After having to cancel our cruises over the last 18 months, we are now booked on the Iona, sailing on the 11th September from Southampton, for a seven day staycation.
This isn’t the first time we have sailed with P&O, in fact this will be our sixth cruise with them, we have also cruised with Royal Caribbean, Cunard and Princess Cruises.
So, as this next cruise will be a little different from our normal cruises, no stopping at ports, Iona’s first set of staycation cruises after her maiden voyage, different ways of booking restaurants and entertainment etc., I thought I would keep a diary of the days leading up to sailaway and also days spent on board!
Friday, 10th September, 2021
1 day to go…
I had an exciting email from P&O yesterday, no, not an upgrade, but because we have booked the Ultimate Celebration Package, they wanted us to tell them which specialty restaurants we wanted to book and the date and time! So Sindhu and the Epicurean are both booked!
So packing will start today and finish probably just before we get in the taxi tomorrow. I know that people approach this task in very different ways. I had a colleague at work who kept a spreadsheet of clothes she and her husband were taking and then created another one which detailed which clothes they were wearing on what day! This was printed and put up in their wardrobe. I am split between huge admiration for someone who can be that organised and horrified with the amount of planning this involves!
Hubby is the packer, he is great at cramming rolled up socks, pants and just about everything into the suitcase. Once packed then it is the search for the padlocks, you know the ones you put somewhere safe after your last holiday and which are never to be found again!
I love it when the suitcases are packed though, they are locked with the baggage labels on them, in the hallway waiting to be loaded into the taxi and then you turn around and spot the pair of shoes that you have forgotten to pack!
So I wish my fellow cruisers luck with their packing today, those that have already packed, well done and those who are lastminute.dot.com like us, welcome to the club!
Thursday, 9th September, 2021
2 days to go…
Days at sea:
Love them or hate them, days at sea are a necessary part of your cruise, I mean, how else would you get from one place to another? We love sea days and have cruised across the Atlantic on a number of occasions.
How do we keep ourselves amused?
We both love playing cards, Rummy in particular. We have an ongoing game throughout the holiday with a continuous score sheet and playing with the “Williams Rules” our scores go up and down, until the last day when the winner is announced.
I like to take the opportunity to read on sea days, relaxing in a sun bed and drinking a cocktail. One thing that I do when I’m walking around is, I like to see what people are reading, I’m not sure why, maybe it’s like peering into a stateroom when the door is open, just natural curiosity.
The book I am taking with me is Richard Osman’s, “The Thursday Murder Club.”
I have been wanting to read this for a long time and seven days at sea is the perfect opportunity.
There is a book that I would recommend which is perfect for lazing around the pool and reading…. Love and Chocolate Biscuits written by, ahem, ME.
You can buy it from Amazon, it probably wouldn’t arrive in time for this cruise, but for future cruises…
Hubby isn’t a big reader, so he likes to go off and join in the deck quoits and shuffleboard competitions, he meets new people whilst doing this and we usually end up sharing a drink or two with some of them!
Wednesday, 8th September, 2021
3 days to go…
It’s getting nearer!! Three days and it’s time to complete the Health Questionnaire. In fairness, it’s only a matter of checking off some boxes, so it only takes about a minute to complete, then to print off and add to my ever-growing pile of documents to take with me on Saturday morning.
I have printed off:
- Covid Declarations
- Boarding Passes
- Luggage Labels
- Travel Insurance
- Health Declarations
- And don’t forget our passports!
But I am trying to get organised and put it all into plastic sleeves, so it will be ready for inspection on Saturday!
So I suppose the next thing we need to do is pack! We are very much lastminute.com packers and probably won’t pack until Saturday morning and as our boarding time isn’t until 3:45 PM and we live in Southampton, we will have plenty of time to do that!
Monday, 6th September, 2021
5 days to go…
So after trying yesterday to contact P&O, together with trying to purchase tickets for the Abba Avatar concert, (a long story!!) which both amounted to a fair amount of stress, today I phoned P&O on the stroke of 8:30 AM and after waiting for 40 minutes actually got through to an advisor.
The purpose of the phone call was to purchase the Ultimate Celebration Package, cost £399. I admit when I first looked at it, I did a double take on the price, but when you break it down, it’s not so bad as it includes dinner for two people in a Select Dining venue, (which is probably about £100), choice of a 50 minute facial or massage, (the cheapest is £63 per couple) bathrobe and slippers, (which you can take home), sweet canapes delivered to your stateroom, chocolates, flowers and a bottle of champagne, and as we are celebrating our anniversary, we thought it would be a nice way to celebrate.
