Tuesday, 7 January 2014

I have been to … the Canary Islands and Madeira

Just after my wife and I retired (which was nearly eighteenth months ago) we decided that we would go on a cruise over the 2013 Christmas and New Year period. We had done this before – and had really enjoyed the experience – and after dealing with the family upheavals of the past few years we were both looking forward to doing the same thing again.

Our previous Christmas and New Year cruise had taken us to the Caribbean and back, but this time we opted for a shorter cruise to what P&O called ‘the Atlantic Islands’ … the Canary Islands and Madeira.

Saturday 21st December 2013: Southampton
We awoke just before 7.00am, and after dressing, loading the luggage into the car, having a small breakfast, and a final check that we had not forgotten anything, we finally set off for Southampton at 8.50am.

Despite the high winds and heavy rain our journey around the M25 to Junction 12 – where we turned off onto the M3 – was uneventful, and we were able to stop at Winchester Services for a mid-morning break not long after 10.30am. Suitably refreshed we then continued our drive to Southampton, and we joined the queue for the valet parking service at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal before midday.

The embarkation process did not take much longer than normal, and by 12.30pm we had made our way aboard Aurora and we sitting in the Alexandria Restaurant having a glass of champagne and a snack lunch. Our cabin was ready for us to occupy just before 2.00pm, and our cabin steward – Sandra – delivered our luggage during the course of the afternoon.

We had completed most of our unpacking by the time that we had to go to our muster station in the ship’s show lounge (Carmen’s) at 4.00pm, and after going through the emergency procedures and checking that we knew how to put on our lifejackets, we returned to our cabin to finish. Usually the ship departs from Southampton just after the safety briefing, but due to the bad weather our departure was delayed. The wind had risen significantly and the rain was falling so hard that it considerably reduced visibility in the dock area. The local recycling centre – which is located just across the river from the Mayflower Cruise Terminal – was very indistinct …

… and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Roll-on, Roll-off ferries moored at the Marchwood Military Port were very difficult to make out.

By the time Aurora cast off from the quayside just after 6.00pm it was dark and very cold and wet on deck, and we decided not to attend the ‘sail away’ from Southampton. Instead we stayed in our cabin resting, although we did make a couple of forays onto our cabin balcony as Aurora sailed down the Solent, past the Isle of Wight, and on towards the English Channel.

We decided to go to Anderson’s Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and at 8.30pm we joined the queue of passengers outside the Alexandria Restaurant waiting to be seated. We had been allocated seats on a round table near the entrance to the restaurant, and we were soon joined by three other couples, all of whom were of a similar age to ourselves.

After dinner we returned to Anderson’s Bar for a drink before going to our cabin to read for a while. We did not read for very long as we were both very tired, and despite the sometimes violent movement of the ship, we both slept very well.

Sunday 22nd December 2013: At sea
When we woke up at 8.00am Aurora was well on her way down the Channel, and at 9.00am the captain – Captain Neil Turnbull – announced that the weather was likely to remain wet and very windy for the rest of the day, and that as a result passengers were advised to use caution when moving around the ship. This was borne out when we went for breakfast in the Medina Restaurant as most people we saw were – like us – having great difficulty walking in a straight line as the ship rolled from side to side.

After breakfast we returned to our cabin and I spent an hour reading the instruction manual that came with my new camera. (This was my Christmas present from my wife, and is a Fujifilm digital bridge camera.) The manual was surprisingly easy to understand, and I experimented with some of the different operating modes that were available.

Not long after the noonday announcement made from the Bridge, my wife and I went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar for a drink. The bar is situated on Deck 13 Forward and gives a commanding view of the sea around the ship. We sat there until just before 2.30pm when we went to the Orangery Self Service Restaurant for a snack lunch. We only just managed to get there before it closed, and we ended up sitting in an almost empty restaurant, eating and watching the sea.

After lunch we returned to our cabin and I began reading a newly published crime novel by Alan Hunter. It was an Inspector George Gently story, GENTLY WHERE SHE LAY (published by Constable & Robinson Ltd [ISBN 978 1 47210 877 7] in 2013), and it was set – as usual – in a fictional version of the County of Norfolk. (The was newly published in Kindle format, having originally been published by Cassell & Company Ltd in 1972.) It was a very easy book to read, and I was nearly two-thirds of the way through it by the time we had to begin to get ready that evening’s dinner.

