Well, this was a first for us – we’ve never spent Christmas day anywhere else in our lives but at home. Here we were, in the North Sea en route to Amsterdam, and we wondered what delights P&O Cruises had in store for us. We hated to say it, but so far our cruise had fallen short of our expectations, although there were, of course, some highlights.
Yesterday, for example, we’d arrived back at our cabin to find a Christmas card and a present each, courtesy of P&O. The gift consisted of a 50ml bottle of Tidal craft rum along with a Fever Tree lime soda mixer. There was also an etched glass Christmas tree ornament proclaiming “P&O Cruises – Christmas 2022” so we could hang it on our tree each year and remember our cruise. 🙂
We didn’t really do much today at all. Trevor got up at 8.00am as usual and went for breakfast, but I stayed in bed longer because my cold had taken a grip now and I hadn’t slept well last night, coughing and sniffling a lot. So it was after 9.30am before I could drag myself out of my pit, then all I did was have a cup of coffee in our cabin. Going briefly out onto our balcony, the wind was extremely strong and the weather was misty and cold.
Taking a couple of paracetamols, I got showered and shampooed and blow-dried my hair. Then I put on another Christmas dress and a different pair of Irregular Choice boots; these ones were called ‘Santa’s Workshop’. 🙂
We had brought with us on board a bottle of Taylor’s Port, and we had invited John and Linda along to have a tipple with us; they’d said they would pop along to E26 before 12.00 noon. In the meantime, we decided to go along to the Rising Sun for a Buck’s Fizz.
When we arrived, the pub was doing a roaring trade; everyone was looking at and commenting on my boots (unsurprisingly). We didn’t stay in the pub long (they were just about to start a game of bingo) so we went along to the Palladium theatre where the ex-Beefeater Keith Hanson was doing another presentation, this time about the life of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Interesting though it was, we had not seen any other guest speakers on the programme. Is this yet another cutback? One guest speaker per cruise? Usually you are spoilt for choice on a cruise as to what to participate in, but this cruise had been very much ‘Carnivalised’ in that many of the so-called ‘events’ on the programme were just sales pitches in disguise to try to get you to part with your hard-earned cash.
Back in our cabin a knock at the door heralded the arrival of John and Linda. We poured them, and ourselves, a glass of port each and toasted each other, then sat and talked and laughed; here we all were spending Christmas Day together, who would have thought it? 🙂
It was about 1.30pm when they left to go and get some lunch; we decided to go up to the Belvedere buffet and have something light to eat. We didn’t want a huge meal as we had our Christmas Dinner to look forward to later on. I changed into my flip-flops as I didn’t want to parade around in the self-service buffet in high Santa heels. 🙂
I enjoyed some cold meats with salad, washed down with a glass of house rosé wine. Everyone was wearing Christmas jumpers and party hats and a happy, festive atmosphere prevailed. After lunch we returned to cabin E26 and relaxed for a while. The North Sea looked pretty restless outside.
A resounded ‘bing-bong’ from the Tannoy grabbed our attention, and the Captain’s voice boomed out, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. He did, however, have an announcement to make. In some trepidation we wondered what he was going to say. He said the weather forecast looked to be worsening as far as high winds were concerned (we were out in a Force 9, which is a ‘strong gale’), so he was going to try to get to Amsterdam as soon as possible, in order to try to negotiate the North Sea Canal.
Many ships and ferries visiting Amsterdam usually get no further than IJmuiden which is the port at the start of the North Sea canal (you usually have to disembark there, and get a shuttle bus into Amsterdam) but we have transited the North Sea canal all the way into Amsterdam on two previous ships; the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 2000 and the Balmoral in 2019. It takes lots of skill on the part of the navigator/pilot to negotiate the locks through the canal, and if there were very high winds it would be nigh on impossible for a ship the size of the Arcadia (over 84,000 tons) to make it through.
Captain Sharples said he would try his best to get us into Amsterdam, but if the weather were to deteriorate there was a good chance we might not make it. 🙁
From our balcony, we could see the Arcadia had stepped up her pace, and she was ploughing through the waves at a fair rate of knots.
We didn’t really do much this afternoon. We relaxed in the cabin and pottered about, and I did some of this blog. At around 3.50pm local time (2.50pm at home) we went along to the Rising Sun pub where they were going to broadcast the King’s Christmas Message at 4.00pm, but when we got there, the place was absolutely packed; there was nowhere to sit that had a view of the television. We therefore decided to go and watch it back in our cabin. Strange to think it would be King Charles III making the Christmas speech this year, when we are all so used to seeing the Queen after all these decades.
Tonight was a formal night, as expected, so we spent some time getting ready. I wore a long black split-shoulder dress with a sequinned shrug, and a pair of black and silver killer heels. I didn’t think my Santa boots would be appropriate. 🙂
We went along to the restaurant and arrived at our table at 18:25 hours (our designated dining time was 18:30 hours). I had not even had the chance to take my seat when a waiter thrust a bread basket at me: “Bread, ma’am?” he said, while I stood at eye level with him. Give me a blimmin’ chance to sit down! I thought, but did not say.
