No, not literally with the man himself, but aboard the ships that bear his name. On sea days aboard each of the four ships in the current fleet a special, extra charge afternoon tea is served at a cost of £7.95 per person.
You need to book in advance and, for the privilege, you get to be seated in the lofty, hushed expanse of the forward facing Observation Lounge, with fabulous views out over the horizon.
There’s the genteel sounds of a background piano player or string trio to accent this most delightful of old British traditions. Served late afternoon, it’s an elegant repast, and a truly delightful way to pass an hour or so on a sea day.
So, what exactly do you get for your money?
Firstly, there’s a choice of four different afternoon teas, and these are:
Afternoon Darjeeling leaf tea
Earl Grey leaf tea
Imperial Gunpowder leaf tea
China Rose Petal leaf tea
Of course, you can also have coffee instead if you wish. I went for the Imperial Gunpowder during my recent cruise aboard Boudicca. It comes in a white china tea pot, and is poured through a strainer as and when you indicate that you are ready. It really is lovely stuff, too.
Plates of finger sandwiches then appear magically, like Christmas decorations atop a snow white table setting. The choice of offerings is here:
Smoked salmon and cream cheese on whole wheat
Wafer thin cucumber on soft white
Plump shrimp with avocado on whole wheat
Egg mayonnaise on mustard cress on white
The comes my personal favourites; a triple tiered deck of gooey delights, guaranteed to make your taste buds go into overdrive. Sample items include:
Mini eclairs, fresh berry tarts, and the pastry of the day.
Warm, house baked scones with your choice of thick whipped cream, butter, preserves, and honey.
You can see from the list above that all of this is virtually a meal in itself. How to make it even better? Grab an (extra charge) glass of Lanson Black Label, a Kir Royale, a Pimms, or maybe Harvey’s Bristol Cream. I went for the Lanson, and the bubbles added just thr right amount of zest to a very civilised, indulgent hour.
Any way you slice it-pun wholly intentional-afternoon tea aboard Balmoral, Black Watch, Boudicca or Braemar is a truly indulgent experience, savoured in civilised, elegant surroundings at a leisurely pace, that really gives you the time to savour one of the finer experiences in life.
And, at the end of the day, you know that you’re worth it. Cheers!
Boudicca had been slated to sail from Cape Town at 2300 for our first scheduled call at Port Elizabeth. I waited patiently for the moment on deck, savouring both the floodlit Cape Town skyline and some fine Chenin Blanc. And I waited some more as the hour came and went.
Looking over the ship’s side, the reason for our delay was not hard to see. The waters of the harbour churned and rolled in the strong wind that swept across an otherwise balmy evening. If it was this rough in the harbour, then it would be rougher still out in the open. In all probability, our captain was simply waiting for the wind to drop.
Finally, at around 0130, the engines trembled into life. The Boudicca shrugged off her shackles, and warped out slowly into the rolling waters of the South Atlantic. Honour satisfied, I turned in for the night, and was rocked to sleep by the gentle rolling of the ship.
Next day dawned muggy, and slightly overcast. The ship was rolling with a kind of stately grace across the South Atlantic. Holding onto handrails and taking care when walking up and down stairs was definitely advisable. Many of the passengers- seemingly seasoned old Fred. Olsen hands- took the whole thing in their stride.
A sea day on a ship as traditional and well mannered as Boudicca is a world removed from resort life aboard the super sized ships. There are no rock climbing walls or hairy teeth competitions here; the infectious, often frantic hugger- mugger that propels such days at sea is completely absent here.
Instead, I took my time over a long, languid breakfast in the Secret Garden cafe, before heading up to the library for an hour or so to pick out the books I intended to devour over the course of our trio of sea days.
A walk around the promenade deck had the gentle clack of shuffleboard as a backdrop. There was no blaring music, no constant loudspeaker announcements. Just the usual noon time broadcast from our captain giving the course, speed and weather information. What more needed to be said, anyway?
Well, I could say a lot about the fish and chips that they serve up for lunch at the outdoor Ocean Grill on Deck Six, and it’s all good. Portions were just the right size: crisp as freshly laundered table cloths (and far better tasting) and complete with all the sides that you needed. Best of all, should you desire one of their gorgeous burgers with the orange onion topping for dessert, then no-one is going to stop you. Phew.