During the afternoon Captain Turnbull made an announcement about the effect the weather was going to have on Aurora’s progress towards Lisbon. It appeared that the Queen Victoria, which had left Southampton ahead of us, had experienced very bad weather conditions and had already had to cancel her visit to her first port-of-call, La Coruña on the north-western coast of Spain. Captain Turnbull had decided to reduce Aurora’s speed so that the ship’s movement was lessened, and was taking whatever action he could to avoid the worst of the bad weather. He hoped to take a course which would allow Aurora to keep ahead of the weather front, but as the weather was being less predictable than expected, he could not guarantee that it would improve much overnight. He asked passengers to use the handrails whenever moving around the ship and to take care when using stairs. The Captain finished by stating that he fully expected the weather to improve considerable the closer Aurora got to the Canary Islands.

(My wife and I had the feeling that the latter part of this announcement was also a tacit warning that our visit to Lisbon might be cancelled if the weather did not improve.)

We had a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, and at 8.30pm we went to join out table companions in the Alexandria Restaurant. (Only two of the three other couples were present, and we assumed that they might have decided not to eat in the restaurant due to the effects of the bad weather.) Despite the rough seas the service and food were excellent, and we enjoyed the conversations we had around the table.

After dinner we went to see Tom O’Connor’s show in the Curzon Theatre – which we thoroughly enjoyed – and then had a final drink in Anderson’s Bar before going to our cabin, where I managed to finish reading GENTLY WHERE SHE LAY before going to sleep.

Monday 23rd December 2013: At sea
Overnight the weather changed slightly – but not for the better – and when we woke up Aurora was still experiencing quite violent motion due to high winds and waves.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we went up to the open deck area near the Pennant Bar on Deck 12 Aft. The wind was coming from the south – the direction in which Aurora was sailing – and it was not too windy on deck, but the temperature was too low to sit there in comfort for very long. We then went on a short tour of the ship’s shops before returning to our cabin.

Just after 11.00am Captain Turnbull announced that – due to the bad weather – the Aurora’s planned stop in Lisbon on 24th December was going to be cancelled. It appeared that the prevailing weather conditions were predicted to make it both difficult to enter and leave Lisbon, and that the run from Lisbon to Lanzarote – the ship’s first port-of-call in the Canary Islands – would then be at best uncomfortable. The Captain hoped that by missing Lisbon he would be able to keep the ship ahead of the worst of the weather, and – if it was possible – to spend more time in one of the Canary Island ports.

At midday we went to the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the Alexandria Restaurant. Our table was hosted by one of the Front-of-House Managers and the food, drink, and our table companions – who came from a part of London that is less than three miles from where we live – were excellent … despite the weather’s best attempts to ruin the lunch!

After lunch we were feeling rather full, and returned to our cabin to rest and to read. I began reading the next of the Inspector George Gently books that I had downloaded onto my Kindle. It was entitled GENTLY IN TREES (published in Kindle format by Constable & Robinson Ltd [ISBN 978 1 47210 879 1] in 2013 and originally published by Cassell & Company Ltd in 1974), and I managed to read a few pages before falling asleep!

Just after 4.00pm the Captain made a further announcement about the rest of the cruise itinerary. Captain Turnbull informed us that P&O had investigated the possibility of Aurora spending two days in one of the Canary Island ports, but that this had proved impossible. They had – however – managed to arrange for the Aurora to visit Santa Cruz on La Palma (which are not to be confused with Santa Cruz de Tenerife or Las Palmas on Gran Canaria!) on 26th December. As we had never been to Santa Cruz before – but had been to Lisbon – we regarded this change in the itinerary was a bonus.

During the early evening we began to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. It was preceded by the Captain’s ‘Welcome Aboard’ Cocktail Party, which was held in Carmen’s Show Lounge. This began at 8.00pm and ended in time for dinner to start at 8.30pm. After dining with our six table companions (the missing pair had been unwell on the previous evening) we went to Anderson’s Bar for a drink before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Tuesday 24th December 2013: At sea
We should have been in Lisbon, Portugal at this particular point in our cruise … but because of the bad weather we spent the day at sea on our way towards Santa Cruz, La Palma. The overnight weather had continued to be rough, and it remained so until well into the afternoon.

After breakfast in The Medina Restaurant we went to the bottom deck of the ship’s atrium to have a look at the gingerbread village that had been created by the chef and his galley brigade.

We then collected our iPads and Kindles from our cabin and set off to find somewhere to sit and read. We began with the Crow’s Nest Bar … but it was full and there appeared to be little likelihood that any chairs would become free in the near future. Our next possible venue was Anderson’s Bar, which was crowded but not quite full. We found a couple of chairs and a table near to the side of the bar nearest the windows, and sat there reading and drinking until just after 2.10pm. By then we were feeling hungry, and after a short discussion we opted for lunch in Café Bordeaux. Café Bordeaux is used as a breakfast bar and French-style bistro during the day, and as an informal Marco Pierre White restaurant during the evening. It therefore occupies a position that is halfway between the formal dining experience of the Medina and Alexandria Restaurants and the informal Orangery Self Service Restaurant.

