in the centre four seats, one in the aisle and one adjacent.  However, it soon became apparent that the aircraft was far from full, so we kept our eyes on a couple of window seats that backed onto the bulkhead (i.e. there was no-one behind us) which meant we’d be able to recline our seats if we wanted to.  😊

As everyone was boarded and seated in good time, we were able to depart a few minutes before schedule, and our aircraft was pushed back from the gate just before 22.10 hours, made its way to the runway and roared off into the black December night.

Once the ‘plane was at cruising height and the seatbelt sign switched off, we (and quite a few others!) decided to move to a more preferred location.  Some people in the centre had the whole row of four seats to themselves so, by raising the arm-rests on all the seats, they were able to stretch themselves out full length, and cover themselves with several blankets to get a full night’s sleep.

Trevor and I enjoyed a pre-dinner drink and then they came round and started to dish out the meals.  I chose braised beef and vegetables which would have been very enjoyable but for the fact that my tray table was on a slant, and I needed about six hands to stop everything from sliding slowly off it, some onto my lap and some onto the floor.  Only by wedging by knee underneath the tray could I keep it level, but I was pleased when the meal was over and the resulting detritus cleared away.

There was nothing I wanted to watch on the in-flight entertainment, but I had my iPad with me so I had plenty of reading material in the form of digital books and magazines, as well as music to listen to.  However, once the cabin crew had dimmed the cabin lights and made everyone pull their window shades down, sleep was impossible; it always is for me on an aircraft, I can never sleep sitting up.  In fact, I was beginning to wish I’d bagged the central four seats as well!

Anyway… the 12 hours passed in its usual inexorable way and, because we were travelling south-east, we enjoyed a very early sunrise; the aircraft’s wing turning a molten gold as the sky went from red to orange to a brilliant blue.  However, as a lot of people were still asleep, the staff kept coming round and asking people to lower their window shades again.  ☹

Eventually everyone slowly came back to life as the exciting new day beckoned.  When we were about an hour away from landing, they came round with fresh hot coffee and breakfast and we could see “land ahoy” out of the aeroplane windows.

Soon the “fasten seatbelt” sign came back on as the aircraft took up its final approach.  Our captain had told us that we were going to circle round in a holding pattern a couple of times as another flight was due in just before us, but we’d still land on schedule.

Finally, we touched down on Mauritian soil, on 27 December 2018 at 14.10 hours local time.  We had finally arrived, after a looooooooong 12 hours.  😊