Mid Atlantic Crossing: Lisbon-Miami
A pretty straight-forward trip via Amsterdam, spending the stopover of 3 hours in the Aspire Lounge. Not as “classy" as a KLM Crown lounge, but good enough. Drinks, breakfast items, free wifi and comfortable seating.
(Tip: If you book this lounge through LoungeBuddy with an Amex card, it’s 20% cheaper).
On arriving at check in, we were told of an itinerary change. We’re going to Madeira on Day 3, not the Azores on Day 4. Doesn’t matter; in fact, I’ve heard rumours there’s some good wine on Madeira!
The safety drill took place just 15 minutes after our arrival, and, at the end, the Captain explained the change of itinerary.
Do you ever think, “Too much information”?
There’s an Atlantic storm around the Azores which it seemed “too risky” to sail through. By going farther South, we’ll bypass it. Whilst the winds will be “lighter”, there will still be seas of 3 to 4 metres. These are within the stabiliser's capabilities.
Thanks Captain. We’re looking forward to that.
Dinner in the World Café. A buffet is just what you need when you’ve been on the go for 18+ hours. And an early night.
(Dawn's very pretty, early next day!)
A day at sea. Sea-legs on duty.
Not so rough as to be a problem, but certainly enough to keep you nimble when moving around! In part, we’re fairly sure that, because of the itinerary change, the ship has had to sail more quickly than normal. (The Captain said, “16 knots,” but to a landlubber like me, meaningless.)
We’ve had a really good day. Met up with some Facebook friends of Margaret’s. Watched a cookery demonstration. Meals? Far too many and too much (as usual). Took a photo-tour around the ship, spotting Christmas decorations.
Oh, and also we booked two cruises for 2021, including an Australia/New Zealand trip over Christmas.
I’ve discovered one significant advantage of this gentle rolling of the ship. After dinner, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between those of us who have had just a few too many glasses of wine, and those who (more fool them) remain stone cold sober. Nobody seems able to walk in a straight line.
This evening’s show is called “Strings & Sings”, featuring a married duo. She plays cello and he sings. We weren’t quite sure what to expect. It wasn’t billed as a “classical” show. The write-up stated that she had “a unique ability to make any song a feature on the cello”. Bold, slightly dangerous, claim!
Well… Ab-so-bloody-lutely incredible. And I’m not easily impressed.
An electric cello, played amazingly well (think: Vanessa Mae on Violin), accompanied by a voice that ranged from Frankie Valli to Operatic, via Queen. One of the best versions of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” I’ve heard (and I’ve got 5 versions).
Wow! Just hope they’ve a second set ready to perform. I’d pay for tickets.
Madeira tomorrow. Then 5 days at sea.
If it hadn’t been for the storm in the Azores, we’d not have come here. I’ve never liked a storm before, but this one did us such a favour.
The weather was warm (18ºC) and showery, so not ideal, but an island climate means short heavy downpours that quickly pass. By around 11am the sun was winning the day. (Friends on an afternoon tour said the skies emptied during mid-afternoon - how lucky were we!)
The scenery, in fact the entire island itself, is spectacular. Mountains, hillsides and valleys so close together, when going anywhere it’s either uphill or downhill. There are bananas or vines planted on every hillside.
We visited three locations: a viewpoint at the top of the World’s highest sea-cliff (with a glass floored platform), a fishing village to taste the local booze (more later) and the island’s capital, Funchal, where the ship was docked.
The weather at our highest viewpoint altitude (just under 600 metres) brought lots of low cloud, so the views were restricted and still they were incredible.
Our stop at the fishing village, Câmara de Lobos, was to showcase the island’s local “cocktail", Poncha de Madeira.
The recipe in the link above was not quite the one used… She took a pint glass and filled it 40% lemon juice, 40% orange juice and 20% honey, which she mixed and poured into a jug.
She then completely refilled the glass with local white rum, added it to the jug and mixed it again. She poured it. We drank it and then felt our toes curling. So very strong and totally delicious.
Funchal is a lovely place; quiet, relaxed, clean and friendly. We’d heard Portugal isn’t “big” on Christmas. So it seemed in Lisbon. Not so Funchal. Santas, reindeer, angels. Knee deep in all of these. And a Christmas Market selling local products, including a local “panini” of bacon cheese and garlic. Sooooo good (and explains why there are no vampires in Funchal).
