Astoria - Amsterdam & Antwerp Weekend
Cruise & Maritime Voyages were ceasing their charter of Astoria from spring 2017 but offering a few last chance cruises.  It wasn't cheap but there was no single supplement so booked myself an inside cabin 406 on the 7th August while staying with my friend Phil Hogarth in Stoke.  As one of the oldest ships in existence, I was beginning to think I'd never get to sail on her.  At 16,144grt, she's not quite the smallest I'd have sailed on.  Voyager, with Voyages of Discovery, marginally holds that title. Typically, due to popular demand, they renewed the charter for March and April 2018.  It would be my first CMV cruise so this would be interesting!  Astoria arrived in Tilbury on the 7th fresh from refit.

Off to Victoria Coach Station early in the morning where for an extra £25, they picked you up and dropped you off.  Tilbury Docks was what was on the board and this would be from Bay 1.  A few other people were already waiting, including a Scottish couple who had travelled down on the night coach and wouldn't recommend it.  A girl from CMV asked people if they were for the ship then handed them the health questionnaire.  This was slightly different to the usual one where you have to cross out one answer.  This one we circled yes or no.  For later passengers, she stood near the door with her CMV hi-vis so people would recognise her.  The coach was operated by South Mimms Travel and we began boarding at 11am.  There were three passengers missing who missed their train so we headed off half an hour later with just twenty-five.  Due to the Queen unveiling a statue commemorating the Afghan and Iraq wars at Victoria Embankment, several roads were closed so our driver went a slightly different way to his usual route, pointing out areas of interest en route.  We arrived at the port at 1.10pm, which was good timing.  We all joined the queue inside the historic London International Cruise Terminal, which was already almost outside.  Unusually, you are given your cruise card first and the entertainment crew from the ship were doing everything, including check-in.  The cruise director, Gary Rich, was welcoming people and directing them to the check-in desks.  You didn't have to register your credit card there but on the ship.  All they did was scan your passport before taking it.  Security had one scanner and you weren't required to remove the laptop or even take off any belts.  A short walk and you were on the ship via Deck 4.  Just like Cunard of long ago, you were asked upon boarding what your cabin was and led to it.  My guide didn't have a clue where he was going even with a notice saying which way the cabin numbers went.  When we eventually neared it, we bumped into Carol, who had been on the coach.  Her guide had brought her to the wrong deck.  My cabin was on a slope, so the head of the bed was lower than the end.  Pretty spacious though for an inside and the bathroom not only contained a bath but also a bidet.  The bathroom door opened inwards, which would take some remembering.  The cabin key was a punch card.  Although it was allocated a single cabin, everything was laid out for two people including two bottles of water (at £2.50 for 75cl) and two keys.  Only one electrical socket if you didn't include the TV.  The TV had BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Red Button, BBC News, ITV1, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, Sky News as well as two film channels, the webcam and info map.  It was a pleasant change from the usual US news channels, Sky News, Sky Sports News and other drivel.  We would be sailing at 3pm so just time for a quick bite up one deck in the Lotus Grill.  I know it closed at 2pm due to the early sailing but there was hardly anything left despite a massive queue.  Two people were serving and one of those kept disappearing to tell them about the food needing to be replenished, which then made the queue slower as the bloke was left to serve both sides.  The only thing there were plenty of were plates and cutlery.  So why didn't the ne bringing new plates tell anyone about he lack of food?  Eventually someone did start to bring fresh supplies but too late for most people.  If you wanted dessert you were out of luck.  Not a good first impression.  Had a wander around this charming ship afterwards and bumped into Andrew Cooke, who was onboard with his wife Donna.  Muster was at 2.30pm and unusually you had to wear your life jacket, which i put on there.  My muster station was the Calypso Show Lounge port side.  Like Voyages of Discovery and Fred. Olsen, they had a roll call and it was very thorough.  Then you were taken to your lifeboat one deck up.  I literally bumped into Sergio JP Oliviera, a friend of Facebook, as we were going.  Quite a few members from the Ocean Liner Society were onboard for this sailing.  We saw the tug attach itself to her bow as were were on deck in the sun.  Finally, at 3pm, we were given leave to go so a quick dash down two decks to get the camera for sailaway.  I was joined by Sergio and his friend David Trevor-Jones.  We left about fifteen minutes later, had to turn then headed out down the Thames towards open water.  There was disappointingly no whistle blowing but the weather was just glorious.  Registered the credit card since reception was quiet then went to the Sirenes Bar where I joined Carol.  She told me not to expect to be served quickly because she'd waited 25 minutes to be.  I was asked pretty quickly what I'd like but it still took more than 15 to arrive despite it being very quiet.  The second drink came much quicker when the bar was busier yet quiet again for the third and no one bothered taking the empty bottle away or asking if I wanted anything else.  Carol got a waiter's attention and that order took a long time even though It was pretty empty again.  There had been an announcement we could collect our passports from reception so I did that before going shopping, not that there was much to buy.  Since we had BBC, I watched EastEnders before going down a deck to dinner.  Everything ran late due to first sitting taking so long to finish serving.  We were let in around 8.30pm.  I was on table 75B which was the second of tables for two.  My table companions were also members of the Ocean Liner Society, Lesley Schoonderbeek-Cox and Stephen Morton.  We had excellent conversation.  Dinner wasn't too bad.  The wine waiter disappeared to get my Coke before Lesley had ordered her wine.  After she did, he brought the wrong bottle.  Some parts of the restaurant didn't see a wine waiter so I have no idea if he was the only one.  I decided to skip the show since it had been a long day so bought a drink an can of Coke then went to the cabin.

