Cruise, Sydney to Southampton (Pt 1: Sea days – Sydney to San Francisco)

After our 39 days away in Australia following on from our 4 day stop over in Hong Kong, we had opted to cruise to Southampton from Sydney and the P & O Cruise ship, Aurora is our home now for our 49 day cruise to Southampton via New Zealand, San Francisco and the Panama Canal.

Our previous cruises had been 14 or so days, so a 49 day cruise was a bit of a step into the unknown, especially as we now had “Freedom dining” as opposed to a set dinner time as we had previously experienced with P & O.

Our experience (see: http://www.thereadrovers.wordpress.com) on the Norwegian Cruise ship 15 months ago was not good from a dining perspective but P & O’s version was much better organised.

With only 14 port days scheduled as well as a cruise in Milford Sound, a traverse of the Panama Canal and two days called Wednesday 18 March we had 31 days at sea to contend with – a whole month!

Aurora moored in Sydney Bay
Aurora moored in Sydney Bay

I will write separately about the ports of call – and the transit of the Panama Canal – so look out for those in the coming days but you have to have something to do on the sea days if you don’t want just to sit and sunbathe.

So, our life on sea days was taken up with talks both interesting and not so interesting, music performances some of which again were good and shall we say, not necessarily to our taste, comedians and a magician.

Being the last two legs of a five leg World Cruise over 700 of the passengers on board started in Southampton in early January and by the time we joined in Sydney they were well acquainted with day to day life on board. In fact I would go so far as to say that many of the passengers are so cruise orientated that they seem to spend their whole life on board cruise ships, some of them appear to have been on over 5 world cruises and have more booked.

Many of our fellow passengers are quite elderly, at least one being over 100, and some are not particularly good at walking other than very slowly which is frustrating as they tend to hold everyone up when getting on and off tour buses or shuttles.

On board Aurora
On board Aurora

Basically we joined a floating care home and were definitely in the youngest quartile of the age range. The downside is that many people had to use frames and in some cases mobility scooters.

The users of these were a breed unto themselves with a few charging around as if it was a race track as though they own the place.

Some seemed to be a bit arrogant but others not so. One couple were amazing, he being blind and she virtually blind – they were a cheerie couple.

Now some of the other passengers were obviously only there for the activities on board such as Bridge, Whist, Art and various other activities whilst not necessarily taking in the well stocked library, interesting talks and musical performances, not to mention the ports of call as at many ports, some people didn’t get off.

You really do have to have strong will power so as to avoid over eating as food is available virtually all day and P & O does do food particularly well although based on past experience, the portions were much smaller than they had been before, perhaps because it was part of a world cruise?

A Gym and a walking track is available though to eat off the calories if you are so inclined although many people take it far too seriously, on one occasion barging past us almost knocking us over.

One very British aspect of a P & O cruise is that of the 47 nights on board, men have to dress up for dinner in Dinner Jackets and bow ties on 10 occasions and in a less formal manner on at least another 10 occasions.  Thus gents do need to pack 2 jackets and 2 pairs of very smart trousers and ladies some evening wear hence our case left in Sydney whilst we travelled Australia.

Smart Casual attire on Aurora
Smart Casual attire on Aurora

Obviously the woman have to dress up as well but on the casual days, many women have strange ideas on what is casual wear as they seem to dress up in evening dresses. Personally, I do not particularly like the dressing up on so many occasions but you have to go with the flow with P&O.

For entertainment, we were blessed with good talks from Melvyn Bowen, Michael Kushner and others about serial killers, Mutiny on the Bounty and the work of the code breakers at Bletchley Park – which particularly pleased John. Also, talks on the RNLI from a retired coxswain at Aldeburgh (Suffolk) and interviewing criminal suspects were entertaining.

Musically, shows by the resident “Headliners” were watched but the shows were the same as they had been 20 months ago – shame they hadn’t appeared to change their routines. Of the other performers, those that stood out from the rest were Jon Courtney, Sarah & Amy, Ben Makisi, Helen Wilding, Clare Langan (flautist) and Byron Johnston with his guitars just to name a few.

Tom O’Connor and a couple of other comedians were on board for some of the time as was a magician who was good.

So, on a day to day basis:

We boarded on Saturday 7 March

Arrival and checking in seamless with a traditional P & O “sail away” party as we leave Sydney and it’s iconic skyline.

Opera House from deck of Aurora
Opera House from deck of Aurora

The weather stayed kind as well for the “sail away party”.

Bye Bye Sydney
Bye Bye Sydney

After the Sail away we move to the Medina Restaurant for our Freedom dining experience. Our concerns were unfounded – it seem to work fine for P & O – they need to share this with Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Entertainment tonight is Live Wire a duo on Electric Violin and guitar. Bed beckons early though sea a bit rough as we head of to NZ and as we are at a forward part of the ship we feel motion a bit more than if we had been in the middle.

Sunday 8 March

Our first full day at sea which goes remarkably quickly although sea only settles down by about lunchtime. Port talk on Akaroa and talk on how airplanes fly with musical entertainment in the evening from a classical duo of Sarah and (a very nervous) Amy on Clarinet and Piano.

Monday 9 March

A few talks today, one on Serial Killers and another on Volcanoes and a first venture into the Crow’s nest for the Captain’s welcome party although the crew were not particularly talkative and the free booze only extended to one drink.

Tuesday 10 March

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

An early morning cruise down Milford Sound but a cloudy day as opposed to the sunny visit we had to the nearby Doubtful Sound two years ago.

However, it was still atmospheric and lots of examples of why NZ is called the land of the long White cloud.