There were also several Christmas themed parks for children. A bit tacky, but no doubt, the kids love them.
A great morning out and about was followed by a quiet afternoon (afternoon tea for her, snoring for me) and another excellent dinner.
Five days at sea to come and the sea's still a little lively. Not been a problem, so far.
The sea is still having a laugh, but we’re used to it now. No motion sickness or other side effects. Also, there are blue skies and warm temperatures (out of the maybe force 6/7 “breeze"). It’s surprisingly very pleasant.
I went for a stroll around the top deck this morning and crossed paths with the Chief Officer (XO). I made some jokey comment about the sea conditions. His response was that he’s been crossing the Atlantic in December for 20-odd years and this is about the best conditions he could recall. “It’s usually a lot windier, with higher seas, and most of the time it’s raining”.
We went to a talk by a lady called Anita Mays, a glass-ceiling breaking, commercial pilot. Very interesting and amusing, although a lot of the humour was slightly lost on our American friends as it referenced very British problems.
After lunch, we decided to play “Name that Tune”, sensibly being held in one of the bars. A simple little quiz made more difficult by the Deputy Entertainment Manager playing the tunes on piano, and modifying some of the rhythms. The last tune was the obscure 1983 German track - 99 Luftballons (99 Red Balloons). Even though it made the charts both sides of the pond (Wikipedia says it was released in German in the US), it proved to be the tie-breaker. We, and only one other team, made the 100%. A bit unfair on non-German speaking Americans! 😂😂
The day was rounded off by another great dinner and an early-ish night. Doing not much is exhausting!
The weather has finally got its act together.
The seas have a gentle swell, the sun is out, the wind is light(-ish) and the temperature is around 20ºC.
However, the captain’s commitment to safety has slowed the ship and lengthened the journey so Bermuda can’t be reached in time. So we’re sailing straight to Miami. Christmas added to the problem as Bermuda was to have been visited on Christmas Eve, and docking times aren’t as flexible.
Oh dear, what a shame, never mind. Life on board is very good anyway.
This morning, Gary, our British Deputy Entertainment Director, decided to form a choir. Why not? Give it a try.
He revealed his “day job” is a West-End Musical Director. It showed. Within 45 minutes he had 50+ tone deaf geriatrics singing “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in passable three-part harmony. And it was good fun too.
We’re making this a daily activity until Christmas Eve (when he’s threatening to put us on stage, poor misguided fool that he is!).
After lunch we enjoyed an hour or so with friends and then went to see Anita Mays' second presentation, which dealt with the famous (and infamous) clients she’s ferried around the world. Not exactly kiss-and-tell but there were those of whom she spoke highly and those of whom she said very little at all!
She also told of some weird adventures in out of the way airports and was, once again, very amusing (in fact, downright funny at times). Also she displayed commendable patriotism in front of a largely American audience, shamelessly lauding the achievements of British design and engineering. What else could be expected of a Roedean Old-Girl?
Dinner was again excellent, except... Why does the so-called Executive Chef in LA (who sends recipes to the Ships' Head Chefs for fleet consistency) think s/he can get away with co-opting the name of a classic French pastry, Tarte Tatin, to describe a dome of revoltingly cold, sweet, apple mush sitting forlornly atop a slightly soggy sliver of puff pastry? The French have taken to the streets over lesser insults!
Sent it back and had something far more tasty. Distraught waiters couldn’t stop apologising - not their fault! Not even the Chef’s fault.
The cabaret tonight was called “Coast to Coast” - in effect, The Great American Songbook. Very entertaining, if a little bit “Cruise Shipish” (not that surprising really!!).
Clocks back again tonight. Tomorrow? Same place, different waves.
The weather and sea conditions have taken a definite turn for the better. In fact, as the day went on, the sun and clear blue skies had an almost summer like feel (except for the “refreshing” breezes).
After breakfast the Captain & The Hotel Manager did a Q&A style presentation covering their backgrounds and current Viking & this ship’s operation. Very interesting.