After a very good lunch we returned to our cabin to read and rest, but at 5.00pm we set off for the area near the Riviera Pool. The ship’s newspaper had announced that Father Christmas was going to appear there at some time after 5.30pm, and that his arrival would be accompanied by a short recital of Christmas Carols by the ship’s choir. He finally arrived at the top of the ship’s funnel at 5.45pm …

… and after making his way down he went around the deck, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

By then it was beginning to get dark, and we made our back to our cabin to prepare for dinner. When we got there my wife and I found a present for each of us from P&O (we were both given bags; mine was for carrying all the stuff one needs when one goes ashore, and my wife was given a very nice beach bag) and a greetings card signed by Captain Turnbull.

We had a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar and over dinner we discussed a variety of topics – including air travel, art auctions, and cars – with our table companions. After dinner we went onto the Promenade Deck for a breath of fresh air before going to our cabin to prepare for bed.

Before I went to sleep I finished reading Alan Hunter’s GENTLY IN TREES and began reading the last of the three Inspector George Gently books that I had downloaded onto my Kindle prior to leaving home, GENTLY FRENCH (published in Kindle format by Constable & Robinson Ltd [ISBN 978 1 47210 878 4] in 2013 and originally published by Cassell & Company Ltd in 1973).

Wednesday 25th December 2013: At sea
Christmas Day … and this year we celebrated it in the Atlantic Ocean, just north of the Canary Islands.

Thanks to the Captain’s decision to bypass Lisbon and to sail Aurora as fast as he could southwards, the weather overnight improved considerably, and when we got up the sea was calm and the cloud had mostly disappeared.

Before going to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant my wife and I exchanged presents. (We had already given each other our major presents before leaving home, but we had both taken a small present for each other to give on Christmas Day morning.) After breakfast we went to the Curzon Theatre to take part in the Festival of Seven Carols and Lessons. This was led by Captain Turnbull and the lessons were read by members of the ship’s crew. The theatre was packed and after the hour-long service a collection was made for the Philippines Disaster Relief Fund. (Many of the crew aboard P&O’s fleet of cruise liners come from the Philippines, and since the disaster the company has made this charity a fund-raising priority.)

After the service we went up to the undercover deck area near the Pennant Bar on Deck 12 Aft for a drink before going back to our cabin. We stayed there reading until it was time to go for lunch in Café Bordeaux at 1.30pm. We then went back up to the area near the Pennant Bar, and we remained there until it was time to go back to our cabin to watch and listen to the Queen’s Christmas Message.

During the afternoon and early evening Aurora sailed closer and closer to the Canary Islands, and Tenerife was on the horizon as the sun set.

We stayed in our cabin until it was time to go for our pre-dinner drink, and for the first time it was warm enough for us to go to the Pennant Bar rather than Anderson’s Bar. Having had a drink, we then went to the Alexandria Restaurant for our Christmas Dinner. This was a formal dinner, and it gave me the opportunity to wear my new black and silver bow tie.

We both felt rather full after dinner and rather than go for an after-dinner drink, we went to see Tom O’Connor’s special Christmas show, which took place in the Curzon Theatre. This ended at 11.30pm, and we then went back to our cabin to sleep.

Thursday 26th December 2013: Santa Cruz, La Palma
When we woke up just after 7.00am the sea was very much calmer than it had been on the previous mornings. By the time that Aurora was mooring alongside in Santa Cruz at 8.15am, we were dressed and eating breakfast in the Medina Restaurant.

Aurora was not the only cruise ship in harbour, and the MSC Armonia was moored next to the main Cruise Terminal building.

Because the visit to Santa Cruz, La Palma was a bonus we decided to take one of the excursions that had been organised by P&O. After some consideration we opted for the Trolley Train and Walk around Santa Cruz, and we disembarked in plenty of time to meet the guide who was waiting near the Trolley Train.

The Trolley Train took us around Santa Cruz, passing a replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship the Nina during the trip.

Our first stop was at El Castillo de la Virgen. This was part of the original town of Santa Cruz and was designed and built to protect the town from attacks from the sea.

The castle has been extensively renovated, and it is now armed with a selection of small and medium-sized smooth-bore cannons.

We then took the Trolley Train to the Castillo Principal de Santa Catalina. This also formed part of the defences built around Santa Cruz, and it was under construction from 1676 to 1701.

We left the Trolley Train at the castle and walked down one of the main streets towards the seafront.