Early afternoon found me sagging with almost pathetic gratitude into one of the two hot tubs overlooking the stern. The ship was still pitching and rolling, albeit more gently. It was getting warmer, but few people seemed inclined to use either the pools or the Jacuzzis. I wallowed in my solitary splendour like some supine hippo in a particularly exotic watering hole. Who said travel can’t be exotic, eh?
Eventually, a ponderous wobble upstairs led me to one of the welcoming awnings under the Marquee Bar. I sagged like a felled tree into a plush rattan armchair, where I was revived by a welcome infusion of sublime South African Chenin Blanc. It was summertime once more and yes, the living was really easy.
Though the sun made only random guest appearances that first day, the twilight was a hushed, mellow affair, with only the sound of the rolling, relentless ocean as a backdrop. For the first time, I suddenly realised that I was already suntanned. For reasons beyond my understanding, that very thought left me grinning like an idiot.
For dinner that first night, I opted again for the Secret Garden and it’s evening buffet. It offers most of the same, excellent fayre found in the main dining room and, to be honest, I was still not yet quite one hundred per cent after my long journey to get out here. But, as always on Fred. Olsen, the food quality was fantastic. Make no mistake; this is five star cuisine across the board. The fish in particular is always quite outstanding, as are the soups.
After dinner, I wandered back to the Lido Lounge at the rear of Deck Seven. It’s a club like, intimate little room; one part cabaret venue, one part late-ish night disco. It opens out onto a beautiful little terrace area that overlooks the stern. For anyone ‘out and about’ on Boudiccaafter dinner, this was the late night bar.
And the music here was always just right; we had a piano player who ran through a repertoire from Neil Diamond to Buddy Holly, via Billy Joel. The man handled a whole raft of special requests with some truly deft aplomb.
There was also a fabulous act called the Staple Hill Duo. Made up of Jack and Alice, they played everything from Steelers’ Wheel to Chic, via Bruno Mars and Fleetwood Mac. Throughout the next fourteen days, they kept on surprising and delighting me with some tune that was completely outside of the box. They always kept it fun and fresh.
With these sounds in my ears, I took my final few glasses of wine outside on the terrace. The stars were out in droves; ‘like pin pricks in the fabric of the Heavens’ as somebody once wrote. The sheer scale and beauty of that celestial display was damned near hypnotic.
The ship was no longer pitching and rolling as much by now, but there were very few people out and about at this witching hour. Having the ship, the elements and the ocean seemingly to myself engendered a sense of incredible freedom, ease and contentment in me that had been missing for far, far too long. I could have gone to sleep right there, cradled in the embrace of something ageless and wonderful. Something that you simply cannot buy.
Thankfully, I did not. I reluctantly tip toed along the hushed, slightly creaking corridor to my midships cabin on Deck Four. Rest was now an obvious imperative.
After all, I would have to do all of this- or some variation of it- again tomorrow. And, like the pro that I am, I fully intended to be at the top of my game.
My journey out to South Africa started with an overnight Thomas Cook flight from Manchester to Cape Town. The airline uses an A330 for these flights, outfitted in a 2-4-2 row seat configuration in economy, with some extra large Premium seats up front.
As it turned out, the flight was only half full. I lucked out with an entire row of four seats to myself, adjacent to an empty window seat. Leg room was pretty good, but then I’m only five foot six tall in any event.
The plane lofted skywards from a darkened, rain sodden runway as the twelve hour flight really got into it’s stride. On each seat back was an on demand video entertainment system that was pretty lacking in comparison to those on, say, Emirates or Virgin. But it’s saving grace was an in flight, real time map that showed not only height and speed, but also the actual topography of the land being flown over. This seemed like a good little idea to me.
I was surprised at how good the quality of food was on this outward leg. The main meal was a specially curated James Martin creation, offering two different hot main courses. The emphasis is on simple good cooking (I opted for the beef) and I have to say that this was one of the best economy feels that I have ever eaten on any flight.
Drinks wise, the first one was free, courtesy of Fred. Olsen. It was a pay bar after that but, in all honesty, who really wants to sit and drink at such an unearthly hour anyway? Tea, coffee and water were free throughout the length of the flight.