While I was in this mode of buying packages, I took a deep breath and ordered the Ultimate Drinking Package for us both. Again, as I have mentioned before, I have been reading lots of pros and cons about this package, but as we do like cocktails, a glass of wine with dinner, evening nightcaps, coffees in the morning, spirits and ciders and beers, we decided that we would go for it, as we said to each other, “Let’s try it out and if it doesn’t work, then we won’t get it again.” I will let you know if it was worth it for us when I do my review of the cruise!
Sunday, 5th September, 2021
6 days to go…
Cruise anxiety has definitely stepped up a notch this weekend, I am getting worried about the dining arrangements in particular, maybe I’ll even come off this cruise lighter than when I boarded? I know Facebook can either be the font of all knowledge or the devil incarnate, but on reading people’s posts the MDR’s are either easy to book, with no waiting around or it’s hell on earth to get a table past 5.30 PM.
This morning hubby and I were laying in bed, wondering what we’d be doing this time next week, “Probably trying to book our breakfast!” was my husband’s reply, which was followed by laughter, slightly manic laughter I might add!
I am quite savvy when it comes to all things electronic, so I’m hoping that the My Holiday app won’t stress us out too much and I have read very mixed reviews about this app, but when all else fails, it’ll be trips to the Reception desk to try and book specialty meals, etc.
Holidays are supposed to be relaxing and stress-free, but if the lead up is anything to go by, I’m not so sure it’s gonna be!
Thursday, 2nd September, 2021
9 days to go…
Well, we’re into single figures!! From booking it up in March, when we had over 100 days to go, to finally getting to single figures. It’s time for that little bit of shopping; toiletries, new underwear (does anyone else buy new knickers for holiday?), a couple of shirts for hubby and a pair of not too high, not too low, evening wear shoes for moi!!
It’s also that danger period where the dreaded C word is around, no, not Christmas but COVID. I work from home so won’t be in contact with many people, but hubby is a Restaurant Manager who has five restaurants, so he is under strict instructions to wear a mask everywhere he goes. We have the lateral flow tests, so will be doing those next week and on the morning of Saturday 11th, and hopefully everything will be fine.
This is how I would like hubby to dress for work over the next nine days, but he might scare the customers away!
Tuesday, 31st August, 2021
11 days to go…
I found out that Sonia will be performing in the Limelight Club on this cruise and loving a bit of 80’s and 90’s music, we will be trying to book this. Sonia even Tweeted about it:
Sonia’s first hit was, “You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You,” released in 1989 and she represented the United Kingdom in the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest where she finished second with the song, “Better The Devil You Know.” She had 11 UK Top 30 hits, including” Listen To Your Heart” and “Only Fools (Never Fall In Love).” She also starred as Sandy in the West End revival of Grease.
If you like a bit of a boogie (strictly chair dancing of course), then I think this is the show for you!
Saturday, 14th August, 2021
14 days to go…
So spurred on by the Facebook posse advising to book the entertainment on board just after midnight, I set the alarm for 11:55 PM in readiness to hit the Book Now button on my cruise personaliser. As my computer clock rolled over to midnight, the advisory note that you can only book entertainment until after the 28th August disappeared and I clicked on the Entertainment tab, but there was nothing there. After a few minutes of searching the whole personaliser and then resorting to looking on Facebook, I found out I was 24 hours too early!!
Take two , 24 hours later, a bit like Groundhog Day, alarm was again set for 11:55 PM and this time success, I managed to book both shows, the comedian and the singer for 8.30 PM each night. But that was it, that was all we could book, the Limelight and the specialty restaurants are to be booked on board. So was it worth it? Probably not, but we are booked in now and we do love to watch a good show!
Tuesday, 24th August, 2021
17 days to go…
When it’s a sea day on a cruise, people often go to the shops to buy books, souvenirs, indigestion tablets, watches, jewellery and even that famous bar of Toblerone! But where do we head? Well, we head towards the art gallery. There is normally a get together at the start of the cruise, at the Whitewall Gallery, where you can have a free glass of champagne and a walk around the exhibits, but we always end up back there and more often than not, end up buying a piece of art.
Above is a selection of our art collection bought on board, all are Rebecca Lardner art and the price is cheaper than on land as you can apply your discount to these purchases!
When we return home from a cruise, the first question we get asked by our children is not, “Did you have a lovely time,” but “What art did you buy this time?” I think they are worried that we’re spending their inheritance!
