At last – our cruise on Azura has started. And there was an unexpected bonus – the Red Arrows turned up just to wish us Bon Voyage…. Only kidding, I believe the principal reason was to celebrate Southampton Boat Show.
We drove down to Reading on Friday afternoon, Val having only got home from her work location in the middle of Thursday evening. When we got there we thought about looking for a restaurant in Reading or maybe a country pub out in Berkshire, but in the event we were so tired that we ate in the hotel; at least we stayed awake over our glass of wine in the bar after dinner. On Saturday we got away from the hotel just before 10 o’clock on Saturday morning and drove to The Vyne, a National Trust property about a dozen miles away and just to the north of Basingstoke. This was a gem. We didn’t have time for the house, so we just walked round a bit of the garden and then had a cup of tea and a sticky bun in the tea room. Suitable fortified we then headed for Southampton.
We had been worried about congestion in Southampton because of the boat show, and I had sought advice about a route from the motorway to dock gate 10 from Andrew Sassoli-Walker, who lives in Southampton. He suggested an alternative route straight to the dock gate, and this worked excellently – from the motorway to the dock gate we hardly stopped at all, just trundled steadily along. We arrived at the dock gate at about 1 o’clock and joined the back of a queue of cars. This moved quite slowly, so it was almost 1:30 before we unloaded our luggage outside the Mayflower terminal. Then there was a bit of a wait for porters to take the luggage way – about 10 minutes. I think a few coaches arrived at about the same time and the passengers from them seemed to have priority access to the porters. So we got into the terminal at about 1:40 or so, and were called to checkin at 2:25. That took about 5 minutes or a bit more, then going through security took some more time so it was approaching 2:40 before we actually stepped onto Azura. One advantage of being later was that our cabin was available so we went straight there and dropped our hand luggage. Then we had a quick lunch and returned to the cabin where our big bags had appeared, and we began unpacking.
While we were doing this the Captain announced that the Red Arrows were due to do a display over Southampton, within a few minutes. There is a bit of history here: the Red Arrows have been no-shows on at least two previous occasions. One was for the P&O Grand Event mass sailaway in 2011 and the other was for the Cunard celebrations earlier this year; both times bad weather prevented them appearing. This time they made it. The display was spectacular, and lasted much longer than I had expected – 20 to 25 minutes, I think. They arrived at about 3:45 and carried in until gone 4, so it was useful that the muster drill, originally scheduled for 4pm, had already been delayed – there was so much traffic congestion due to the Southampton Boat Show that a lot of passengers were delayed arriving, and the drill couldn’t be held until everyone was had embarked. I think that if the muster drill signal had been sounded during the Red Arrows display there would have been a mutiny. Here are some pictures of the display.
In the event the drill wasn’t held until sometime after 5pm, finishing before 6 o’clock. However, departure was delayed even more. We had originally been scheduled to sail at 5pm, but couldn’t because of all the delays described above. Then it turned out that we’d missed our slot – there were a couple of large container ships inbound to Southampton, and we had to wait until both had cleared the deep water channel and had gone past us at berth 106. Interestingly, Britannia (which was berthed in the Ocean Terminal) slipped out as soon as the first of the box ships had gone past; we had to wait until both were in. In the end it was gone 7:30pm before we got away, so our departure was delayed rather more than two and a half hours.
We are on Freedom Dining this cruise, for the first time. I’ll do another post later about our experiences with that, but we got a shared table immediately on our first night. I think we were up from dinner at just before 10pm. A drink in The Glasshouse took us nearly to 11 o’clock when we retired. It had been a long day and we were tired, so we were ready for our bed by then.