Black Watch (III) - Festive Flanders
I had originally booked the Oriana Christmas cruise from the 17th-28th December 2010 back in 2009, but then my mum was diagnosed with untreatable cancer at the beginning of 2010 meaning I had to change my plans.  A short trip would be fine, regardless of whether she was still alive by then or not, and Black Watch was ideal, even though it was sailing the same day.  I'd been trying to book a cruise on this ship since I'd visited in December 2005 but it was either too expensive for a single or it clashed with something else.  I could have gone a year earlier after P&O cancelled my Aurora cruise for a refit only Fred Olsen had the same idea for Black Watch!  Grrr!  This trip wouldn' be the same as travelling to hot climes but it would be nice to finally compare properly to Boudicca.  I booked on the 15th March, the day my mum was given her prognosis and I was glad because they announced a return to the fuel surcharge on the 23rd April!  I decided to pay it off on the 2nd September, leading to the shortest phone call to a cruise line EVER at two minutes, nineteen seconds!  Now I hoped nothing could go wrong.  The cruise booklet came in October while on the 17th November, Victoria from Fred Olsen phoned asking if I'd like an upgrade.  Pity you have to pay for it, unlike other lines.  But it was only an extra £19.95 to go from since outside 7027 to single balcony 8021, while the following day the ticket arrived bearing the original info!  On the 22nd I received a new one, which is more than other lines give you.  Sadly my mum died on the 25th November and her funeral on the 8th December.  By the time the ship arrived on the 11th (a day late) for the cruise before mine, I couldn't wait to get away to have hopefully a better end to the week after a rotten start which had begun with my first birthday without her.

