First of all, apologies to Macdonald Hastings for blatantly plagiarising the title of his 1971 novel, as we get ready to set off on another voyage of discovery, this time on P & O’s Arcadia, a lovely ship in which we have sailed twice before, once in 2005 and once in 2007.
We were up early this morning before the taxi arrived to take us to Durham train station for the 07:48 train down to Southampton, which was actually on time. We had that happy, inanely euphoric feeling that comes at the start of any long-awaited holiday; looking forward to the time off work, the anticipation of sailing off into sunnier climes and the adventure of the new and exciting things we’d see and do and the new and interesting people we’d meet.
As the train slowly pulled out of Durham we could see the sky just starting a rosy glow behind the distinctive silhouette of Durham Cathedral. It is always with a sense of pride we look upon this famous gem of architecture; one of the best views of the Cathedral and Castle is from the railway station and whenever we catch sight of them we know we’re “home”.
Passing through Darlington the sky slowly lightened to daybreak and once the train departed York we cracked open a bottle of Freixenet Rosé and dispensed it into a couple of plastic tumblers we’d brought. It may not yet have been 9.00am but hey, we’re on our hollies. 🙂
I read my magazines, browsed my Kindle and enjoyed my Freixenet and some lunch while watching the ever-changing scenery passing by outside the train window. I always like to look at the gardens and houses and try to imagine the people living there and what it’s like in their town. The journey from Durham to Southampton takes five and a half hours but the time passes surprisingly quickly, and it seemed no time at all before we were leaving the train at Southampton Central station.
We took a taxi to the docks and, once there, got our first sight of the immense queue of people waiting to embark the Arcadia. We hoped we wouldn’t have to wait too long in the queue because one of the things we enjoy is having a couple of pre-embarkation glasses of champers in the waiting room accompanied by a spot of people-watching before boarding.
Well! What a fiasco. We entered the embarkation “lounge” eventually to a massive zig-zagging queue with no seating or refreshment facilities. A couple of coaches had arrived by now and there were even more passengers behind us in the queue than there were in front. So much for enjoying a couple of drinks before boarding – we never even got the chance to sit down. In fact, it was a full hour and a half of queueing before we were able to make our way up the gang plank and finally get on board Arcadia. Not good. Not a good start at all. This happens to be our 31st cruise (and 5th with P & O) and it is the worst embarkation experience we’ve ever had. Get your act together P & O !! Considering it was the start of the Arcadia‘s grand World Voyage you’d have thought there would have been more of a sense of occasion about it all, never mind having to queue, with no refreshments or facilities for up to two hours in some cases. Of course, there were the usual excuses and perfunctory apologies from the cruise line, but they could have done a lot better than that.
Nonetheless, we made our way to Canada Deck (Deck 6) to cabin C149 which was to be our home for the next 18 nights. It was a pleasantly-decorated and spacious balcony cabin with twin beds and a little seating area with settee and coffee table. The balcony contained a couple of deck chairs and a small table, but typical British January weather means we probably won’t be using it for the first couple of days of this voyage.
We dumped our bags and went in search of something to eat and drink to tide us over until dinner at 6.30pm. We still had life boat drill to attend at 5.00pm after which our time would finally be our own.
Once lifeboat drill was over we returned to cabin C149 for a nap as we’d been up since 6.15am and tiredness was catching up with us a bit. I decided I wouldn’t go up for dinner but would have something light to eat, maybe a plate of salad, in the self-service buffet later on. So Trevor went to the Meridian Restaurant alone while I had a Salade Niçoise in the Belvedere buffet, a cup of coffee back in the cabin and read a bit of my book. I am reading The Blackhouse by Peter May. It’s the first one of his I’ve read and so far it seems very good. It is about a Scottish detective called Fin McLeod and it’s set on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, where he is investigating the murder of a guy who’s been hanged and disembowelled.
Once Trevor came back to the cabin around 8.00pm, we went along to the Palladium show lounge and got some seats down at the front ready for the introductory show. It wasn’t really a proper performance, just the cruise director introducing her staff and giving a small taster of some of the entertainment to come.
I was pleased to see that they do a reasonably-priced champagne on board the Arcadia; it’s just a non-vintage Jacquart but quite palatable and not bad at £5.95. Also, they do a very nice prosecco at only £3.50 a glass. So that should keep me happy for the voyage. 🙂
The Arcadia hasn’t changed much since we last sailed on her in 2007 so we were pleased to make our way to the ship’s own British pub, the Rising Sun, where we have spent many a happy hour in the past. It hadn’t changed at all so we really felt as though we were on familiar territory. We had a couple more drinks but then were flagging a bit, so we went back to C149 for about 11.00pm for our first night’s sleep on board M/S Arcadia. Tomorrow we had a whole day at sea to look forward to, so a nice lie-in in the morning then.