News

March 2019

Apologies a million times over.  I have done my best over the years we’ve been together to deliver the updates on the 1st of each month but since I left England on 3 January it just hasn’t been possible.

I changed providers just before Christmas because I had so much trouble with my email programme but actually the worst part of the whole debacle was Skyforce Software and the guy who ran it Pete Birch. I don’t like change and I should have left a year earlier but I kept thinking it would all smooth itself out but I as wrong.

I moved to a new computer in 2016 and for some reason at the same time all of the e-mail stored online for the last few years disappeared and the webmail contained nothing. The upshot it was tough luck. The guy did not have a contact number, didn’t reply to emails and when he did he didn’t resolve any of the issues. The following year he moved servers and restructured his web hosting without pre-warning Richard or me so I was unable to use my email for over a week. He wrote that he fully understood that I might wish to move to another company but asked me to stay saying he would “ensure I got a better service in future”.

I would suddenly get several hundred emails downloading from the main webmail which meant all my originals were trashed and I constantly had problems. Once again he didn’t reply at all or not in a timely fashion and in all cases he never resolved the issues. Just before Christmas, after yet more problems, and no reply I told Richard we had to move and quickly because of going away.

The new company actually has a contact number and someone who answers the phone if you make contact and it wasn’t too painful to set it all up. I entered the new settings on my main computer, my laptop and mobile phone but unfortunately although I could receive emails on my laptop I was unable to send any. I re-checked all the settings but they appeared correct. I could send emails from my phone but could not write the updates on there so there you have it.

On top of everything I still haven’t finished the book despite working 12-14 hours a day whilst  away. I can honestly say that the only places I saw on the ship was my cabin, reception, the shop and Deck 12 where my “office” was sited. I took some hours off in some of the ports but as soon as I was back on the ship it was straight back to work.

I have to say the whole cruse was a disaster waiting to happen. P&O have not gone up in my estimation at all. As soon as I got on Aurora they wanted to charge £550 for the use of the Internet for the cruise but unlike other cruise companies you aren’t actually connecting to Wi-Fi. Instead you were connecting to P&O and they were policing what you could access. Despite the price the connection was so slow and would constantly drop. It had the symbol for WhatsApp but that was a con as you could only use the text option not the phone so I was unable to ring Max unless I got off in port. I am signed to 3 and what originally looked to be a decent deal is awful. It offered coverage in Brazil but the connection was lousy and thereafter the countries I went to weren’t offered. Since I signed to them a year ago I get extras on the bill every single month and I’m not talking about a few pounds!! This happens even when I am in England.

I couldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi for the first six days, proved it by taking screen shots and actually taking my laptop to the IT guy (who was the librarian and didn’t actually know anything technical). I demanded a six-day refund and they credited me with £18.00 so back I went. It took a week to sort out. This is one of my bugbears with P&O. They can’t ever hold their hands up and give you your money back. It always requires a fight and a number of days to sort out. I had the same thing happen when I asked for a refund for a tour I had booked. It was only the night before the tour that they offered the information that the transport was a safari bus which are open-sided with high steps so I would have been unable to access the vehicle with my disability problems. They also failed to inform me that the journey included steep winding roads, which I can’t do because of vertigo, and lastly that smoking in public is banned on Tortola.

They sent a tour booklet to me about 8 weeks before the cruise but none of those items were in the information pages so I booked unknowingly. It took several phone calls, two visits to reception and a phone cal from the tour manager.

Once I was finally connected to the Internet, worked solidly for the next six days trying to catch up on the time lost. The out of the blue, the Internet dropped, the laptop crashed with my memory stick in the machine and I lost the six days of work. The Internet guy couldn’t retrieve anything so I was devastated as you can imagine.

Once we left Southampton the first port was Tenerife and that was when we were first informed there was a problem with the propeller. The Captain announced that a net had got caught???? We stayed in port until very late and sailed on to Cape Verde. Propeller problems again. It would seem they had to send some lubricant, which had to be flown in. We were told we’d leave by midnight but it was coming in via a charter plane so why they told us we were leaving at night I have no idea as the plane didn’t arrive until 10.00am the next morning.

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We were now running a day behind schedule which affected our arrival I the Amazon. This is where I have to say well done to the smaller companies (by that I mean cheaper) Fred Olsen, Cruise & Maritime etc who actually went to the decent ports along the Amazon basin. Let me explain.