The seafront of Santa Cruz is lined with buildings which all seem to have an ornate balcony of some kind. Some of the balconies are roofed and glassed in whilst others are more open to the elements.

We then made our way inland slightly and joined one of the main thoroughfares.

We stopped for a short refreshment break, and then went to the seventeenth century Iglesia del Salvador, which is situated on one side of the Plaza de España.

The church dates from the time of the European Enlightenment and includes some interesting elements in its design, including a very ornate carved ceiling …

… and an ‘all-seeing eye’ above the altar.

After leaving the church we walked back to the harbour, where our excursion ended. My wife and I decided not to go straight back to the ship. Instead we walked along the seafront and found a small bar where we could have a cold drink.

We then undertook a small shopping expedition, and after buying a few small souvenirs we took a gentle stroll back to Aurora. By then it was just after 1.00pm, and once we had been back to our cabin to drop of our bags we went up to the Orangery Self Service Restaurant for lunch. We followed this with a restful break seated in the undercover area near the Pennant Bar. By about 3.00pm the air temperature began to cool, and we returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time for Aurora to leave Santa Cruz.

In the end we remained in our cabin until it was time to have a pre-dinner drink. We went up to the Pennant Bar … but found that it was shut! We therefore walked the length of Deck 12 to the forward end, and then went up a deck to the Crow’s Nest Bar. We had only just sat down when we were joined by two of our table companions, and we remained talking to them until it was time for us all to go to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner.

As two of our dinner companions were eating in the Café Bordeaux there were only six of us around the table, but this did not stop the conversation from flowing freely, and we were almost the last people to leave the restaurant after we had eaten.

We decided to return to our cabin after dinner, and I finished reading Alan Hunter’s GENTLY FRENCH before going to sleep.

Friday 27th December 2013: Arrecife, Lanzarote
Aurora was just coming alongside the dock at Arrecife …

… when we awoke just before 8.00am, and after listening to the Captain’s morning message we went to the Medina Restaurant for breakfast.

Once we had eaten our breakfast we went to the undercover area near the Pennant Bar for a breath of fresh air before going ashore. We could see two other cruise ships moored nearby, the AIDA Vita

… and The World.

(The World is unique. Its cabins and suites are ‘owned’ by individuals and/or families who live aboard her whenever they want to.)

After sitting on deck for about thirty minutes enjoying the excellent weather, we went back to our cabin and collected our bags and cameras so that we could go ashore. The shuttle-bus took us out of the port area, passing a wrecked ship as we went …

… and dropped us of at the car park/bus stop on Calle Juan de Quesada, which is on the outskirts of Arrecife town. We walked along the seafront, and crossed a bridge …

… that divides a lagoon that is used as a small marina from the sea.

We stopped off during our walk along the seafront to cross a causeway that connects to the Castillo de San Gabriel. This small castle houses the local history museum … but it was shut on the day we were there.

The castle is guarded by two nineteenth century siege guns, but some of the locals have felt the need to ‘decorate’ them with political slogans and symbols.

Once we had crossed back across the other causeway that connects the castle to the seafront …

… we walked on a bit further before turning inland. This took us to the main retail area of Arrecife …

… and after visiting several shops we stopped for a drink in a small café called the Bossa Nova.

We then did some more shopping before stopping for an early lunch at Bar el Notario.

We sat outside in the shade and had a drink and a lunch of local ‘Lanzarote Tapas’. This included bread, slices of Spanish Omelette, two types of local cheese, small chunks of hot Chorizo sausage, Canary Island potatoes served with a piquant sauce, and Serrano ham. It was very tasty … and a pleasant change from the food that is served aboard Aurora. (This is not a criticism of P&O’s food, but sometimes it is nice to eat something a bit different!)

We then walked through some backstreets, past a small church …

… and back to the lagoon.

From there it was a short walk back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point, and by 2.30pm we were back in our cabin.

After resting for short while were went up to the Pennant Bar for a drink. We stayed there for just over an hour, and then returned to our cabin to rest and to read. I began reading Robin Neillands’s book about the British Army of 1914, THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES: THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE, 1914 (published by John Murray Publishers in 2004 and published in Kindle format by Endeavour Press in 2013).

Aurora set sail from Arrecife just before 6.00pm, and by the time we went for a pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar at 8.00pm she was well on her way towards the next port-of-call, Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

After a very pleasant dinner we considered going to see that evening’s show in the Curzon Theatre, but in the end we decided to return to our cabin to sleep.

Saturday 28th December 2013: Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Aurora was in the process of mooring alongside the quayside in Santa Cruz just as the sun rose at 7.56am. We were already awake by then, and were ready to go to the Median Restaurant for breakfast just before 8.30am.