When I see the picture hanging on the wall at home or the sculpture sitting on the shelf, it’s a lovely reminder of our cruise, albeit a bit more expensive than a fridge magnet!
Saturday, 21st August, 2021
21 days to go…
We received our cabin number today and we are on the 14th deck and midship, fairly near to the lifts and a stone’s throw away from the launderette, which I have since found out P&O have now opened – much to my husband’s delight, as he loves to say, “Well, that’s your sea days sorted,” when we pass the launderette room!
On closer inspection of the ship’s deck plans, we are only two decks down from the Horizon buffet, the infinity pool, Sky Dome and the Beach House, which we are pretty pleased about. Obviously it’s a bit of a trek from the Theatre, Atrium and the Main Dining Restaurants, we do try and take the stairs whenever we can, but I think going up from deck 6 to deck 14 might be a struggle. I do think that the views we will get from our balcony will be amazing, we can’t wait to sail past our village as we leave Southampton and raise a cocktail to our friends and family!
We also received our boarding time, which was later than we would have liked, it is 1545 hours – as we only live in Southampton, it’s gonna be a long day before we can jump in a taxi and make the 20 minute journey to the docks.
This sort of brings me onto the subject of cruise anxiety – we have done 10 cruises before this one and I have never felt this anxious before a cruise before. I think the closest is when we fly to Barbados to join the ship there, I do become a little anxious in case we miss the flight or the flight is cancelled – but this is nothing compared to what I am experiencing now. From the stress of the COVID test, to booking entertainment, to figuring out the App, to deciding if the drinks package is worth it, to hoping that there is some speciality dining available by the time we board! Social media doesn’t help sometimes, there are a lot of conflicting reports on the performance of the app, availability at speciality restaurants and even the temperature of the pools!
But I will take each step as it comes and I am sure we will enjoy what Iona has to offer, we are just pleased to be able to go cruising once again!
Wednesday, 18th August, 2021
23 days to go…
Nothing to do with this cruise, but today we received an email from Royal Caribbean to say that we had cancelled our cruise in October! Of course, we knew that we hadn’t done this, plus our friends who we are going with also had the same email, so evidently computer was saying no to us going on holiday.
After waiting for nearly three quarters of an hour on the phone, I eventually got through to a nice man who confirmed that this was indeed the case and they were sorting it out and true to his word, a few minutes later we received confirmation that the holiday was back on!
I was especially worried about our friends as they have never cruised before and I don’t want them to be put off already! I am really looking forward to introducing them to cruising, hopefully they’ll be hooked.
Talking of future cruises, I think we have booked up enough cruises now, these will take us until April, 2023!
Tuesday, 17th August, 2021
24 days to go…
We are still patiently (or rather impatiently ) waiting for our cabin to be allocated. There has been a lot of talk on social media about the cabins on Iona, mainly the Conservatory Staterooms on deck 8, which look out onto a main walkway and which seem to be overlooked, but time will tell, if people don’t like them, then they won’t sell on future cruises.
I decided to take a look at my cruise dresses; over the years I have purchased a few of these, some in sales, some online and some from specialist shops.
I used to wonder how often ladies would turn up to the formal nights in the same dress… This actually happened to me on my last cruise, I wore this dress and as I was led towards a table by the waiter, there was a lady sat down in the exact same dress!
I am not joking, everyone stopped talking on the table and was looking from me to her, I didn’t really know what to say, so I just jokingly said, “Snap!” I wasn’t too worried about it, but I don’t think the lady was very happy, she ate her dinner rather quickly and her party left as soon as dessert was served!
There is only one formal night, or Gala Night as it is now called, on this cruise, so the decision is to be made which dress will I take? But I think that probably the decision will be made for me – it will be the dress that still fits me after my extra bit of Covid weight!!
Wednesday, 11th August, 2021
31 days to go…
We booked this cruise as soon as the bookings were opened, and have a balcony stateroom, because all the prices are Early Saver, we cannot book a particular cabin, it is allocated by P&O for us. So we can’t wait to find out where on the ship we will be!
We have been researching whether or not to buy the ultimate drinks package, which costs £39.95 per adult per day. This includes beers, spirits, cocktails, wines and Costa coffee, a great selection and because we both like spirits and especially cocktails, we will probably be buying this before we board.
I have joined the Iona Facebook Group and there is a special group for the actual cruise we are going on, G131N staycation cruise, for which I am doing a review for on the 16th September.
We do have a special event to celebrate whilst we’re on Iona, it’s our wedding anniversary on the 14th, so we’re hoping to book the Epicurean when we get on board to celebrate!