I took P&O to court a few years ago and won the case and received a large credit which had to be used within 3 years. I was loathe to travel with them again but didn’t want to throw the money away. The years sped by and so booked Oriana January 2017 (which was just before the deadline ran out) Three weeks before the cruise P&O cancelled it saying it had to go in for urgent repairs. Because I had to use the credit and could only travel January or February the travel agent rang and offered me a cruise to the Caribbean Bermuda, Mexico and the Bahamas. It got me out of England for the winter months so I took it without looking at the full itinerary. Three weeks before the trip this year I sent an itinerary to my son only to see it was going back to the Amazon and I was gutted having done it for five years running and vowing never to go back. The worst thing of all was travelling all that way to go to Manaus, an awful port where we always have muggings but they need to stop overnight there as it is the only place to refuel and get supplies. This year we had two stabbing incidents, which required one of the crew to have urgent surgery having sliced through the guys bicep. The next port was Parintins and there is nothing there except the show the tour desk offers Boi Bumba. As it happens it is a great show but I had seen it 4 times and the port required a tender. It took hours to offload the passengers so it wasn’t worth going across to stretch my legs. The other port was Santarem, another tender and very little to see.

The usual itinerary would also have included Boca de Valeria, which is great as you tender over to the island’s villagers, who dress for the occasion and bring their animals to show us. Last year there were sloths, caiman, monkeys, toucans and tapirs. It’s a great day and one where you feel you have seen some of the real Amazon.

The nicest port is Alter do Chao famous for its sandy beaches which only appear during the dry season, Alter do Chão is a relaxed, laid-back destination which combines jungle, history and beach experiences into one charming package.  It was such a shame that we didn’t got there but the most unforgivable faux pas was not stopping at Iles du Salut (Devil’s Island). The island was part of a notorious penal colony from 1852 onwards for only the worst criminals of France and for those that have read the book Papillon, you will understand what a great opportunity going to the island is as you can only access it by helicopter, or boat. P&O sailed by.

Because of the propeller problem and the fact we were a day behind the schedule was shuffled about but then we had to put out foot down so we could arrive at 3am in Barbados so they could send divers down again. Because of the shuffle we swopped Tobago and Barbados and lost a sea day but it meant I had to go online and change some private tours I had booked but luckily I didn’t lose any money. That is the good thing about booking tours independent you can cancel up to 24 hours before without penalty. That night they suddenly announced we were losing Grand Turk, that was not a popular decision and there was no reason for it as we were now back on the original schedule.

The con of this cruise was that the ports were a disgrace. Instead of Grand Turk we went to Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, yet another private Carnival cruise port and the standard money grab, artificial, plastic and over-priced shops, all designed in order to keep cruisers self-contained in one area. It is an extremely long walk from the ship down to the pier but at least the were a few pedicabs that I took as I couldn’t do the walk.

I’ll digress here. P&O refused to let me bring my scooter on board, as I didn’t have a disabled cabin. I told them it is one of the lightest on the market and folds up and would have gone under the bed. I even told them I would only use it in ports and thy told me I would be denied boarding if I turned up with it.

Back to Amber Cove – it’s a good 25 minutes to the front gate (non-cruise excursion providers are not allowed to drive into the port to pick up passengers. In order to get onto the property they would lose 70% of their fare)). My tour guide was waiting there at the bottom of the hill and after my excursion I was dropped off at the gate and had to make the return trek back to the port. 

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Half of the ship seemed to congregate outside Diamonds International trying to get free Wi-Fi. My friend Liza and I wanted to go the cable car station but were quoted $30.00 each way and Puerta Plata was a $70 taxi ride.

The grounds have large interconnecting pools with swim up bars and loud music and if you are on a Club 18-30 holiday it would have been ideal. I could always have booked the private cabana if I’d wanted to spend £170!

What was curious was that Grand Turk was supposedly pulled at the last moment BUT P&O managed to arrange docking at a virgin port of call, lay on 18 tours and produce a12 page colour booklet on the facilities and tours in port, entitled “Aurora’s Maiden Call to amber Cove”.

Several of the other ports, like Freeport Harbour is in another isolated area and although there are shops and beaches , it’s quiet run down with vendors almost begging you to buy from them actually saying ‘we need the money’. It about 150 miles to Atlantis.                                                                                                                              

Punta Langosta in Cozumel requires you to walk the length of the shopping mall before you can exit the area and trust me it is a very very long walk on top of which it is then a 1.5 mile walk to the city centre and Mahogany Bay at Roatan is also owned by Carnival Corp.

Being that the ports are purpose built you don’t feel you are gaining an authentic experience and even I, who love shopping, was totally fed up by the same old tourist wares that were being waved in my face.  That takes us to more propeller problems and the fact we needed to get into Bermuda an evening earlier. It would seem a team of people were being flown out to meet us and they needed 48 hours to work below the water.

Firstly we did not dock at Hamilton but the Royal Naval Dockyard. Guess what? We were never going to dock at Hamilton, yet another con. The Tourist Information Office told me that all of the regular contracted ships moved to the larger berths at Royal Naval Dockyard and only a handful of smaller ships actually dock at Hamilton. Certainly Aurora is too large. The trouble is Hamilton is an hour away. Aurora docked at 6.00pm, just after the ferry had stopped running. There is a small us service that was running but it only takes 40 people and Aurora’s capacity is 1,878 passengers but with crew, who also got shore leave it is some that is another 850. In order to get to Bermuda a day earlier we had to cut our stop in Freeport in half so we were only there a couple of hours and now P&O had left us without any shuttle buses laid on. Although the Royal Naval Dockyard has developed into a large complex with lots of tourist shops, cafes and restaurants, the majority of it was now closed. One of the passengers went to a bar and paid £7,00 for a beer, so you can work out it was too expensive to catch a cab to Hamilton.