There were three other cruise ships in the harbour: The Balmoral, …

… the Braemar, …

… and the AIDA Blu.

Just before we went ashore we were treated to the sight of a local tug ‘saluting’ with its firefighting equipment.

A locally-provided shuttle-bus took us from the Aurora to the port gate. From there we walked along the Avenida Francisco La Roche to the regional military museum (Museo Militar Regional de Canarias) on the Calle San Isidro.

This turned out to be a small but very interesting museum, and I will be writing a detailed blog entry about the museum in the near future.

After leaving the museum we walked back towards the Plaza de España

via the Calle de la Marina. On the way we stopped for a café con leche (coffee with milk) in a local café … and it was one of the best cups of coffee that we have drunk in a long time!

We passed through a small market selling artisan-made goods on the way …

… and saw a number of trees that had been decorated with panels of knitted and crocheted wool panels.

Once we had reached the Plaza Candelaria we began to go up the main shopping street of Santa Cruz, the Calle de Castillo. This long street took us to the Plaza General Weyler, where we turned around and began the long, slow walk back to the seafront.

Not far from the Plaza de Principe we decided to stop and have a snack. We chose a bar that we had been to before – El Aguila – and we each had a cold drink and ate a very reasonably-priced sandwich.

On the way down towards the seafront the clouds began to darken, the air temperature dropped, and the wind began to grow in strength …and we had just reached the seafront when the rain began. It started quite gently at first, but soon began to fall very heavily. We just about managed to get back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point before getting soaked to the skin. Luckily there were a number of shuttle-buses waiting, and we were soon on our way back to the Aurora.

Once back aboard we went straight to our cabin to dry off and to warm up. We then went up to the Orangery Self Service Restaurant for a warm drink, after which we returned to our cabin to rest and to read before it was time to get ready for dinner.

For a change we had booked to eat at 8.00pm in the Pennant Grill, one of the ship’s select dining venues. This restaurant is set up in part of the undercover area near the Pennant Bar on Deck 12 Aft, and is only open when the weather is good or the ship is in harbour. Despite the rain that had fallen during the afternoon – and that continued to fall for most of the evening – the Grill was open and we ate an excellent meal there whilst Aurora remained at anchor alongside in Santa Cruz. (Aurora did not set sail until 10.00pm, by which time our meal had finished.) Whilst we were eating the AIDA Blu left Santa Cruz de Tenerife for her next port-of-call, and Aurora exchanged salutes with her as she passed.

After dinner we returned to our cabin and read for a while before going to sleep.

Sunday 29th December 2013: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
Our overnight passage to Gran Canaria was rougher than any of the others we had had since reaching the Canary Islands, but the weather gradually improved, and by the time we tied up alongside in Las Palmas not long after 8.15am, it was warm if a bit overcast.

Aurora was moored very close to the Spanish Navy’s main base in the Canary Islands, and there were a number of warships close by.

These included the Patrol Ships Meteoro (P41), …

Rayo (P42), …

…and Relámpago (P43).

These are very well-equipped and are more like large corvettes or frigates than the usual run-of-the-mill patrol ships that are in service with many navies.

Also moored nearby were the sail-training ships Gorch Fock

… and Alexander von Humboldt II

... as well as the cruise liners AIDA Blu, …

Kristina Katarina, …

… and Mein Schiff 1.

We disembarked at just after 10.00am and walked along the quay and towards the centre of the shopping area. We did not expect to find much open, but on the way we passed through a small market that was selling a variety of different products ranging from watches to ceramics.

When we reached the Avenida Jose Mesa y Lopez we discovered that El Corte Ingles department store was open. We were offered – and accepted with pleasure – a complimentary glass of local white wine and tapa, and then did some shopping. I bought a lottery/bingo machine … and I already have one or two ideas as to how I might be able to use it.

We then walked back towards the port. Along the way we stopped off at a large shopping centre that has been built near the entrance to the cruise ship docking area. It is called El Muelle and contains a range of shops, a cinema, and several restaurants.

After a look round we ended up having lunch – and a drink – in one of the pizza restaurants. Suitably refreshed we returned to Aurora and went up to our cabin to rest and recover.

We had booked a table in another of the select dining venues for dinner (on this occasion we chose Café Bordeaux, which is run under the auspices of Marco Pierre White) and had a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar. After yet another excellent dinner, we went up to the Pennant Bar to watch Aurora sail out of Las Palmas … but it was very cold and had shut. We therefore returned to our cabin, and watched from our balcony.

The AIDA Blu remained alongside the harbour as we left, …

… escorted by a pilot cutter …

… which came alongside to take off the pilot as soon as Aurora reached the harbour entrance.