Well she wasn't late on the 17th, which I was very pleased about.  We were in the middle of a really cold snap, though no snow for over a week, so I decided to get the 12.15pm bus to West Quay instead of go by ferry.  I walked from there, making a detour via Mayflower Park to get pictures of the gorgeous Royal Viking lady as well as the P&O's, then headed to the terminal.  It was lovely and sunny but absolutely freezing cold.  We handed the luggage in at this end of the building then went inthe normal way.  Check in had been a doddle, and we were offered a chocolate as we went to queue to do so.  Then the photographer took your photo and it was time to wait.  I was number 54 and called at 2.15pm after gazing at
Oriana as I waited, thinking about what might have been.  It's amazing how your life can change so fast.  A text came through from Steve Read just as I was boarding informing me we were now arriving on the 20th at 8.30am instead of 7am and did I know.  It was on their site apparently but the announcement didn't show up on my phone.  They changed it on the movements after a few hours but no one knew why.  We boarded via the proper gangway instead of draughty dock - yay!!!!!
Muster was at 4pm and a familiar voice came over the speakers - Ronnie Finch, who was the cruise director when Pam and I had been on Boudicca!  My muster station was the library, some people went to the wrong station while some wore their lifejackets.  You can always tell first timers!  Then it was to the deck for sailaway with free mulled wine.  Unfortunately some parts of the deck were closed to due ice so many crowded outside the Lido Lounge as we set off at 4.35pm giving one pathetic parp.  Oriana was late, as was Aurora.
I decided around 6pm to order room service, since I hadn't eaten since breakfast.  The cheese and chutney sandwiches were nice but messy.  Helped fill a hole until dinner.  The ship vibrated a lot, making the flower shake.  Then I went shopping, since I had registered my credit card as soon as I boarded.  No flipping bears!  What is it with Fred Olsen?  They stock the same Harding Brothers tat as everyone else but NO bears!  There were none on Boudicca either yet Peter Knego had managed to pick one up for me from Black Prince last year.  Does a ship have to be leaving the fleet before they stock any????
I went to dinner for 8.30pm.  On my table they'd actually put singles!  This was a first!  Normally I'm put with people travelling together.  We did have Grace and Claire, a mother and daughter but also Mary and Terry.  The other person didn't show up.  We did have a great meal (even though the food was on the crap side) and laughed so much and were the loudest table.  The woman on the next table kept giving sour looks whenever we'd laugh.  Afterwards Grace, Claire and I went to the show in the Neptune Lounge which was Christmas songs.
Back to the cabin afterwards for an early night.  Well I thought it would be.  Somehow the next thing it was gone 2am, and that was CET after putting everything forward.
I'd woken up a few times during the night and the cabin was FREEZING despite the thermostat being on 30C.  Things didn't improve when I got up either.  The Captain did his sea update at 9am and we would be docking in Antwerp an hour earlier at 11.30am.  I'd had the alarm on my phone set for 10.15am but had forgotten to put it forward.  I wanted to go to the Neptune Lounge for the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire thing at 11am but thankfully woke up in time.  As I walked to the Lounge, I saw more stuff in the corridor round the corner from my cabin.  The box fairy had been busy!
Lunch was good, apart from the food.  I saw Mary at our table but it was buffet and a la carte.  The trouble was, the buffet was crap and it was difficult to order from the menu when the waiter was never there.  The sour woman was at her table, making a mess on her mouth while eating crackers.  Terry joined us as Mary was about to go to put all her layers on and venture into town.  Many, myself included, didn't risk it, mainly because of ice on the gangway.  I'd ended up having a one-sided conversation with a woman in her eighties for about twenty minutes.  I was glad to get away, and that's only because she left!  I reported the lack of heat to Reception and they sent an engineer.  He pulled something out, turned it a couple of times then said it was fixed.  Hardly!  Half hot/half cold now!  It was still cold in the corridor outside plus the stairs and public rooms.  There were only about three screws holding the vent on the ceiling because the other holes were worn.  Considering she had a refit a year earlier, they should have sorted that out.
I went down to see the future cruise lady to get prices for a cruise I'd been thinking about for some time but ended up booking!  It's her New Zealand patter!  I was her first enquiry.  The girl who deals with complaints was off so she was dealing with that too.  But she was a nice lady and we discussed many aspects of cruise ships today compared with those with proper decks instead of being boxes.  It was the night of the Captain's welcome party and I sat with Grace and Claire.  Or as Ronnie Finch called it the night before, Welfare (welcome and farewell).  The Captain is as old as the ship!  Wonder if he goes in for refits?  Then dinner.  When I did the pre-Christmas cruise on QE2 in 2007, we just had the usual menu so this was a pleasant surprise.  One of those little touches you don't get on major cruise lines.  Just a shame the food wasn't that great.  Terry was missing from the table (Mary had comandeered his chair anyway) but the other person turned up - another Mary!  Faceache was still being sour but as they were leaving, Claire made a comment about Terry trying to find a woman with a porthole which cracked us all up and we saw Faceache's husband was trying not to laugh.  They may have hated us having fun, as did several surrounding tables, but our waiter Apirat loved us and even let us keep the menus.
Claire, Grace and I had decided to see the show while Mary and Mary were going to the Observatory to listen to the piano player.  Mary 1 had promised him apparently.  But by the time we left, the show was nearly a quarter of the way through so we went with them to the Lido Lounge so the Marys could have a smoke.  We hadn't realised at the time (so had ordered drinks) Mary 1 had meant the piano player in the Observatory since there was one in there.  The Marys went up and we stayed a while enjoying the music.  Grace and a 73 year old lady from Botley danced a bit.  Once the piano player came on, Claire persuaded me to get up and we were joined by Botley lady and her friends.  We danced to a couple of songs and he was very good.  His backing track sounded exactly like it was meant to and he even had some sound effects so it was almost like the real thing.  At 11.15pm we went to join the Marys only to find the piano player had just finished.  It was still snowing outside.  Mary 1 decided to go to bed but after another smoke so we all traipsed down to the Lido Deck.  I wanted some photos while Claire and Grace sat with Botley lady after she'd finished hers.  She's on Balmoral's world cruise and told
me the Fred Olsen's are leaving at 8pm instead of 4.30pm due to the amount of passengers coming for the six ships but there would be one firework display for all.
More stuff waiting in corridors as I went to bed after 1pm and it was still snowing outside.  It had been a great night but still cold in the cabin and around most of the ship.  Not good in the middle of winter.

I'd arranged to meet everyone at 10am at Reception to decide whether we would brave the snow or not.  As I waited, I popped into the shop to buy some Nurofen because I'd woken up with a migraine.  It didn't help the cabin was STILL cold, as were the corridors and other places.  Mary 1 arrived first, saying she saw the other one at breakfast all done up and she would be going that minute with someone else.  When Grace and Claire arrived it was unanimous we'd stay put.  I went for a wander to give Amik time to do the cabin and one of the doors by the Observatory was stuck with ice.  There was also now a model of the ship outside, which hadn't been there when I visited in 2005.

Since Amik hadn't done the cabin, I turned the sign around and went back to bed, hoping to shift my headache.  She did come in though and apologised, leaving me to it.  The Captain came on at noon to say we were missing three passengers but we should leave on time at 12.30pm.  However, we would proceed to the container terminal where we'd be for ninety minutes to conduct repairs on a starboard crane because they need a crane to do it.  That would explain our revised arrival time even though he said we would be alongside in Southampton by 7am.  We gave one blast to signal us leaving in some light snow.

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© Patricia Dempsey 17th-20th December 2010
Not to be reproduced without permission