Tuesday, May 14, 2013

After the cruise

Farewell to Madeira
We got back to the UK on 10 May and updated many friends via email about how we got on. This post is a slightly adapted version of the email.
We were on P&O Oceana, a "medium-sized" cruise ship with a mere 2000 passengers. We had an adapted cabin with a sea view on Deck 8 (out of 15). We sailed from Southampton and visited Lisbon, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma and Madeira.

On the whole we had a really good time. The weather was pleasant, not baking hot, but when the sun finally came out Sam got sunburned for the first time I ever remember, so probably it was just as well that we had some hazy days. P&O were very helpful in ensuring Sam could get anywhere he wanted to go, with assistance to get on and off the ship, on and off coaches (we went on three tours and also used transfer buses) and in the restaurants on board. Pretty much all of the ship was accessible to a wheelchair with the occasional heavy door and/or lip to make it interesting. The down side was that because it's a big ship Sam spent much more time than usual in the wheelchair, which was probably not ideal for him and hard work for me!

Our cabin was spacious (to allow for a wheelchair), which was nice, but the main adaptations were in the bathroom where there is a roll-in shower and a good range of hand rails. I gather bathrooms in normal cabins are much smaller. The wide open spaces proved a bit of a liability on the last couple of days when we had force 8 winds and a big swell on the beam - Sam finds balancing difficult in bare feet, so using the shower and loo were a bit tricky. The motion of the ship was really not a problem otherwise, although it did make wheelchair pushing a bit difficult. My main issue in the cabin was with a mysterious noise, apparently from a hydraulic feed to a lifeboat - after a couple of appeals from me they managed to reduce the decibels and the frequency, but I did have a few nights of rather poor sleep.

Life on board was pretty luxurious with a wide range of activities - we had six sea days in total so plenty of time to enjoy them. We weren't too bothered about the evening shows and cabaret acts, but I enjoyed yoga and used the gym, and Sam went to art classes (see pictures, link below), and attended several lectures relating to WW2 history and the operation of the ship. Food became a bit of a preoccupation, although we did manage to stick to three meals a day, but there is always something to eat available (I think there is a hiatus between 3.30am and 6.30am but we coped ok with that). The standards are high but I did develop a longing for crunchy bread and bean salads, neither of which were on offer. In between times we spent a lot of time on the promenade deck which is how cruising ought to be, with steamer chairs, teak decks, quoits and other deck games, and the opportunity just to gaze out to sea. (There is a lido deck on top of the ship with swimming pools and plastic sun-loungers for those who like that sort of thing). P&O offers a middle ground between formality and relentless fun, but it is a rather Daily-Mail-reading, ITV-watching kind of world. Unfortunately, I don't think we could afford a cruise for Guardian readers and BBC4-watchers, if such a thing exists.

Many of the ports of call slope up from the sea, with lots of steps on the steeper islands, so generally we didn't venture too far inland. Nevertheless we managed to find some delightful, quiet spots away from at least some of our fellow passengers. It was lovely to see Lisbon again, although it was a bit of a rush, and we also loved Madeira where I had never been before, and would be more than happy to go again - we took a coach tour a little way inland to see the fantastic views and plant life. On Gran Canaria we visited the little port of Puerto de Mogan, which was lovely (at least compared with the rest of Gran Canaria, which displays Spanish enthusiasm for covering hillisides in concrete boxes) and where I managed my only swim in the sea - I couldn't persuade Sam to venture in :-). Santa Cruz de Tenerife brought back memories for me of being there in a hurricane in 2005 and we found a lovely area near the church for lunch.

The $64 million question is, would we do it again? I've been looking at alternatives for this time next year (or a bit earlier), including a couple of weeks in a nice hotel on Madeira, different cruise lines, and even a trip on Tenacious (the wheelchair-accessible tall ship). At the moment I'm veering wildly between views. I think part of the value of a cruise, which is hard to quantify, is the feeling of being part of a community - there was always someone for me to talk to, which certainly wouldn't be the case if Sam and I travelled alone, and always someone to organise things or offer help. It was wonderful for Sam to be able to participate in so much with very little worry about whether things would be manageable. On the other hand being part of a group of 2000 people everywhere you go, and having only a few hours to explore each destination, is not my ideal kind of travel. Any thoughts you may have on the best option(s) would be very welcome!

There are more pictures of the cruise in a separate post.

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