A mere 24 days after we disembarked Queen Victoria, we once again found ourselves waking up at the unearthly hour of 3.45am in order to get ourselves ready and pack up all those last minute things like toiletries, cosmetics and electronic device chargers, ready for another cruise! 😊
Yes! Once again we had to make the long journey down to Southampton from Durham. We’ve travelled down to Southampton in several different ways in the past: by train, coach, car; even flown from Newcastle. With the exception of the flight, the other methods all take around 6-8 hours, depending on how many stops you have.
This morning, however, we were going by coach. Trevor’s brother had kindly agreed to pick us up at 5.00am for the 15-minute drive to Washington services, on the A1(M) southbound motorway.
We set off through the silent, darkened streets with a sense of déjà vu. On arrival at the motorway services, we spotted a couple of coaches; one was our Weardale Travel coach which was confirmed by a white sign with “P&O Cruises – Arcadia” in the corner of the windscreen.
The other coach was one of the Eavesway Travel vehicles. But there was something very strange looking about the Eavesway coach. For a start, it looked higher at the back than the front (i.e. the rear wheels were only just touching the ground). A closer look revealed that, in fact, the Eavesway coach had demolished part of the safety fencing that secured an area where there was a sudden drop of about six feet. It appeared that the coach had just crashed through the fence and collided with a parked lorry; it was lucky the lorry was there otherwise the coach would have just plunged over the drop. As it was, the vehicle’s front wheels were hanging out in space. What on earth had happened?
As a couple who we know, John and Linda, were actually on the Eavesway coach, we found out that their driver had, ironically, just started his safety briefing when a grinding noise was heard and the coach started moving on its own! Somehow the handbrake had become disengaged and the coach had slowly started rolling forward, gaining enough momentum to crash through the fence. At this stage there were only seven passengers on board, but there could/would have been serious injuries if the coach had plunged down the six foot drop.
As everyone was now on our coach for this pickup point, we slowly pulled out of the services, looking back at the Eavesway coach sitting there at its odd angle, the little cluster of somewhat worried-looking passengers standing to one side in the dark. What a start to their holiday.
The rest of our journey passed uneventfully. After we’d been on the road about an hour, I phoned Linda, and asked if they were on their way yet. Apparently a couple of taxis had been organised to take them to Ferrybridge, where another coach would pick them up and continue on to Southampton.
We had several pick-up points on the way down; at Scotch Corner, Weatherby, Woolly Edge and Leeds before arriving at Woodall services around 8.45am where we had a 45 minute rest stop. Afterwards we continued on our way and, at 11 o’clock, Trevor and I cracked open a little bottle of prosecco each, toasted each other and enjoyed the fizz before we arrived at Cherwell services for our second rest stop of 45 minutes. To be honest, I don’t know why he had another long stop; we could have just continued and made it to Southampton earlier.
Soon we saw the familiar cranes in the distance, as we approached the famous south-coast port. The foggy, murky December weather had by now deteriorated into torrential rain and I hoped that our suitcases (one of which contained my amazing shoes for this cruise!) wouldn’t get wet when they were transferring them from the coach to the ship. 😊
The port was busy, but not absolutely hectic. There were only two other cruise ships in; Saga’s Spirit of Discovery and other P&O ship, the newly-delivered Arvia, who would be starting her maiden voyage today.
Inside the terminal, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas as all the P&O Cruises staff were dressed in red Santa hats and a brass band was playing lively Christmas tunes and carols. it didn’t take long at all to check in (and this was the first time since the pandemic that we had not had to produced evidence of a negative CoViD-19 test) and soon we were making our way along the airbridge and into the dearly-familiar plush interior of the Arcadia.
For this was our fifth time on Arcadia. We had previously sailed on this lovely ship in 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2017 and we were excited to be back. In addition, this was our very first Christmas cruise; although we’d been at sea for New Year on a couple of occasions, we’ve never been away for Christmas.
Like the Queen Victoria last month, the Arcadia had lots of Christmas trees, baubles and holly wreaths and a festive atmosphere prevailed. We made our way to our balcony stateroom, E26, on Deck 4. The stateroom was almost identical in layout and size to the one we had last month on QV. The balcony, however, was larger than average. We were situated for’ard on the port side of the ship, and when we went out on the balcony and looked to the right, we could clearly see the bridge wing. 😊
As we hadn’t eaten since 9.30 this morning and it was now nearly three o’clock, we were pretty famished. We dumped our rucksacks and coats (our suitcases hadn’t been delivered yet) and made our way along to the banks of lifts but, as it was the start of embarkation the lifts were either occupied by piles of suitcases, mobility scooters or people trying to find their correct deck and stateroom.