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

Fascinating talk on Humour by same person as talked on Serial Killers and a concert by Live Wire.

Got talking to a couple from Australia (Sharon and Bryan) who are doing the same leg of the World Cruise as we are and then staying in Yorkshire for a couple of weeks before flying home.

Bryan was a £10 Pom from Barnsley in the late 1960’s and has no Australian accent, speaking broad Yorkshire.

Saturday 14 March

After our day at Wellington, New Zealand, we had to divert to the west of New Zealand to avoid Cyclone Pam which devastated Vanautu as it sped South East to the East of New Zealand.

W Coast of NZ leaving Wellington
W Coast of NZ leaving Wellington

As a result, one Port of Call (Apia, Samoa) had to be dropped and we ended up with five consecutive days at sea before we reached Pago Pago in American Samoa.

Lovely quiet day, smooth sea as we pass up to the north of NZ with a talk on Captain Cook.

Manage to get some washing done but by the time we go to bed, sea becoming rougher as we head north some 500 miles West of Cyclone Pam’s passage due South.

Sunday 15 March

Now understand that Cyclone Pam is stronger than Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans a few years ago. Very rough day, with wind speed throughout the day being Force 7. Difficulty walking and sick bags put out although P & O call them “Motion discomfort bags”.

Monday 16 March

Still rough but not as rough as before with decks now open for walking and waves still crash against our cabin window.

Still going north with Pam heading south, quiet rough though with Force 6 overnight causing a sleepless night. Good concerts tonight from vocalist Anna Stolli and the Heimana String Band from Polynesia.

Tuesday 17 March

Better night, no waves crashing on window this time but an emergency in the night announced through the ship for someone in a particular cabin.

Last chance to see Sarah & Amy and a talk on the Mutiny on the Bounty from Melvyn Bowen. Captain Blythe and his men who were set adrift from the Bounty, managed to get over 100 miles to Indonesia in their small rowing boat, passing the top of Australia on their way and only losing one of the 19 men on board and that to an attack by natives rather than lack of food or water.

Ono Island (part of Fiji) passed about 6.5 miles away. First land seen since the top of NZ on Saturday morning and certainly no other shipping seen.

Wednesday 18 March

Chart showing course of Cyclone Pam that we had to avoid
Chart showing course of Cyclone Pam that we had to avoid

We were supposed to stop at Apia today but of course that has had to be cancelled because of Cyclone Pam.

Not much on the entertainment menu today so a couple of substitutes put on by the entertainment office, a talk with the Headliners dance and singing group.

A staff talent show raised over £6,700 for the Vanuatu relief fund by selling maps of the ship’s avoiding course.

Wednesday 18 March

No, not an error, we have crossed the international date line so we have two Wednesday 18 March’s. I get my pension on the 18th of each month so does that mean I have got paid twice?

Thursday 19 March

Port talk on Honolulu, so much to do and see, why are we only staying one night? Helen Wilding sung to us a very varied programme including “Joyce the Librarian” by Richard Stilgoe and a Noel Coward song about immediate post war followed by a classical guitarist, Byron Johnston who demonstrated layering on his guitar to produce his version of the classic Eagles song, Hotel California.

Friday 20 March

Seeking Neptune's permission to cross the Equator
Seeking Neptune’s permission to cross the Equator

We must be heading home as we are to cross the Equator into the Northern Hemisphere. Neptune calls us, so the “legend” goes and it is an excuse for a party atmosphere whilst we seek Neptune’s approval to cross the Equator.

Talk on Hilo where everything seems to revolve around the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory and the Thomas A Jagger volcano museum. The island has an active volcano but sadly the helicopter ride over it is sold out.

The ship, as many ships do, has a ceremony on board for crossing the Equator. A bit of fun ensues and involves lots of crew getting wet. Otherwise a lazy day, getting washing up to date.

Saturday 21 March

The last two days has seen us travel over 420 nautical miles each day so we are gradually getting nearer Honolulu although it is a bit boring, another three days at sea before we get there.

Sunday 22 March

Another 420 nautical miles sailed and today a talk on the effect of wind on earth and the reduction of ice at the Arctic. We might not have an arctic snow cap in 30 to 50 years and the Russians are hovering to lay claim to the Arctic area. Another guitar demonstration by Byron Johnston followed by the in house group, Caravan, and their version of the Eagles songs.

To date, over £8400 raised for Vanatua and over £16000 for this and Macmillan cancer since the ship left Southampton in January.

Found that a fellow passenger is from the Isle of Man, Port St Mary to be precise, and he knows another IoM resident on board although they didn’t know either were travelling prior to when they got on. There were 6 or 7 IoM residents on the ship from Southampton to Sydney.

Monday 23 March

Still at sea!

Thursday 26 March

Talk by Michael Kushner on Bletchley Park very interesting, especially for John, but talk by camera man who filmed with David Attenborough not so good and medical quiz which was more about TV series than anything else.

Friday 27 March

Another talk by Michael Kushner again fascinating, this time on the U-Boat war in the Atlantic and singer, Paul Emmanuel entertained us in evening after 60’s quiz before mammoth “shit head” card games.

Saturday 28 March

An early talk by Michael Kushner on Alan Turing, sorted out presents for girls with a less than average performance in the evening by the comedian piano player.

Sunday 29 March

We have seen another ship, our first since we left Sydney, I think!

At last, another ship
At last, another ship

Another talk by Michael Kushner, this time on Black Radio propaganda, where broadcasts were made that the other side are unable to work out where they come from, and in the evening, a double singing bill from the excellent Will Martin, who has his voice back and Paul Emmanuel.

It’s land tomorrow!  2 days in San Fran.

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