During the afternoon (because we’re spending more time on board) the resident entertainment team put together an impromptu set of their choosing, in the Atrium Bar. They looked a bit surprised to see all the seating across 3 floors was full.
(All 6 performers, except the Director, are British. One of the singers, Osian, comes from Cardiff, attended Ysgol Gynradd Plasmawr and speaks fluent Welsh - smallish World!)
We’ve been to lots and lots of Viking shows and this was by far and away the best residents’ show ever. Maybe, if you let the artists build the show and sing what they love…? So much better than the canned choreographed shows normally offered.
Dinner tonight was in Manfredi’s with our friends, Chris & Janet. We requested the waiter who’d been so good when we were on board the Sky, seven weeks ago (Vergil). It’s still the best Italian restaurant outside Italy.
So… how in the name of all that’s holy did Vergil remember how I liked a Dover Sole cooked and which of their 5 grappas is my favourite. This was a wonderfully “personalised” experience to enhance the always excellent Italian cuisine.
Tonight was the second set from “Strings & Sings”. (They’re so good they need a less tacky name!) This evening they did a selection of songs from the 50’s-70’s. Not quite as polished as their first show, but still very entertaining.
Clocks back again tonight.
Sunday 22 December 2019
Another day at sea, and a much more quiet one. Time for some time-out.
We did add a long walk around the jogging track of around a mile (4 laps) to our itinerary - some very fresh air in the lungs felt good.
Apart from some good food and drink, and lots of reading, we heard Anita Mays’ third presentation about flying B727s for the obscenely rich - again funny and entertaining.
Guess what? Another day at sea tomorrow.
Monday 23 December 2019
A much calmer day for the weather. The sea’s fairly gentle, the sun is out most of the time and the midday temperature is around 21ºC.
From lack of anything better, we decided to go to a lecture by John Turkington, who when introduced on Day 1, had seemed a stereotypical middle-England “Retired Colonel” on "Shakespeare in Bermuda - The Tempest”.
Well, surprise, surprise. He covered the fraught history of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, the sources of most of Shakespeare’s plot-lines, the shipwreck that led to the colonisation of Bermuda and linked them all to “The Tempest”. Enthrallingly interesting.
Note to self: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Sunshine and warm air meant we spent a good part of the afternoon walking around the decks or spending time sitting on the balcony watching the waves go by. (So far, no dolphins ☹️)
Dinner was, as usual, outstanding. We have a regular waiter, Praveen, who’s looked after us on both this and our previous journey - we effectively have a table reservation in a restaurant where no reservations are accepted.
Dinner has been great fun on this trip because of his young trainee, Kennedy. He’s like an overly keen and excitable puppy, and Praveen only let’s him completely off his leash with us (whilst watching like a hawk from 10 feet away!). He’s so keen to please, it’s almost embarrassing. This makes dinner so much more interesting.
The show tonight was an in-house “Variety Performance” from stage and screen. This group of resident singers is well above the usual standard - a great show.
Clocks back again tonight.
Should have been in Bermuda today, Oh um!
During the morning, having previously been proven wrong, we opted to try another lecture which superficially held little of interest: “Mutiny on the Batavia”. We’d not heard of the vessel, let alone any mutiny!
Fairly interesting, about the Dutch East India Company’s flagship, Batavia, wrecked off Western Australia and the going-ons amongst the survivors. (Trivia: Batavia was the name of the D.E.I.Co’s capital, now Djakarta)
The aim was to horrify his audience with tales of atrocities by both passengers and crew, and even more-so with the retribution exacted by the D.E.I.Co. However, to the Brits amongst us, their methods of execution seemed a little timid and more humane than those of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs of England. Just a different way of extracting entrails!
Around lunchtime the weather closed in, such that had the Marie Celeste sailed by, no-one would have been surprised. However, by mid-afternoon, the sun was back (as were the “refreshing” breezes) so strolling on deck could (and definitely did) blow away the cobwebs.
Christmas officially began at 5pm with a sing-along carol session in the main Atrium bar (presumably to help loosen vocal chords). The space was so full, the feature staircase became tiered seating. Good humoured fun and a fairly tuneful sound. Halls beautifully decked with holly and partridges successful lodged in pear trees; we’re all set.
