On Friday we docked a little later than anticipated in Southampton. However, our staff, as efficient as ever, largely caught up on lost time as we said farewell to our inaugural cruisers.
We call this day ‘turnaround day’, quite simply because we have a turnaround of guests. It never fails to amaze me that the Crew ‘click’ into action, particularly our cabin stewards and stewardesses, who, in just a few hours, have all of our cabins and public rooms not only ready, but immaculate, for embarking guests.
This was our first turnaround and no exception; guests boarded and were shown to their cabins between 2.00pm and 4.00pm, and once settled, enjoyed afternoon tea in the Discovery Lounge. Of course, this ship is still new to our crew and so I have been doubly impressed with their excellent endeavours.
We departed Southampton at 5.00pm on Good Friday, an important day for many and one which I felt could not be left unmarked. For the duration of Easter we have been very fortunate to have The Venerable Arch Deacon Arthur Hawes with us as our ship’s chaplain and he held a service shortly after we left our berth. This service was called the ‘Colours of the Cross’ and was both moving and thought provoking and a valuable reminder for us all about the precious nature of life, regeneration and moving forward.
The beginning of this cruise has been eventful. In complete contrast to our snowy adventures in Norway we have taken a course south as we begin this Canary Island cruise.
On leaving Southampton, looking at the weather forecast, we were going to have to endure a few “speed bumps” on our way south. Mother nature wasn’t going to allow us to go south without a fight! We battened down the hatches, and sailed . I was looking forward to testing out our new ship in a gale. Having worked in the North Sea for over 12 years, I have become experienced in heavy weather handling. So I try to zig zag through any adverse weather to make a scomfortable as possible.
I also like to try and reassure the passengers over the PA system. As I say to guests, one of the hardest things is to try and portray your confidence of the ship over the Public Address system. However, it seems to work. By the time we hit the Bay of Biscay, we were into the full force of the storm. Unfortunately the presence of our dear friend, the Arch Deacon, had little impact on Mother Nature’s mood for the first two days of our cruise.
On Saturday we soldiered on, many guests taking advantage of room service due to the movement. We really gave the Saga Pearl II a thorough test and I was mightly impressed by her performance. We have been spoilt with Saga Rose and Ruby as they were built when they plied their trade across the North Atlantic. So Pearl II needed to make her mark in this respect. I am sure many thought it was rough, and it was, but as a Captain manoeuvring the ship, I was very impressed by her performance. So that is another box ticked on her abilities.
I should mention a word of praise to one young lady in particular – her name is Samantha Ward, she makes up one half of our Classical Duo, the Pakkanen Duo. Both young ladies suffered with sea sickness, Samantha’s colleague, Irina, much worse than her. We had every intention of cancelling their first show as they were suitably indisposed. However, at the 11th hour, Samantha called us to say, even if she is alone, some sort of show must go on. The young trooper did indeed play the piano alone to an unexpectedly high number of guests, and she did so beautifully – well done Samantha.
Anyway, there was a lovely bit of high pressure to the south, so there was light at the end of the tunnel and we soon found it. Spirits were lifted. By Sunday, having changed course significantly in order to maintain some levels of comfort for our passengers, I knew that our scheduled stop at Lisbon would at best be late (perhaps a half day) and at worst would not happen. In all honesty the second was increasingly more likely. I was also aware that guests did need a port of call, somewhere to put their feet on solid ground and so the decision was made to change the itinerary. We were due to visit Oporto at the tail end of our trip, and so that was brought forward and Lisbon will now feature at the end. A simple swap, and one that I am glad we could easily accommodate.
Easter Sunday (yesterday) saw a calming of the waters, certainly by the afternoon, when we held our Easter Sunday Service. Our Filipino choir emotionally opened the proceedings with excellence before a selection of hymns, prayer and readings by the Arch Deacon and myself. I hope I did the service justice. The Arch Deacon has a wonderful gift of portraying not only the words but of stirring both feeling and emotion.
I also had the privalage of administering Communion with the Arch Deacon, passing the goblet of wine to those who wished to take it. I had already done this during the last cruise, and heard the Arch Deacon say he would like me to do it again as he now felt I was an old hand at it! What praise, something to go in my CV...
Last night guests enjoyed a West-End style production show from our cast before heading back to their cabins to enjoy a surprise from us; boxes of chocolates and Easter eggs for all.
Today we berthed in Leixoes at 8.00am, and our Shore Excursions team of Cassie and Grazia should be commended for switching and re-arranging the tours. A shuttle bus was available to take guests into Oporto, situated on the Douro River; it is a delightfully scenic destination. Guests could walk the narrow, cobbled streets of the old quarter, visit the Cathedral, National Museum and the Tower of the Clerics, to name but a few sights.
One of today’s highly praised excursions was the ‘Oporto Sights & Douro River Cruise’ and the weather was perfect for cruising the river.
I wish we could have spent more time here, however to maintain our schedule it was all aboard for 1.30pm.The mood as well as the weather is much brighter now. We are all the same - sunshine and warmth as well as the opportunity to step ashore has had a wonderful effect. The forecast is good, and as the saying goes, ‘sometimes in life we all have to experience the rain, in order to enjoy the rainbow’ – how true.
Tomorrow takes us to Madeira – until then ...