I dropped in and out of a fitful sleep as the big A330 left Europe behind. It ghosted above the moonlit Mediterranean and made a seemingly slow, stately progress across the night time Sahara. Suddenly, the prospect of Africa- so long a distant dream- was becoming an immediate, looming reality.
And then came one of those magical moments that still make travel a truly thriling experience, even in these tense, hateful times. As our plane crossed the actual line on the map between the Sahara and the Serengeti, the first, faint streaks of sunrise began to shimmer on the far horizon. The big plane banked slowly, gracefully, and the entire sky was a sudden blaze of dazzling, brilliant sun. My first ever South African sunrise.
To say that it warmed the heart on more than one level is an understatement. It was a spine tingling revelation; totally apt as an appetiser to the lush, beautiful country that awaited me just a few hours ahead. And I suddenly found that any desire to sleep had gone, replaced instead by an intense adrenaline rush that seemed to put me on auto pilot, pun wholly intentional.
This being an overnight flight, the staff were pretty discreet in mov ing around the cabin after the main meal service. They did a very good job on the whole, and were both friendly and responsive. Updates from the flight deck were kept sensibly few, given the hour.
A light breakfast was polished off with some gusto. God, could I actually be hungry again? Apparently, yes….
Hours seemed to diappear at a frantic rate as the big bird whispered it’s way ever southwards. Before I knew it, we were on final descent into Cape Town. The next thing I remember was the yelp of tyres screeching on tarmac and a sudden, gentle shuddering that faded as the plane snuggled up to it’s arrival gate.
Our passage through customs and immigration was relatively painless. Fred. Olsen organises all transfers between airport and ship via a string of waiting coaches. It’s a seamless, totally convenient transition, and the whole operation ran as perfectly as a Swiss watch.
The first blast of a South African summer hit me like a steam train. Lord, after the British winter it felt so good to feel the warmth of the sun again. The feeling was like one of gently applied healing balm.
The transfer coach trundled dutifully through a warren of ramshackle townships and banal shopping malls, splayed out across an arid landscape that is crying out for rainfall on a spectacular scale right now. Gradually, the great, unmistakable bulk of Table Mountain rose, high and massive against a searing noon day sun. No clouds dusted that broad, implacable plateau; the sky was cobalt blue, without even the ghost of a breeze in the air.
And soon, another shape became apparent quite close by. As it grew, it morphed into the unmistakable form of a cruise ship funnel. Bridal white, the flank was crowned with the familiar Fred. Olsen ‘fish’ logo in shades of red, white and blue. Below it, the sun glinted against a long row of floor to ceiling windows, making them shimmer in the haze. Under that looming shadow. our convoy of motor coaches slewed to a halt, almost as if cowed by this latest presence.
This, of course, was the Boudicca, Stately, graceful and proud, she sat bathed in both promise and sunshine. As perfectly poised as a swan and dressed from bow to stern in bright, colourful bunting, the ship was a beautiful, thrilling sight. And if that fabulous South African sunrise had been the appetiser, then here was the main course, writ large in steel, teak and sheer, unashamed splendour.
I had the definite feeling of embarking on a truly epic adventure that was way out of the box; a sublime, seagoing safari…….
Having just spent fourteen nights on a ship that I’ve wanted to sail on for some three decades, I can honestly say that the Boudicca was a wonderful experience on every level.
The ship is relatively compact, totally curvaceous and, to those of us who love a more traditional ship with a lot of old world style, her appeal is pretty obvious. Yet seeing is believing, and to savour is truly sublime.
The ship is decorated in rich, soothing colours and bathed in the natural sunlight that flows inside from long rows of floor to ceiling windows. In the restaurant, the table settings glitter with polished cutlery, sparkling glassware, and powder white table cloths; an apt setting for the finely styled, well balanced and extremely tasteful fayre that graces them on a daily basis.
Outdoors you’ll find broad, old style wooden decks with some gorgeous, aft facing terraces. Up top there’s a shaded Marquee pool and Bar with plump chaise lounges, comfy sofas and rattan chairs. There are even demisters on call for the sultry South African summer afternoons, too. Pools are on two levels, and a gently bubbling brace of Jacuzzis at the stern are great vantage spots to savour a tender South African sunset from.