Aurora was well on her way to La Gomera by the time we went to bed at 11.00pm. I continued to read Robin Neillands’s THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES: THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE, 1914 before going to sleep, and was already nearly a third of the way through it.

Monday 30th December 2013: At sea
Overnight the weather changed for the worse. The wind grew in strength and reached Force 10 for a time, and its direction meant that Aurora’s movement could be quite violent at times. By 7.30am – when we woke up – the wind strength had dropped somewhat, but it soon became apparent that its strength and direction were going to affect Aurora’s ability to moor in the harbour at San Sebastian, La Gomera. The navigation charts and ship’s data on the information channel of the in-cabin TV system showed that the Aurora was circling some way offshore in the channel between La Gomera and Tenerife, and that the wind was blowing at Force 8 from the north east.

Before 8.00am Captain Turnbull made an announcement to the effect that our planned arrival in La Gomera was going to be delayed by the fact that the SAGA Sapphire

… was unable to leave the only cruise ship berth in the harbour due to adverse winds … and that she had already been stuck there for two days! He advised all passengers to have a leisurely breakfast … and to await further announcements.

The Captain made a further announcement at 9.20am, just as we were finishing our breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. This reiterated his earlier statement, and left us feeling that the likelihood of Aurora visiting La Gomera was getting smaller and smaller as each minute passed. This was confirmed in yet another announcement that was made just before 10.00am, when the Captain told us that – after due consideration – he felt that it was unlikely that the SAGA Sapphire was going to be able to leave its berth in time for Aurora to stop at La Gomera, and that rather than risk getting Aurora stuck in La Gomera – and thus missing its berth at Madeira – he was going to change course northwards and sail towards the harbour of Funchal.

We decided to enjoy this additional day at sea as best we could, and spent the rest of the morning sitting in the Crow’s Nest Bar reading and watching the sea. We returned to our cabin in time for the midday announcement from the bridge, and remained there – or on the cabin balcony – until it was time for us to eat a late lunch.

At just after 2.00pm we went to the Orangery Self Service Restaurant, and once we had eaten we sat in the undercover area near the Pennant Bar for a while before returning to our cabin. At 3.30pm Captain Turnbull updated everyone about the time we were going to arrive in Funchal. He had hoped to get Aurora into harbour slightly earlier than planned, but this had proved to be impossible due to the number of cruise ships that were going to be visiting Madeira for the New Year celebrations.

During the late afternoon we did some sorting out before getting ready for dinner. We had a pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar, and at 8.30pm we joined two of our six table companions in the Alexandria Restaurant. (One of the other couples had booked a table in the Café Bordeaux, just as we had done the night before; the other couple just did not turn up for dinner, and may well have decided to eat elsewhere.)

After dinner we thought about seeing the evening’s show in the Curzon Theatre, but in the end we decided to return to our cabin for an early night as both of us seemed to be developing colds.

Tuesday 31st December 2013: Funchal, Madeira
Aurora picked up the local pilot just before 7.00am and arrived outside the harbour of Funchal at approximately 8.00am as planned. Captain Turnbull then began the series of manoeuvres that would get Aurora alongside her berth. Even in good weather the harbour of Funchal can be difficult to leave or enter, and on this occasion there was the added difficulty of numerous ships vying with each other for the best berth. Aurora’s berth had already been allocated, but if she did not enter harbour in the right position in the arrival sequence she might easily have been diverted to another, less accessible berth.

The sun was just rising …

… as the ship began to approach Madeira.

The harbour was already crowded, and when it was light is was possible to see the other cruise ships that were in or just outside Funchal. These included the Marco Polo, …

… the Braemar, …

… the The World, …

… the AIDA Blu, …

… the Balmoral, …

… the Funchal, …

… and the SAGA Sapphire.

During the afternoon these were joined by the SAGA Ruby.

After eating breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we went ashore. The shuttle-bus took us to one end of the Avenida Arriaga, where we crossed the road and entered the Jardim de Sao Francisco. This small park was decorated with a number of Christmas-themed figures …

… as well as containing a bust of Simon Bolivar.

We then continued along the Avenida Arriaga

… past a local music and dance group, …

… a decorated fountain that depicted Madeira at Christmas, …

… and a number of tableau that depicted the Nativity.

We then crossed one of the ravines that carry water from the mountains down to the sea …

… and along the Rua Fornão Ornelas towards the local indoor market.

We had a long, slow walk around the market, and as well as doing some shopping (which included some local wine and a special Madeiran honey cake), we watched the fishmongers preparing …

… and selling locally-caught fish.

We then made our way back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point, stopping off along the way for a cup of coffee.