Dinner - very Christmas Eve. Scallops, Venison and Bread & Butter Pudding.
The Pastry Chef set up a chocolate buffet in the atrium (viewing from 8:30pm, eating from 9pm).
This was followed by a festive sing-a-long with the resident musicians. The hotel staff & crew were invited to join guests as soon as their duties were complete - a really lovely, Christmassy touch.
Lots of singing, drinking, back-slapping and all-in-all a brilliant way to welcome Christmas Day.
You don’t get a lot of snow and trees at sea, so here’s a picture of some, anyway.
After breakfast we joined a Christmas themed “Team Trivia” quiz, including a team of ship’s officers. It was comforting to discover how little we know of Christmas Movies!
If you ignore those (we had to!), we did very well 😁. And anyway, what would we Brits know of a US President's Christmas Tree phobia?) BTW: the Officers’ Team came in second place.
Lunch?? Decisions, decisions, decisions. All the venues were competing for covers with celebratory choices. So we made a decision based on evening menus (Plan: Try to avoid duplicates). The World Café won, serving Virginia Ham, Herb Crusted Turkey, Oriental Spiced Steaks, Durade (Sea Bream) Pastas, Risottos and who knows how many salads, sides and sugary things. Too good not to try a bit of everything. Six course lunch??!!??
After lunch we went (I staggered) to the penultimate of Anita Mays’ presentations, this one about war planes in films. Has she worked on some major movies or what?! Again, time well spent.
Dinner was very good, but, to be honest, it was what happens when they try just that little bit too hard. The choices were “signature” items, like Beef Wellington, Salmon en Croute, Traditional Turkey. Not enough Sous Chefs to cope. Not disappointing; but not exciting either.
The “Final Night Show” (because tomorrow we’ll be packing) was "The Lennon/McCartney Songbook”. A very well presented final night with a bit of sing-a-long thrown in.
It’s rumoured we may see land for the first time in 8 days tomorrow afternoon as we sail through the Bahama Islands. It brings it home how big oceans really are (and this one isn’t even the biggest!).
Last day on board today. Tomorrow it’s homeward bound.
We attended a presentation on the American Wars of Independence. Never really thought about it, but it wasn’t Americans against the English, but English Colonists against The Crown - a long distance Civil War. Fascinating.
During the afternoon we went to Anitia Mays’ final presentation about the pioneers of aviation, and the wonders of the Planet seen from the cockpit.
She is so good I’m trying to find a copy of her book.
Our final dinner was in Manfredi’s, the perfect way to end the cruise.
Packing (delegated!!) ready for disembarkation at around 8am for a 12:50pm flight to Atlanta followed by the joys of transatlantic air travel.
Still no sign of any Dolphins. 😭
A 5:30am (EST) alarm, breakfast at 6am and a very easy transfer to MIA by 8:30am.
US Borders at Port Miami were incredibly efficient (and vaguely friendly) - perhaps they could train their airport colleagues?
Delta Air Lines (for reasons unknown, but for which we’re very grateful) added complimentary TSA-Pre to our boarding passes so the whole process from ship to gate was totally stress free.
We settled down at the gate for our 12:17pm departure. Miami Pier H serves only Starbucks coffee (well… you can’t win ‘em all!).
You have to just love Delta. At home, the announcement, if any, is, “Flight AB1234 is ready for boarding”. Here, the gate agent managed to take around 5 minutes discussing checking cabin bags, connections, airside congestion in Atlanta, upgrades (none-available) and many other things we didn’t even know were things. If only someone had been listening!
I don’t know why people don’t like ATL (Atlanta). We made a quick and easy transfer using the Plane-Train, KLM boarded on time and took off to the minute!
Early arrival into AMS and a few hours in the other Aspire Lounge (41) before our flight home.
It’s been a good trip, but the port change toward the start and a missed port near the end didn’t do much to enhance the experience. Nine days at sea is far, far too many.
Try as they did with extra shows, presentations, other goings-on, it didn’t really prevent us from understanding the term “cabin-fever”.
Holidays are a break from routine. By the last few days, we had established an albeit different routine and that’s not what we’re after.
No one’s fault and, at least with Christmas in the mix, there were a few surprises.