Though the ship feels spacious, Boudicca is actually very easy to get around. Up top is a horseshoe shaped Observation Lounge, complete with a Baby Grand piano and bar. On some sea days, a fantastic, full service, formal afternoon tea is served here. Having sampled it a couple of times, I can testify that this is an experience to be savoured.
Let’s be clear; Boudicca is not a late night party boat. Those craving huge casinos and vast, lavish floor shows should definitely look elsewhere, There are no gimmicks as such and, in fact, the entire ship is more appealing for their absence. This is a ship, not Las Vegas with propellers.
Instead you get a ship that you can truly relax on; one blessed with excellent, attentive service from top to bottom. A ship that you can really feel at home on, except for the fact that no one will ever expect you to wash the dishes, make the beds or, God forbid, actually pour your own wines. I mean, can you imagine such a horror?
So, welcome to Boudicca, or ‘Lady B’ as I now call her. Over the next weeks, we’re going to get to know her a lot better, not to mention that stupendous South African sea safari that she took us on.
Gangways are up, ropes are off. The band is swinging through some lush salsa out on the back deck as the gap between ship and shore widens, slowly but surely. The engines kick in and there’s the slow, stately boom of the whistle, echoing off the mighty bulk of Table Mountain. The ship seems to be almost shuddering in delight at anticipation of the epic adventure that lies ahead.
Yes folks, it’s THAT time of year again, as we pull up a chair and listen in raptored attention to the results of the greatest travel industry awards events of the year- THE ANTHONYS!!
And yes, it’s been quite a year. From the beaches of summertime Denmark to the bridge on the River Kwai, THE ANTHONYS have scoured the world of modern and contemporary travel, offering a hopefully laser like focus on the greats- and indeed, the grates- of the modern travel industry.
So, why not pop a bottle or eight of Lambrini, and dig into the twiglets as we unveil this years winners and losers, right here in THE ANTHONYS!
EMIRATES: Great space and styling, decent food and great service combine with an economy class cabin that’s soothing, spacious and genuinely relaxing. But it’s the in flight entertainment system on the back of every seat that really raises this airline way above it’s rivals. An outstanding product in an increasingly strained, restrictive market,
MOST IMPROVED AIRLINE:
DELTA: No, I don’t believe that I said it, either. But yes. Seat back TV’s on 757’s and 737’s going to and from Puerto Rico? And a full, free drinks service in international economy? Check. I am often surprised by airline services these days, but rarely in a pleasant way. Kudos to Delta for realising that your fare paying customers really are something more than just human cargo.
WORST AIRLINE: and we have a tie here, folks….
BRITISH AIRWAYS; For your sheer, unremitting greed in axing almost every perk once associated with flying economy in Europe, and then leaving your hugely dedicated, over worked, poorly motivated in flight staff to cope with the fallout from hordes of angry passengers. It says volumes about the mentality of those at the top of BA, and not in a good way. An airline in both free fall and denial. Literally doubling down.
AIR FRANCE: A generally superb airborne product and in flight service is woefully betrayed by the most callous and uncaring land side customer service since Sweeney Todd’s barber shop. The airline where the spirit of Cruella De Ville meets the competence and sure touch of Inspector Clouseau of the Surete. Such a flying shame. Even Dick Dastardly’s Vulture Squadron was better run than this.
LA COURONNE, ROUEN, FRANCE is a two star, Michelin rated restaurant in the Vieux Marche that dates all the way back to 1345. People gathered there to watch the martyrdom of Joan of Arc back in May of 1431, though the entertainment these days is a bit more sedate. Fabulous food and wine served with great flair in elegant, hushed surroundings that are far more welcoming than pretentious. A venue that understands the difference between style and hype. One of the finest dining experiences of my lifetime, and hugely recommended.
GIRAFFE, TERMINAL FIVE, HEATHROW AIRPORT is a crowded, over priced mess. The staff are run off their feet, there’s little space between tables, and it’s hideously over priced. We’re all supposed to overlook this because it is, apparently, ‘funky’. There was probably less surrounding debris on the streets of Berlin in May, 1945. And the food? Mediocre, at best. At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask.