We were back aboard Aurora in time to have a quick drink before going out again on an excursion to a viewing platform that gave views across Funchal …

… and then on to Reid’s Hotel …

… for afternoon tea, which was extremely good!

We were back aboard Aurora not long after 4.00pm, and after yet another drink (it was the hottest day of the holiday!) we went back to our cabin to prepare for the evening’s formal dinner and the famous Madeiran midnight firework display.

The firework display started exactly at midnight … and lasted for eight minutes. We watched the display from the deck area near the Pennant Bar on Deck 12 Aft, which gave us an excellent view around the harbour area and out to sea.

The fireworks were set off from over thirty locations – including two barges moored offshore – and cost €3.8 million. It was watched by people onshore and on twelve cruise ships. (Three more cruise ships had joined those already moored in and around the harbour during the evening. These were the Mein Schiff 1, a further ship from the AIDA Cruises fleet, and one owned by MSC.)

The firework display was stunning … and seeing it was well worth the journey and the cost. After it was over we sat for a while on deck before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Wednesday 1st January 2014: At sea
Despite staying up until late on the previous night, we were awoke by 8.00am and were in the Medina Restaurant eating breakfast by 9.15am. After breakfast we went out on deck for a breath of fresh air, but as the air temperature was a lot lower than it had been on the previous day, we soon went back inside.

During the morning I attended a Masonic get-together in the Uganda Room next to the Crow’s Nest Bar. Fourteen Freemasons turned up for the meeting, and we agreed to try to organise a charity coffee morning before the end of the cruise … although this was not going to be very easy to achieve as there were only two days left!

My wife and I then went to the Crow’s Nest Bar for a drink and to read, and we stayed there until 2.00pm, when it was time to go for lunch in the Orangery Self Service. After lunch we again went out on deck for some fresh air, but we only stayed there for less than twenty minutes as even in the covered area near the Pennant Bar it was still quite cold.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and the early evening in our cabin reading and resting, and just before 8.00pm we went to the Pennant Bar for a pre-dinner drink. We joined four of our six table companions for dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant at 8.30pm (the missing two had chosen to go to the buffet held in the Orangery Self Service Restaurant), and after a wonderful meal – which was accompanied by some very interesting conversation – we went back to our cabin for an early night. Before going to sleep I finished reading Robin Neillands’s THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES: THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE, 1914 and began his THE DEATH OF GLORY: THE WESTERN FRONT, 1915 (published by John Murray Publishers in 2006 and published in Kindle format by Endeavour Press in 2013).

During the afternoon the weather had been getting worse, and by the time we actually went to bed the ship’s motion was – at times – quite violent, and moving about in the cabin was difficult. Even lying in bed one was in danger of involuntarily rolling over … and this motion kept waking us up throughout the night.

Thursday 2nd January 2014: At sea
Although it was dark when we awoke at 7.30am, it was quickly apparent that the sea conditions had not improved. If anything it had got worse and by sunrise – which was at 8.14am even though the sun was not visible at the time – all that could be seen was grey skies, grey sea … and no clear horizon between the two.

At 9.15am we carefully made our way down to the Medina Restaurant for breakfast. Once we had eaten we went to the Future Cruise Desk and took advantage of P&O’s Future Cruise Down Payment scheme. Under this scheme a deposit of £50.00 can be paid up front and then used to secure a cabin on any cruise that is booked within the next twelve months. In exchange for this deposit you are guaranteed a minimum of £50.00 on board credit for that cruise. (The amount of on board credit increases with the length of the cruise, up to a maximum of £150.00.)

Having paid our deposit we went up to the Orangery Self Service Restaurant for a drink … which we drank in the undercover area next to the Pennant Bar. We did not stay there very long as the wind was blowing from the south (i.e. from behind the ship) and spray was making the area very cold and damp.

As there was nothing taking place during the morning that we want to watch or take part in we returned to our cabin to get warm and to read. We remained there until just after midday, when we went to Anderson’s bar for a drink. A few minutes before 1.00pm we went for lunch in the Median Restaurant, and followed that by a trip to the Ship’s Photographers to collect a couple of photographs they had printed for us.

As we wanted to see the Crew Variety Show at 3.00pm in the Curzon Theatre, we took our photographs back to our cabin, had a short rest, and then set off for the theatre in what we hoped would be plenty of time to get a good seat. Even though we arrived fifteen minutes before the start of the show, we only just managed to find a couple of seats.

The Variety Show was excellent fun, and was followed almost immediately by ‘An audience with Captain Neil Turnbull’. This interview was conducted by the Cruise Director, and for fifty minutes Captain Turnbull kept over five hundred passengers entertained with numerous stories about his life and experiences.