Astoria rocked and rolled during the night like a bitch so you knew you were on a ship.  The beds were a bit hard but pillows lovely and comfy.  I need to sleep on my right side due to a temporary problem on my left, and at times it felt like I'd roll off.  If I moved across to the other bed, they would separate.  I eventually managed to get myself comfy and doze off but after 2am the temperature would suddenly drop to freezing no matter how high I had the aircon.  I was woken up by us entering the lock at IJmuiden then again when we left it.  She is a noisy vibrating girl.  Surprisingly, there was a phone signal from land in the cabin.  Every other inside I'd had you lost it so this was nice.  Drifted off again then woken up by her turning before docking.  She doesn't like people staying in bed the cow!  You could go off ships, you know.  So I got up and went to the restaurant for breakfast since I didn't want to risk no food in the buffet again.  The waiter led me to a table which turned out not to be empty at all but already in use by the cruise director, Gary Rich, who had joined the day before sailing.  He didn't mind.  I ordered orange juice which never came and got my food from the self-service in the Steak House next to the restaurant.  Due to it being a short cruise, the Steak House was closed for the duration.  Breakfast was well cooked and despite being almost 9am when it closed, there was plenty of it so I decided to avoid the buffet at the time of the morning.  Most of the Astoria crew had only been on a week and would be going over to Columbus, Gary told me, and Marco Polo isn't for sale.  A stroll around her sloping boat deck and an orange juice for £2.05 despite the buffet still being open for breakfast while I phoned my dad.  Clearance took ages.  Once it had, I explored this fabulous little ship.  She is so well maintained, more so than many modern ships, you'd never believe she was 69 years old.  One thing I did like were port plaques in her public rooms going back to her days as Athena, which was when I'd first seen her in 2007.  Voyages of Discovery used to leave the old ones on display.  I like this since it is part of the history regardless of how many names a ship has had.
Time for my foray across the bridge for photos of this little cutie.  They were building a hotel that side.  Since the ship was virtually empty, I risked the buffet.  They had food on both sides but only one was uncovered.  This was what was needed for embarkation.  Dozed off in the cabin then saw the Scottish couple from the coach in the bar doing the quiz so joined them.  Got 12/20 which wasn't bad seeing as I arrived during question 7.

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© Patricia Dempsey 9th-12th March 2017
Not to be reproduced without permission