BEST NEW DESTINATION:
SKAGEN, DENMARK: Where the North Sea meets the Baltic, Skagen juts out like a bruised boxer’s jaw into the surf. The beach is long, sweeping and spotless and, on a sunny day, it would be wonderful. But this was June; summer wasn’t here yet. The old town is an artist’s haven, and chock full of gingerbread houses straight out of a Brothers Grimm fable. And all overlaid with that kind of effortlessly cool style that only the Danes really have. Compact, chocolate box pretty, and not at all overcrowded.
MOST OVER RATED DESTINATION:
MONTE CARLO (also known as Monte Carbuncle, or even Monte Carloff):There are far nicer, considerably cheaper, far less hyped places within a few minutes’ train travel along the French Riviera (and that train journey is a sheer joy). Any place where you are expected to pay ‘only’ nine euros for a coffee- and to be grateful for the ‘privilege’- is more of a warning bell than a welcome mat. Yes, the harbour is pretty, but the rest of the place provides brittle glamour at best. Monte Carlo’s single most attractive feature remains the railway track that leads to Villefranche.
MOST MOVING EXPERIENCE:
KWAI RIVER BRIDGE, KANCHANABURRI, THAILAND: Yes, part of the infamous WW2 bridge was subsequently rebuilt after the original central span was destroyed by American fighter bombers, but it was rebuilt in the same style. The actual bridge is small, squat and brutal looking, more form over function. But, when you know it’s history, and the lost lives and suffering that spawned it, you feel it in every step. Walking over it is a humbling, mind blowing experience that would make even the very stones weep.
BEST ‘HELLO, AGAIN’ AWARD:
VILLEFRANCHE SUR MER, COTE D’AZUR, FRANCE: Six years since we last met, and a brace of visits to Villefranche during 2017 felt like healing balm. The sheer style, beauty and sophistication of the place is platinum chip soul food. The beach has a few more club style resort bars now, but the old town remains the pearl of Europe’s prettiest stretch of coastline. J’adore.
BEST SMALL SHIP:
AEGEAN ODYSSEY, VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY: As small and perfect as a charm bracelet, intimate, elegant and easily accessible. Outstanding service, brilliantly well thought through itineraries, wonderful food and a fantastic reference library for all those fabulous places she visits. What’s not to love?
BEST LUXURY SHIP:
SILVER WHISPER, SILVERSEA CRUISES: While new fleet starlet Silver Muse garnered the bulk of the headlines, the serene and stately Silver Whisper purrs like a Rolls Royce, is as perfectly poised as Audrey Hepburn, and keeps putting it out there in sublime, under stated Silversea style. Hot Rocks dining outdoors under the summer solstice sky will always be a travel highlight for me.
BEST FIND IN CRUISING:
SAGA SAPPHIRE; SAGA CRUISES: Sheer, inclusive value here is one thing, but such an expansive and open ship is usually the prerogative of only the six star market. Saga Sapphire carries just 700 passengers in total. Jars of free sweets on the upper deck, and steak for breakfast every morning if you wanted it? Oh, yes. And the interior decor is an eclectic, quirky delight that will keep you constantly engaged here.
BEST MAINSTREAM UK BASED SHIP:
COLUMBUS, CRUISE AND MARITIME VOYAGES: Elegant, expansive and pretty, with large cabins and single supplements at just 25 per cent make this ship a winner. But it’s the sheer quality of the ship herself that really shines, with vast, open outdoor decks and huge amount of sunlit interior nooks, she’s a great ship for longer voyages. And, add in the fact that you can sail round trip from the UK without enduring the hassle of flying into the equation, and the attraction becomes obvious.
BEST LARGE CRUISE SHIP:
ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS; ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL: Vast, sassy, brimming with fun things to do for families and groups of all ages, the ship added stellar, spectacular entertainment with stunning over the top features such as the Royal Promenade and Studio B ice rink, and near flawless, extra charge fine dining venues such as Chops Grille. The outdoor cove balcony cabins on Deck Seven are among the best in class. Smaller, more intimate venues such as the Schooner Bar give parts of the ship a quiet, classy sophistication that come as a pleasant surprise for some. A great choice for the Caribbean.
That’s it for 2017, folks. Thanks so much for bearing with me one and all. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and all the very best for 2018. As ever, stay tuned….
After a couple of weeks at home, and having had time to catch my breath, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on this cruise experience.