There were Christmas crackers on the table filled the with usual paper hats, cheap novelties and corny jokes. The waiter brought an amuse-bouche, a mouthful of cold gazpacho with lots of cucumber in (I hate cucumber so I left mine; I don’t think the others on our table were too impressed either). Then they came round and took the order for the entire meal, including the dessert/cheese. Trevor and I also took the chance to order a glass of wine while we could!
I started off with prawn cocktail, then ‘bubble and squeak’ soup (whatever that was – I couldn’t really make out what it was supposed to be). Everyone on the table opted for the traditional turkey dinner; when it came, there were three slices of turkey, three Brussels sprouts, one roast potato (no mash or boiled spuds) and a few strips of carrot. A tablespoon of cranberry sauce had been added at the side, and there was a rectangle of something which we guessed to be stuffing.
The whole meal was rushed; as soon as someone finished their course, the next courses were brought out while some people on the table were still eating their previous course. It was not a pleasant, relaxing leisurely meal; there was hardly any conversation as we were all frantically eating in order to finish it before the next course came. No-one arrived to replenish our empty wine glasses.
When I got to the cheese course, we asked the waiter to bring us a glass of port each. As I was eating my cheese, another waiter came with a plate of mini-mince pies and slices of Christmas cake; when I said I would like a piece of cake he just plonked it on my plate, next to my cheese!! Trevor had already had his dessert plate cleared away, so they just put the piece of cake into his hand instead!! There were no side-plates or even serviettes; if Trevor had not put out his hand the guy was just going to put it onto the tablecloth. Absolutely appalling service; the worse we have ever had in 58 cruises. And this one was Christmas Dinner – this was supposed to be special.
Once we’d finished our meal, we left the Meridian Restaurant feeling a little disgruntled. What an anti-climax! We really do not like to complain and, as regular readers of my blog will know, we love going on our cruises and other adventures and we do not expect (or receive) perfection all the time. But this was supposed to be a premium cruise line, and yet we’d had better Christmas dinners (and better service) in our staff canteen at work! 🙁
We made our way to the Rising Sun pub afterwards, and had a drink in there until it was time to go into the theatre. Tonight’s performance featured the vocal skills of Peter Howarth, who had sang at one time with the 1960s band The Hollies. He was absolutely excellent; he did a few Roy Orbison hits as well as some of the Hollies’ most famous; notably The Air That I Breathe and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. He got a huge round of applause and cheers at the end of his show, and many people leapt to their feet.
We then returned to the Rising Sun briefly where they were getting ready for the karaoke at 9.30pm. I wasn’t taking part, however, because of my cold and the fact that my voice had gone all husky. If I knew any Bonnie Tyler songs, maybe I could have got up and sung those! 🙂
Meeting up with John and Linda in the piano bar, we made our way to the Ocean Room for the Syndicate Quiz. Could tonight be our night? Our team (number 10) was neck and neck with team 22 and, at the end, it had to go to the tie-breaker. The question asked us to say how many minutes we thought the movie Jaws ran for. Team 22 said 107 minutes and we said 110 minutes – the answer was actually 124, so our team was the nearest and therefore won the quiz!! We’d done it. Our prize was a bottle of house white wine, and we decided to take it up to the Crow’s Nest and swap it for a cold one, and share it between us up there.
When we got there, the leaks were still very much in evidence in the corridor. Could not believe no-one had fixed it by now! In addition, all the toilet doors now had “out of order” signs on them. This was ridiculous. I had to go down a deck and walk along for a bit before I found a loo that was actually working. 🙁
When I got back to the Crow’s Nest, another lady was complaining. She said that if the plumbing problems were not fixed by tomorrow, she was going to go around the ship and video all the issues, then put the footage up on social media. She was concerned about hygiene; she said if this was the standard that was offered to the paying passengers, what sort of conditions were the crew quarters in? After all, the chefs and cooks and waiters and busboys all handled the food and drink that were served to us! The lady was getting quite upset until some of her friends distracted her by pointing out that the Arcadia had arrived at IJmuiden, Netherlands, at the entrance to the North Sea canal, and we were about to enter the first lock.
Looking out of the big wraparound windows at the bow, we could see straight rows of lights; it looked like an airport runway! The good news was that Arcadia was definitely going to arrive in Amsterdam some time soon, so we would have the next two days in this wonderful and colourful city. Brilliant.
We stayed in the Crow’s Nest and finished our bottle of wine, then had a night cap each. Once again it was after 2.00am by the time we returned to our cabin. It wasn’t the best Christmas Day we had ever had in our lives, but it was certainly different. 🙂