We decided it would be easier to find an empty lift at either end of the vessel rather than midships; in the end we had a picturesque ride up to Deck 9 in the outside glass lift. Then we eagerly made our way to the Belvedere self-service buffet and I enjoyed some cold meats and salads washed down with a glass of cold water.
By the time we returned to E26 two of our three cases had arrived and we spent some time unpacking and placing clothing in drawers, shelves or hanging them in the wardrobes. Shortly afterwards the case containing my shoes arrived, and I arranged them in rows in the bottom of the wardrobe. 😊
After our 3.45am start, tiredness was catching up with us so we took the time out to have an hour’s power nap. During that time Linda phoned to say they’d made it on board; in fact, because they’d had fewer pick-up stops than we had they’d managed to make up the time and they actually arrived in Southampton before we did! We agreed to meet up in the Rising Sun pub later on.
We had first met John and Linda Thornton (from Cramlington, Northumberland) on the Black Watch in 2013 and had kept in touch ever since. We met up with them again on Balmoral in 2019 and we were delighted when we found out they were going to be on Arcadia this year at the same time as us. We knew there would certainly be no shortage of good conversation, banter and lots of laughs.
We were expecting the Arcadia to cast off and begin our voyage at around 4.30pm. However, at five o’clock the captain’s voice boomed over the tannoy to say there was a serious problem. Our hearts plunged to our boots, wondering what he was going to say. It turned out that there was no beer left on board. The Arcadia should have had a large order of beer delivered (it is the Christmas cruise, after all) but it turned out, when they were chasing the order up and asking the suppliers why we hadn’t received it yet, it had inadvertently been delivered to the Arvia instead!! So while arrangements were being made to offload it all from Arvia and transfer it to Arcadia we couldn’t go anywhere until we had taken delivery of this most important consignment. 😊
We always dine on first sitting and choose a table for six or eight, as we always the conversation and good company of our table mates and we’ve made some firm friends in the past. A card that had been placed in our stateroom advised us that we had been allocated Table #61 on the upper tier of the Meridian Restaurant for the 18:30 sitting.
We got washed and changed and made our way (slowly) to the restaurant. I say “slowly” because every few yards people were stopping me and asking where I got my shoes from! I was wearing my Irregular Choice “Warm Glow” Christmas shoes, red, purple and gold court shoes with candles along one side which actually lit up when you walked.
We found that table #61 was a table for eight; the other three couples were already seated when we arrived. As ever, on the first night, the conversation consisted of “Have you been on a cruise before?” “Did you have far to travel?” – all that sort of thing.
For dinner, I enjoyed a Caesar salad to start with, followed by a juicy sirloin steak with grilled tomato, chips and horseradish sauce. At some point, the captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker to advise that all the beer was safely on board (to which everyone cheered). Shortly afterwards, the Arcadia slipped her moorings and slowly made her way down Southampton Water.
I finished dinner off with a passion fruit pavlova and washed it all down with coffee and rosé wine. There was no sign of the sommelier anywhere, so we couldn’t have the traditional after-dinner liqueur.
As we were coming out of the Meridian Restaurant, Linda phoned to tell me they were sitting outside the Rising Sun pub if we wanted a quick meet-up. It was good to see them again after three years and the conversation just seemed to follow on where we’d left off! We stayed until around 8.20pm as we had to be in the theatre for the show; John and Linda were going to the later performance. We agreed to meet in the Rising Sun for the trivia quiz at half past ten. 😊
Tonight’s show was called “On the Horizon” and was performed by the Headliners Theatre Company. It was described as an “eclectic mix of song and dance” and that’s exactly what it was; lots of high energy dancing and singing in colourful costumes. We enjoyed the show a lot.
Then it was along to the Rising Sun where John and Linda joined us soon afterwards. It was just like old times; we did the quiz (which we didn’t win) and we regaled each other with funny tales of other holidays and cruises. We hadn’t planned on staying too late tonight as we had to put our clocks forward an hour, but it was 12.50pm when we left the Rising Sun, the time having flown. We said our goodnights, saying we’d no doubt bump into each other around the Arcadia tomorrow.
We returned to cabin E26 and its rumpled bed; as part of the many cut-backs we have noticed on cruise lines post-pandemic, P&O have stopped doing the evening turn-down service. It was very warm in the cabin; in fact it had been sweltering all around the ship – they really had the heating turned up in anticipation of Northern European December weather. We therefore opened the balcony door a crack to let in some of the fresh sea air. Settling down in our large bed with its crisp cotton sheets and plump pillows, we slept very well on the first night of our Christmas Cruise. 😊