While the destinations are wonderful, the holiday as whole is built around the ship. So, how did Adventure of the Seas shape up?
First of all, if you want a quiet, peaceful holiday, you are NOT going to get it on a ship carrying 3300 plus happy, pumped up passengers, especially when so many of them are young. That alone should be self evident to anyone whose IQ is actually larger than their shoe size; it’s not rocket science, people.
Yet I could find all the solitude and serenity I needed out on my cabin balcony. With just the sound of the sea as a backdrop, and a side order of cold wine and tender, beautifully sculpted sunsets to hand, it provided me with all the calm, healing balm that I needed.
Lines? Yes, you’ll find lines of people for the elevators, and they will be crowded, too- the same as in any small city. And that’s essentially what a ship like Adventure of the Seas is. Exercise a little patience, and just bear in mind that the entire ship is not your own personal, private fiefdom; you’ll always get where you need to in due course.
And sure, the buffet is crowded and noisy at breakfast times, and especially so on sea days. But the staff work miracles in clearing tables and keeping the flow moving. And do you need to eat breakfast in the buffet, anyway? Er, actually- no.
You can enjoy a far more leisurely, waiter served breakfast in the main dining room which is downright delightful, or even have breakfast brought to you in your cabin. And breakfast on your own private balcony is something you’ll never ever forget once you’ve tried it, for sure. Problem solved.
In fact, food on the whole was very good indeed, and better overall than I expected, especially on a mass market ship like this one. The extra charge ($38 per person, reservations only) Chops Grille was an outstanding steak house experience; my Filet Mignon was so tender that it almost crumbled at first touch of the knife. With ample, included sides of asparagus, mushrooms and truffle fries, plus some of the most decadent desserts I’ve ever sampled, Chops Grille was an amazing experience savoured in hushed, deeply luxurious surroundings. More of a food temple in fact, than a mere restaurant.
By contrast, the Johnny Rockets diner is pure Happy Days at sea and yes, it’s every bit as kitschy as you’d expect. It’s all streamlined chrome and screaming red booths, with tiny faux juke boxes on each table. Needless to say, there’s a conga line of burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings and milk shakes on offer. Did I mention the cookies?
Johnny Rockets is simple, uncomplicated fun with it’s home cooked comfort food, served up with a side order of Cadillac sized nostalgia. For $6.95 on an all you can eat deal, it seemed to be open right around the clock. And, obviously, it was hugely popular with families.
The main dining room is a swish, glamorous affair. Some three storeys high, it looks like a Hollywood film producer’s idea of what a 1930’s ocean liner dining room would look like. It serves up lavish, five course dinners for those on the normal two evening sittings, as well as those opting for flexible dining times (and yes, you can choose). While the menu on all three levels is the same, it changes each evening, and such staples as Caesar Salad and Manhattan Strip Sirloin are always available. It’s as much about theatre as cuisine, but it’s a hugely enjoyable experience. It’s well worth dressing up for at least once to share a real sense of occasion with family and friends.
Apart from the buffet (which also offers a casual dinner each evening) there are also free snacks, including pizza, sandwiches and cakes available at the French style Cafe Promenade, located on the Royal Promenade. This is also a good option for a light breakfast and, while the coffee is free here, there are also speciality coffees that incur an extra price. So, too, does the ice cream from the nearby Ben and Jerry’s franchise. If you want free ice cream, there is self serve stuff available from the dispensers outside the upper deck buffet.
You certainly won’t go hungry, and nor will you be starved of entertainment options, either. From nightly street parties and parades on the Royal Promenade to ice skating spectaculars in Studio B, the Adventure of the Seas has it all. From cool jazz to colourful calypso poolside, an acoustic guitarist to a sizzling salsa band, and even late night pool parties and non stop casino action, the Adventure of the Seas literally rocked, rolled and rhumabae’d through the course of our week on board. You’d be very hard put to find a more rollicking party boat than this one, if that’s your thing.
But, for those craving simple peace and quiet, there are no shortage of quiet, intimate nooks-in particular the gorgeous Schooner Bar- that serve up nothing more than great Martinis and some stellar conversation.
I really enjoyed my time on this glitzy, stupendous seagoing resort. Adventure of the Seas more than met my expectations, and frequently exceeded them in some really delightful ways. I’d certainly do this again.