Aurora was due to dock overnight anyway so now we had two nights there. The next day everyone was raring to go into Hamilton, there was just one small problem. It is CLOSED on Sundays and I do mean closed. This was the highlight of the itinerary for a lot of guests and I among others were gobsmacked. It was just another let down on a whole cruise of same.

A gang of divers had worked throughout the first night and the following day trying to fix the problem. Interestingly having looked at Cruise Critic while in port, it spoke of propeller problems on Aurora last June already so it would appear it wasn’t a new problem. Not once I 55 nights did the Captain or any of his staff give us an update on the propeller, nor did he thank us for out patience and understanding. In fact at the Farewell Cocktail Party a few days later he was actually booed.

P&O never tell you where you are docking or the times you are in port (times are printed the night before in the ship’s Horizon so that you are unable to book an independent tour!

The next problem which the Captain also failed to update us properly on was a deep depression heading our way, which left us fighting Force 10 winds and rather unpleasant waves. Having battled that for 3 days it would seem another climatic problem was heading our way with 80+ mile per hour winds, which is hurricane force.

Having sailed out of Bermuda on the Monday we were told we needed to get into Praia Da Vitoria before the storm hit before we were due on Monday so they were aiming to get in on Sunday night but they didn’t know if we’d get there before the Azores closed the port

Would you believe that since leaving Bermuda and battling the storm all we were given at the noon announcements was a perfunctory weather forecast. No updates on the storm at all. It was like “well I’ve told them”. The same was true on Saturday and Sunday until I spotted a three-striped officer at 7.pm. I told him I was disgusted at the lack of updates, that there were several virgin cruisers on board who were scared and were we still going to get in that evening or not. He said there must have been an update at noon and I told him he was wrong. He said maybe the Captain didn’t know and I replied that he should at least tell us that if nothing else.

I was quite amazed when 20 minutes later the Captain came on the tannoy and gave an update. We were going to pick up the pilot at 10.00pm and attempt to get in. Tanks fully we did just that but for obvious reasons were not allowed off the ship. The winds and rain hit at about 3.00am and continued for hours. It was so bad that the port didn’t open and with no shuttle buses were not allowed off anyway for safety reasons. It was about 1pm when we were told we could now go ashore.

We sailed at 6.00pm and not once did the Captain give us an update on the sea state, winds or the like, just that it was overcast! I was just relieved to get back to Southampton to a bright sunny day. It had made me laugh knowing that over the last 4 days England had better weather than us by a log shot.

Needless to say customs relieved me of my cigarettes but even that didn’t dampen my high spirits at being home. Sorry O&O but you aren’t for me. John Bartram, the cruise director was a disgrace, rude as per usual and obnoxious. He is definitely a frustrated performer. There was a new soul group on the ship and introducing them he used 7 minutes trying to be funny before introducing them. He them told everyone that they had over run. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had put that into his report to Head Office. Bartram did that regularly, pulling raffles and taking up the performer’s time on stage. I haven’t met anyone that had anything nice to say about him and that includes me.

I had three shows booked in Alicante between 11-16 March booked my DJ Lee Howard last August. He cancelled the shows a few days before I came home. People don’t seem to understand that I turned down other work to do these talks and typically I’m now out of pocket.

Universal, Richard and I have been working on a new project that is rather exciting so watch this space. Should have more news in a few weeks time.

Whatever the coming year holds, suffice to say that I shall be plugging dad’s music at every opportunity.  That is the wonderful thing about working the ships, it gives me a brand new audience each time and if then, a small percentage goes home a fan, then it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the Bay of Biscay!!!!

Christmas Quiz answers

Cruise/ Work Dates 2019

7 May – 19 May – Celebrity Silhouette
19 May – 2 June - Celebrity Silhouette
2 June – 16 June - Celebrity Silhouette
16 June – 30 June - Celebrity Silhouette
11 August – 25 August - Celebrity Silhouette
25 August – 1 September - Celebrity Silhouette
1 September – 8 September - Celebrity Silhouette
8 September – 22 September - Celebrity Silhouette
22 September – 3 October - Celebrity Silhouette
3 October – 13 October - Celebrity Silhouette
13 October – 24 October - Celebrity Silhouette

Cruise/ Work Dates 2020

6 January – 24 March – Cruise & Maritime

 

Don’t forget to check out our Spotlight feature this month, I know so many of you enjoy them. This month we look in on the ever-popular Billy May

Here’s hoping the New Year started out in the right vein and that 2019 will be a ring dinger.

Much love to one and all

Michele xxxx

 

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