26 Feb 2008
Our ship comes in
Say what you like about Hong Kong, but it’s a spectacular place. Even in the smog. We had four days there before we boarded our cruise, and we did a tonne of stuff. Did a tour, headed across the border to Shenzhen for shopping, ate some weird meals, rode the Star Ferry over to Kowloon, got a suit made in a day…
Barely scratched the surface, really.
Our ship was the P&O Aurora, a sturdy British ship taking three months of the northern hemisphere winter to circle the globe with a cargo of sturdy British retirees. There was another month left before they returned to the UK, and they would visit South-East Asia, India, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean on the way.
It was a thrill to see Aurora appearing from out of the smoggy murk. Our home for the next thirty days. My first cruise, as well. I could hardly wait!
As one might expect, a month on a cruise ship is not cheap, and we considered our options carefully. The base grade cabin was an “inside”, meaning one with no windows at all. Next up was an “outside”, the same size, with a glorified porthole. Most cabins were various levels of “balcony staterooms” with French doors opening onto a small private outside area with table and chairs. And right at the top were suites, some of them quite grand, with two levels, pianos, butler service and so on.
We felt that it was kind of pointless to spend a month on a ship and minimise the very thing we were there for, namely the ocean views, so we opted for an outside cabin. The more luxurious accommodations could wait until our budget could stretch that far. (Ten years later, and still wishing…)
Some passengers aim for the inside cabins and then spend as little time as possible, busily turning their skins into leather by the pool, or swinging their partners around the dance floor, or reading a book in a lounger somewhere. They come back to their pokey caves to sleep.
Realistically, all cabins – suites aside – are much the same size. There are two twin beds (which are usually secured together to make one queen size bed with a dip in the middle), bedside tables, a sitting area, a desk, and an ensuite bathroom. Having a balcony adds a couple more square metres, but seriously, any chain hotel will have larger rooms.
The real beauty
Sea travel, before the age of jetliners, was how most people traveled from one point on the globe to another. The voyage to and from Australia from the United Kingdom, the trans-Atlantic crossings, the fabled “slow boat to China” from San Francisco across the huge Pacific. It was going to take weeks or months to get where you wanted.
Nowadays, we can board a plane in Sydney and be in London the same day, albeit an elongated day traveling with the sun. And while this is convenient, there is also the friction of packing and unpacking, finding transport to and from the airport, standing in queues, and waiting around for things to happen.
Our cruise from Hong Kong to Southampton was a rarity in today’s world: a voyage from A to B, rather than a vacation jaunt around the islands or the Med, returning to the same place. We’d fly back home, sure, but on the outward journey, we had the luxury of unpacking, stowing our stuff away, sliding the bags under the bed and not having to deal with the friction of travel until a month later.
I gazed upon our ship, turning to dock at the cruise terminal in Kowloon. A tug stood by, two cute little platforms dropped from the bow for the line-handling crew, and Aurora moved closer. We’d been assigned a cabin low down and close to the middle, a benefit if the seas turned rough because we wouldn’t be leaping about up and down and side to side quite so much as other passengers further away from the centre of gravity.
As it happened, our voyage was remarkably smooth sailing until the very end, but you never know.
I was struck by the immensity of Aurora as the crew secured her to the terminal amidst a flurry of activity from boats, officials in uniforms, labourers in overalls, and welcome parties holding up signs. Here was our great white home for the next month, and I was determined to enjoy every splendid moment.