It was with great excitement that we leapt out of bed at 6.30am, a feat made much easier by the knowledge that we were not getting up to go to work, oh no. Today we were going on a cruise!! 😊
Yes! We are doing an 8-nighter around our wonderful British coastline on the M/S Borealis, a new member of the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines fleet. We are regular cruisers with “Fred” and we had had several cruises cancelled, re-booked and re-cancelled and today we felt like a dog with two tails at the happy anticipation of walking up the gangplank and onto an actual cruise ship for the first time since November 2019.*
Amid the excitement though was more than a touch of nervousness. In the last 16 months so many plans had had to change, so much uncertainty prevailed. I knew I could only begin to relax once we were actually on board again.
Cruising as we know has changed out of necessity because of the dreadful Covid-19 pandemic, and we’d already been briefed by FOCL on the new pre-cruise and on-board protocols. Therefore we’d already taken a couple of lateral flow Covid tests during the week before the cruise date (thankfully both negative) and we had our vaccination QR codes on the NHS app on our phones, to prove we were fully jabbed up. 😊
Many parts of Britain have enjoyed a heatwave during July, and for the last couple of weeks the weather in Durham had been glorious… when I had to spend it indoors sitting behind a desk at work. It was just our luck when we looked out of the window to see grey clouds and the threat of rain, but perhaps the weather would improve when we got to Liverpool.
We loaded our suitcases and carry-on bags into the boot of the car and set off about 7.30am. Liverpool, here we come! 😊
The roads were surprisingly quiet for a Thursday morning and we made good time, stopping at Tebay services for a cuppa and a snack about nine o’clock. Then we joined the M6 motorway and headed south-west, windscreen wipers “wup wupping” as the rain lashed down and the spray flew off the wheels of the lorries as passed. Typical! You just cannot trust the good old British weather! We were rewarded by the sight of a magnificent rainbow once the rain abated though.
We have sailed out of Liverpool twice before, so we knew where the cruise terminal was. As such, we booked a long-stay car park through MyParkingSpace which was less than a 10 minute walk to the terminal. However, this time it transpired that we weren’t checking in at the cruise terminal; we had to go to the ACC Exhibition Centre instead, which Google Maps told us was 1.7 miles from the car park! We’d have to get a taxi.
We arrived and parked up just after 11.00am, and I looked on Google for a nearby taxi firm. The rain had stopped by now so the 10-minute wait for the taxi was no hardship. It was just as well we’d allowed as much time as we had, because the Liverpool city traffic was absolutely horrendous. There were roadworks everywhere, and in one case a 3-lane road was down to one lane. En route, we spotted the distinctive twin red funnels of the Borealis. “There she is!” we shouted happily in unison. Every set of traffic lights we arrived at was red, and it took a good 35 minutes to do a journey of under two miles.
But at last we were there, and my heart rate increased; I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was nerves or excitement. There were lots of people around to help and to guide us into the building, where they checked our Covid vaccination certificates, gave us a health questionnaire and examined our passports and cruise tickets. Our luggage was then labelled up and taken away; the next time we’d see it would be in our cabin.
Then it was crunch time – another Covid test. We did the throat and nasal swab and then were shown to our socially-distanced seats to wait the required 30 minutes for the results. It seemed to be the longest 30 minutes I’d ever known, but finally the cruise officials said “OK, let’s go!” and we were directed onto one of the waiting shuttle buses outside. This was it! 😊
Once again we battled through the traffic which seemed even worse than before. We went into the cruise terminal, got issued with our cruise cards and – a first – a wrist band similar in size to a FitBit which acted as our “track and trace” around the ship; we were instructed to keep it on our person at all times. Then it was out of the doors, along the dockside for a hundred yards or so and up the gangplank where the happy smiling staff proclaimed “Welcome aboard!” Oh wow, it was actually happening. I can’t describe how I felt at this moment. 😊
Even though we’d never been on Borealis before, she felt comfortingly familiar. The FOCL stamp was well and truly in evidence everywhere, from the carpet patterns to the signage to the artwork on the walls, the furniture and the names of the lounges and bars; the Neptune Lounge, the Bookmark Café and the Morning Light Pub. It was just soooo great to be back. 😊
We took the lift to Deck 6 and made our way eagerly to our balcony suite, number 6176. It was fairly large, about 292 square feet, with twin beds pushed together to form a king-size bed, with plump pillow and crisp cotton sheets and duvets, a large 4-seater sofa, coffee table, dressing table and stool and ample wardrobe and drawer space. We have a nice big balcony with a couple of sun loungers and a table; we hoped the weather would improve so that the sun loungers would see some use. 😊 It all looked lovely and comfortable.
We also had some fresh flowers, a well-filled fruit bowl and a bottle of fizz awaiting us, in addition to our Oceans Club gift of a couple of wine bottle holders featuring the Fred Olsen logo. This pleasant suite would be our home for the next eight nights.