Finally, it’s Saturday morning, and the Adventure of the Seas is back where we started in Puerto Rico, just one week ago. It’s time to go home and, inevitably, the sense of regret and loss I always feel at the end of my trip sits as uneasily as an unwanted side order on my breakfast plate.
A long couple of days lies ahead; the inevitable downside to whooping it up for a week in winter on the other side of the world. But, truth be told, both Royal Caribbean and their partner airlines do their best to make the process as smooth and painless as possible.
Thus, our luggage already awaits us ashore, and I had been able to check in for my Delta flights the night before. I’m flying from Puerto Rico back to the UK via New York, but there’s plenty of connecting time. Finding my luggage is easy once off the ship; it goes into a separate, sealed van that follows our transfer coach to the airport. We enjoy a curbside reunion under sullen, humid skies. The warmth and wonder of those islands in the sun already feels a lifetime away.
Despite my flight not being for several hours, I’m glad to be able to check my luggage right away, and all the way through to Heathrow at that. Those last few hours pass in a blur of retail therapy, a couple of beers, and the attempted consumption of an armour plated hamburger that’s as spiky as an Armadillo. And, I might add, just about as edifying.
I’ve lucked out with an exit aisle seat on the four hour flight back to JFK, and it’s on a brand new 737-900 with seat back TV’s for everyone. The plane lofts into a flaring purple twilight, and I lapse into some obviously much needed sleep. Not long before landing, some very welcome (and free) Starbucks coffee gives me that vital caffeine lift that I need. As first legs of a long journey go, this was actually a damned pleasant flight.
JFK is rain lashed, with pools of light shimmering on the tarmac as we rumble to a halt. The Delta staff on our flight have been perceptive enough to inform us at which gates our onward flights will be waiting. It takes me all of fifteen minutes to debark and arrive at the gate for my next flight.
I’m on a Boeing 767 back to the UK, and my initial dismay at being on an ‘older’ plane fades when I see the smart, obviously newly refreshed interior on this one. Again, I luck out with an aisle seat (the 767 flies in a 3-3-3 across configuration in economy) and there’s more than enough room for me to hunker down for the next seven hours or so.
Manhattan falls away below us in a rain soaked, neon smear and, before I know it, the first drinks run comes through the cabin. I cradle a vodka and orange- Delta serves free spirits, wine and beer on all international economy flights- and decide on the chicken from the three choices on the dinner menu. I flick through a choice of more than ninety boxed seats on offer to watch, and that’s before I get to the films, when the main meal arrives.
It’s hot and plentiful, with some taste to it. At 36,000 feet, it’s realistically as good as it gets. Wines on offer are white, red, rose and even sparkling. The pours are generous too, from full bottles into plastic glasses rather than the small, quarter bottles that most airlines offer. Somehow, this just seems more satisfying. And, by the time I have munched my way through the meal and then gorged on four episodes of The White Princess, sleep finally creeps up and coshes me. I sag into a gentle, three hour snooze and, as I do, we cross the Atlantic, and dawn breaks once again over old Europe’s beckoning shores.
London is sunny enough as I transit through Heathrow in around thirty five minutes on a Sunday morning- something of a personal record. Both Delta flights have been agreeable, hassle free experiences; in fact, the crew on the overnight flight in particular were outstanding. But now I’m off to Terminal Five to surrender myself to the tender mercies of British Airways for the last, short leg home.
Check in is painless enough, and I have ample time to grab some lunch at Terminal Five. It’s over priced, over rated, and served up in hugely over crowded surroundings. At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask. But, needs must; because BA will offer you nothing in with the price of your ticket, not even a coffee. Nada. Zilch.
The hour long flight passes in a blur and, before I know it, we land with a gentle bump. The warm, welcoming lights of Newcastle’s passenger terminal glint on the rain sodden runway. The air is shockingly bone chilling. Even my luggage has made it home with me; something of a win-win situation these days. I sag with genuine gratitude into the back of my taxi, and recoil from the cold, oppressive darkness looming just outside my window.
So, those are the actual, physical logistics of the long journey home laid bare. It wasn’t too bad of an experience at all; long, but not interminable. And, for once, I didn’t actually feel jet lagged, either.
Elegant luxury travel on sea, land and by air, past, present and future