Gulf of Thailand
1 Mar 2008
Our ship goes out
My first cruise, aboard P&O Aurora from Hong Kong to Southampton, was a whopper. 30 days of lying back and literally watching the world go past.
The final leg of a three-month cruise, we were two out of a handful of passengers joining the ship in Hong Kong. Our cabin – F174 – low down, amidships, on the sunny side of the ship, next to the port side entrance, was amongst the less sought after on board, but I couldn’t ask for a more pleasant place to spend a month.
Embarkation was easy enough. We caught the train to the cruise terminal, wheeled our bags to the desk, and were handed our passes and folders full of useful information. Beginning with a map of the ship. Even though our cabin was literally only a few metres away, we got lost.
I hate being lost, and for the next few days, I made it my business to scout around every deck, every public area, every landmark aboard. Aurora isn’t one of these superships they have nowadays, but still, she was quite a job to learn. But I love that sort of thing. Plonk me down in a new place and I’m not happy until I’ve got myself oriented.
Speaking of the Orient…
Hong Kong puts on a laser light show after dark, and I spent some time “up top” that evening being a photographer instead of enjoying the show.
The spectacle of the skyscrapers along the waterfront is impressive enough, but add laser beams and coördinated building light displays, and it’s about as glorious as a cityscape gets without fireworks. Certainly, one of the highlights of my life to witness such a thing.
Dressing for dinner
I got a chance to try out my Hong Kong tailor specials, with a custom dinner suit and jacket made in a day. Dinner in the main dining room (actually, there were two, and passengers were allocated a regular table in one for the entire cruise) was always suit and tie, and a couple of times each week formal dress was required.
We were allocated seats at a table of six, the other couples being British – funny about that! – who were making the whole round the world trip. In fact, it appeared that this was a regular event for a lot of passengers; the very first passenger we met aboard was on his seventh straight annual world cruise. “Maybe next year I’ll try a different ship,” he said.
There were a few Aussies, New Zealanders, Canadians and so on, but most of the passengers were British of fairly advanced years. My wife and I, still in our forties, were definitely on the young end of the age distribution. Then again, who else has both the time and money to take three months off? We were pushing it with a solid month.
The British people aboard were lovely, but kind of hard to get a conversation going. In contrast, our fellow Australians – and New Zealanders, who are generally regarded by all save themselves as honorary Australians – became firm and longstanding chatterbox friends after about five seconds.
There were a couple of Aussie men we fell in with. Both widowers, both neighbours, they were taking the trip together and sharing a cabin to avoid paying the dreaded single supplement. Usually, the second thing they said to people they met was “…but we’re not queer.”
And the third thing: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
There were a few singles aboard, but mostly it was couples, or friends traveling together. Solo travelers had to pay extra for the pleasure of having a cabin to themselves, and for a long voyage that must have been several thousand dollars.
It turned out that the fare covered transport, accommodation, entertainment, and food. A few amenities, such as the library and pool, were thrown in, but there were a lot of extras.
Food was basically free. You could eat at a variety of restaurants 24/7 and call for room service likewise. But if you wanted a glass of wine or an espresso coffee, that came at a surcharge. Port tours were extra – and not cheap! – though there was always the option to just walk off the ship and look around.
And there was a mandatory tip. A pound per day per person. This worked out to a fair bit, plus you could tip individual crew members. Nobody had mentioned all these extra charges, so our cruise wasn’t quite the bargain it had seemed.
The internet was the greatest disappointment. It was wireless, expensive, and slow. On my first day aboard I paid for an internet package and spent a sad hour in the computer room trying to get it to work. Every workstation there was occupied by glum British folk watching emails appear character by character – or time out entirely. It took me about a week to get my package working, and I formed the habit of getting up before dawn to have a bit of bandwidth. I basically had the ship to myself apart from maybe someone hosing down the deck.
I don’t mind sea days, to be honest. Sure, and it’s fun to visit strange ports and exotic lands, but just being at sea with nothing much to do but look at the ocean, read a book or two, and eat as much food as I wanted, well, what the hell is wrong with that?
Some complain, but not I.
There was always something to do. The port presenter would give a talk on whatever port was next (and try to sell the ship tours). There were lessons on French, line dancing, watercolour painting and other things, lectures…
Some passengers absolutely lived for the perpetual bridge tournament. They were hardcore.
We had three days before our next stop, which was a container port near Bangkok. I spent a lot of time exploring the ship, ransacking the library, striding around and around the promenade the promenade deck, and just totally enjoying myself.
My wife, a naval officer, was not quite so excited at life afloat, but I loved it!.