We couldn’t wait to explore the Borealis, but before we did so we were advised by our cabin stewardess to watch the safety programme on our stateroom TV. This was the socially-distanced version of lifeboat drill. 😊
Afterwards, we decided to go up to the buffet restaurant and get something to eat as it seemed a long time since breakfast. As we entered the buffet, we were directed to a hand-washing station, where you place your hands into these two holes and jets of water, spinning in a circle, give your hands a good pressure spray wash – it reminded me of a “car wash”. 😊 I then enjoyed a plate of crisp green salad with Thousand Island dressing, washed down with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some cold water. At the buffet you can no longer help yourself; the serving staff put what you want on the plate for you.
After lunch we thought we’d visit the pool deck and get a nice cold beer or the cocktail of the day. The pool has a retractable roof and features a distinctive sculpture of a couple of seals; in fact, it reminded me a lot of the Holland America ship Volendam, on which we’d cruised in 2009 across the Pacific. Hardly surprising really when you know that the Borealis was originally a HAL ship, the Rotterdam.
We enjoyed a couple of drinks and looked around happily at the friendly bar staff and the other passengers, some of whom were making the most of the pool already. Afterwards we decided to go and explore further afield, and as we got up to leave another couple beckoned us over and the lady said “I hope you don’t think I’m being cheeky, but I really enjoy reading your blog!!” I stared at her in disbelief – I’d never seen this couple before in my life! They introduced themselves as Donald and Jackie and said they were Twitter users and, as such, has seen many of my tweets and photos and loved reading my blog. They’d recognised me simply from the photo on my Twitter profile! I was tickled pink. They were lovely friendly people and we chatted for a while and said we hoped to see them around the ship.
Off we went up to the Crow’s Nest, where we had fabulous views of Liverpool’s waterfront and in particular the famous Liver Building. We enjoyed a glass of something each in there; we still very much had that “Woohoo! We’re on a cruise! Yay!” feeling and grinned inanely at each other. Afterwards we strolled around the decks before the announcement came that for anyone who hadn’t done so to make their way to their designated lifeboat (ours is Lifeboat 8 on Deck 3) to have our names ticked off the passenger safety list.
Afterwards we went to the Morning Light pub and had a drink in there, before returning to cabin (suite!!) 6176 for a half-hour power nap. At 5.30pm a gentle knock on the door heralded the arrival of some tasty afternoon canapés, and we had a wash and brush up and got changed, ready for dinner on the first sitting at 6.15. A card in our stateroom advised us we have been allocated table #97 in the Borealis Restaurant, deck 4 aft.
On Covid-compliant FOCL ships they operate what is called a “dining bubble”. That is, if you want to socialise outside of dining times without having to adhere to the “one metre plus and mask” rule (for example form a quiz team) you have to do it with your dining companions (or just on your own, that is, Trevor and me). We therefore looked forward to meeting our table companions.
We are sharing table #97 with two other couples, Brian and Alison, and George and Dorothy. They seemed very pleasant and there was no shortage of conversation. What we found most refreshing was that Covid-19 was never mentioned; instead of hearing doom and gloom and talks of waves and spikes and surges and jabs which we’ve all been subjected to on a daily basis for the last 18 months, we all talked about our home towns, cruises, places we’d visited, ships we’d sailed on and the usual amusing little anecdotes that comes with it. At around 6.45pm the increased vibrations coming up through the floor indicated that the Borealis was getting ready to cast off, and soon we noticed her turning around, ready to glide off down the Mersey and begin our cruise! 😊
Looking around, hearing the babble of conversation, the clinking of cutlery and glasses, the “can I get you anything Sir, Ma’am?” from the attentive waiting staff it was almost like “Coronavirus? What’s coronavirus?” It was only when you noticed all the staff were wearing masks that you realised all was not quite right with the world.
Dinner was delicious; I enjoyed a seafood cocktail to start, followed by a Caesar salad and then herb-encrusted pork steak for my main course. It was washed down with chilled rosé wine, and finished off with a cheeseboard and a glass of amaretto.
Then it was time to make our way to the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s featured entertainment. Unlike the other FOCL ships, where the Neptune Lounge is more in the style of a cabaret lounge, on the Borealis it is a proper two-tiered theatre, with a “balcony” and “stalls”. As we entered we noticed that several of the seats were in groups of two, four or six with seats in between saying “not in use” – these were for the dining or other bubbles, e.g. travelling companions. Trevor and I selected a couple of seats in the second row and settled down with a post-prandial drink to enjoy the show. Tonight it was a comedian called Lloyd Hollett, who was billed as a “comedy wordsmith”. We hadn’t seen him before, but he was very amusing with his spoonerisms and tongue twisters and alliterative poems and songs. Something a bit different.
We decided to finish the evening off, as we always do on cruises, with the 10.00pm quiz. We went along to the Morning Light pub where we were shortly joined by another couple (so much for the dining bubble!) called Sid and Carol. We didn’t do very well in the quiz, only scoring 10/15. It was good fun though, and we ended up staying until after midnight. Then it was back to cabin (suite!!) 6176 for our first night on board the fabulous Borealis. We slept well.
(*not counting our amazing Glen Tarsan cruise in May, as she wasn’t a cruise ship)