After sitting in the theatre for over two and a half hours we returned to our cabin to get ready for Peninsular Club Cocktail Party – which was a held in Carmen’s Show Lounge and that started at 8.00pm – and the last formal dinner of the cruise.

Just before we went to the cocktail party Captain Turnbull made an announcement about the weather situation. Due to a major depression that was building up over the Atlantic we were told to expect the weather to get worse during the course of the night, and to expect that the ship’s movement would become more noticeable. He also told us that any lose items in our cabin should be put on the floor to stop them moving about or falling over during the night. In response to this advice we returned to our cabin straight after dinner and prepared for bed … and the possible bad weather!

Friday 3rd January 2014: At sea
The weather during the night was unpleasant … and the sometimes quite violent movement woke us up several times. At 8.00am – when we finally decided to get up – Aurora was turning into the English Channel and leaving the Bay of Biscay. The sea conditions were rough, there was a Force 8 blowing from the west south west (i.e. directly from astern of the ship), and cloud cover was ⅜.

From our cabin balcony we saw several ships which were also battling up the Channel, including a car transporter.

We carefully got washed and dressed (tasks that were not made easy by the ship’s pronounced roll) and just after 9.00am we made our way down to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. We then made a quick visit to the Reception Desk to get a print-out of our on-board account (which was still in credit), followed by a trip around the ship’s shops in order to spend some of the credit!

We had just enough time for a drink in the Orangery Self Service Restaurant before going to the Masonic Coffee Morning that had been organised. This was a very successful get-together, and raised well over £300.00 for the Captain’s Charity. This was ‘Philippines Typhoon Appeal’ that was being run by the Disasters Emergency Committee. (P&O employs over 2,000 Filipinos on its fleet of ships and chose to support this charity after the recent typhoon hit the Philippines.)

The noonday announcement was made just as the meeting came to a close, and at that point we decided to return to our cabin to begin the process of packing. This took some time … although we did take a break for lunch in Café Bordeaux at 1.15pm. During the afternoon Aurora passed through several rains squalls and a thunder storm, and experienced some very heavy seas.

At 4.00pm the sea conditions were very rough, the wind was coming from the west south west at Force 10, and cloud cover was overcast. By then Aurora was off the south coast of Dorset near Portland and Weymouth, and making just over 15 knots towards the Isle of Wight.

Aurora increased speed slightly during the early evening, and by 7.30pm she was south of the Isle of Wight. The weather conditions remained very similar, although the wind speed had dropped to Force 9. Moving about the ship safely was not easy and required some care … and quite a lot of common sense. (It was much safer to use the lifts to move between the various decks than it was to use the stairs. Likewise it made sense to hold onto the handrails that lined each corridor … or at least to keep them within easy grasping distance.)

We had our last pre-dinner drink of the cruise in Anderson’s Bar, and just before 8.30pm we made our way to the Alexandria Restaurant for our final dinner. After yet another excellent dinner we made our farewells to our table companions and to the waiting staff who had served us during our cruise. We were back in our cabin by 10.45pm, finished packing our last bag so that it could be placed outside our cabin door for collection, and then went to bed … just as the Aurora was entering the final stages of its approach to Southampton Docks. As promised, Captain Turnbull managed to moor Aurora alongside by the Mayflower Cruise Terminal by midnight, well ahead of schedule.

Saturday 4th January 2014: Southampton
We woke up just after 6.30am, and were ready to go to breakfast by 7.45am. We ate our final meal of the cruise in the comfort of the Medina Restaurant (neither of us could face the struggle of trying to eat in the Orangery Self Service Restaurant!) and by 8.20am we were told that we could disembark.

After we had collected our luggage (which was – for once – easy to find in the very crowded baggage reclaim hall) we passed through the Customs Green Channel and out towards the car park. As we were amongst the first passengers to leave Aurora, we did not have to queue for very long in the rain to collect the keys or to find our car. By 8.50pam we had loaded all of our luggage into the car and were on our way out of the docks.

Despite the poor weather (it rained all the way from Southampton to London, and at times the rain was so heavy that it was like driving through fog!) there were no major hold-ups during our journey, and by 11.10am I was parking our car outside our house.

Our Christmas and New Year cruise to the Canary Islands and Madeira was over. Here’s hoping that it will not be too long before we are able to go on our next one.


  1. WOW - what an amazing journey. Definitely a trip if a lifetime. Thanks for sharing the pictures!

  2. WarRaptor,

    I am please that you enjoyed this blog entry.

    It was a very enjoyable cruise ... and one of many that My wife and I have undertaken over the past few years.

    All the best,