quarta-feira, 31 de agosto de 2011

Christmas Cruise Experience

21st December- Funchal, Madeira
After two restful days at sea ORIANA was now off the coast of Madeira, waking early to watch the arrival, it was the first time that I had seen the “Garden Isle” during the hours of darkness and due to the early morning mist the white walled houses terracotta roofed houses that which dotted the coast line were not visible.
Unlike the first time I had cruised to Madeira the weather was very overcast and the sea conditions were still somewhat rough although nothing like the previous day.
Sometime earlier in the far distance we had passed by Madeira’s “sister” Island of Porto Santo whose lights were shining in the distance.
Although the weather was not the best as was expected by the time a year however the temperature was considerably higher than it had been than Southampton’s 0 degrees and many of the other passengers had the same idea as me in watching the arrival from the upper decks.

As ORIANA moved closer towards the land the mist began to lift the features of the landscape became more distinguishable first the shape of the mountains and then buildings before finally the roads became visible with the lights of the early morning traffic with the occasional flash from a camera going off.
Walking to the observation deck above The Crow’s Nest where several other passenger were also standing watching the approach, with time coming up to breakfast I headed down below to meet up with my parents before moving on to the restaurant.
Walking through ORIANA more and more passengers began to stir and slowly the corridors and public spaces began to fill passengers heading to either the buffet or restaurant.
Arriving at The Peninsular Restaurant we were greeted by our waiter from dinner Salvador who was with a friendly smile was on door duty for the day and welcoming all to the restaurant, knowing of our preference for sitting on a table for 4 he indicated to his colleague to direct us to table which fortunately was near a window which offered an excellent view of Madeira allowing for me to continue watching the approach to the dock.
Being a Monday morning and with ORIANA almost ready to dock in Funchal the first port of call many of her passengers were indulging in a large traditional English breakfast to build up energy for their day ashore for me however such a large breakfast wasn’t that appealing a prospect and instead opted for usual of two fruit dishes and a glass of fruit juice which for me was would do just fine.
It also was convenient to eat lightly in order to be able to return on deck as soon as possible in order to watch the arrival into port.
On this morning the restaurant had slightly more passengers in than the previous day but was still only about half full which I assumed was because passengers had eaten earlier in the buffet because of early meeting times ready to go on the earlier tours that would be leaving from the dockside as soon as clearance was given to proceed ashore.
With breakfast finished it was back onto deck to for the last stages of the approach.
By the time I had returned to the open upper decks ORIANA had rounded the coast and was now nearing her final approach to Funchal and continued to reduce her speed in preparation for reaching the pilot embarkation point.
Since we were had been told the night before that ARCADIA would also be in dock my first thought was to look for her however there was no sight of her for a short time it seemed ORIANA would dominate the picturesque port as the largest vessel docked.
Reaching position of 1.85 km south of the breakfast at approximately 09:03 and according to the Cruise log “Captain Brown rang stand by below on ORIANA’s engines” we were joined promptly by the pilot boat who quickly boarded via the ships side door.
Because of the slightly inclement weather conditions we were joined by tugs who would be assisting her to her berth.

A rarity for ORIANA and it was never the less interesting to watch the tugs as they took up their positions at ORIANA's side somewhat reminiscent I thought of watching the liners of old preparing to dock.
From my position on the observation deck it was interesting to look out towards city watching how it sprawled across the mountainside in a manner that is unlike anything at home in the UK and I imagined would offer some fantastic views out to sea.
Along with those of us on board watching during ORIANA’s approach there was also a number locals watching from various positions along the shore among them I was sure there were ship spotters and enthusiasts most likely many who recalled ORIANA’s maiden call.
One of those watching the approach was the founder and author of this blog João Abreu he recalls- On the 21th December of 2009, the harbour of Funchal, Madeira Islands welcomed once more P&O's illustrious ORIANA, on her Christmas cruise.
“Early in the morning i got the information that her arrival was slightly delayed due to the bad weather on the North Atlantic. The strong winds and rough seas had already forced the cancellations of AIDA LUNA and ISLAND ESCAPE also scheduled for that day.
At approximately 9:15 am ORIANA made her way into port, and after a bumpy heading and careful manoeuvres, assisted by tugboat CTE. PASSOS GOUVEIA, she fully secured her berth by 9:50.
Later on that morning she would be joined by fleetmate ARCADIA, on her Christmas and New Year's transatlantic cruise to the Caribbean. Besides the bad weather she managed to dock by her own power having arrived from Southampton much like ORIANA.”
ORIANA arrives Copyright: João Abreu.
With ORIANA finally tied up alongside and the coaches parked ready to receive ORIANA’s passengers Captain Brown gave the first arrival speech of the cruise informing the passengers that all had been arrival formalities had been completed and all were now free to proceed ashore, before wishing a good stay.

Almost immediately the passengers heading of for the shore excursions had disembarked and were rushing to their designated coaches.
Because we had no such tour to embark upon I stayed for I time looking out over the port to see if I remembered the view from my previous visit in June 2007 although the weather was a contrast to that first time the view was much the same the most striking difference was on the dockside itself where being built was brand new large cruise terminal seemingly only months away from completion.
Looking out to sea once again there was still no sign of ARCADIA so shortly after 10am we disembarked ORIANA and headed along the dockside.
Many of the coaches had gone off on their way to their excursions and still more we preparing to go also like in most ports the option of a shuttle bus running between the port area and the Marina area.

The Marina Shopping Centre seen from ORIANA.
Deciding instead to walk over we went along the dock through the tunnel which marked the exit of the secure area around ORIANA and continued walking passing first the ferry terminal and then some smaller buildings before eventually reaching the opposite side of the harbour admittedly initially hard going while pushing a wheelchair it was as, I humorously reflected at the time the perfect exercise after those exquisite meals on board.
The weather was still somewhat unpredictable at about 20 degrees it considerably warmer than it had been in Southampton and with far more inspiring views than had been on offer among Southampton’s frozen industrial landscape.
It was I thought to myself understandable why Sir Winston Churchill had chosen Madeira as an ideal setting for his painting albeit a little further around the coast at Câmara de Lobos where many of my fellow passengers would be following in the former Prime Ministers footsteps during their shore excursions around the Island.
With the sky still being overcast we first headed like most British holidaymakers to a café/bar initially to avoid the rain but then to sample a very tasty local pastel de natas with a coffee to compliment it.
Looking over the harbour to where ORIANA was proudly resting alongside the pier she made a fine image despite the occasional burst of rain.
Leaving the waterfront and heading uphill I first came across a large statue looking out towards the bay of the discoverer of the Madeira Islands, João Gonçalves Zarco, if he could see the harbour spread out before him he surely would have been pleased.
João Gonçalves Zarco statue taken some months later.
Walking further up and passing by numerous small shops and for the first time really noticing the beautiful and plentiful Christmas lights which was hung between the buildings although not illuminated I could that imagine during the hours of darkness they would make for an excellent display.
Once again with the rain beginning fall we decided to get back to ORIANA before as quick as possible we met on the way several other of our fellow passengers who had the same plan and some others who were seemingly heading towards the city centre.
Reaching ORIANA and quickly boarding we went to the terraced aft decks after hearing that ARCADIA was near and hoping to watch the arrival.
Sitting near the terrace bar with some stunning views of Funchal to the starboard side and to the port in the far distance ARCADIA became visible and slowly at first a few more of the other passengers on deck began noticing the approach.

From initially seeing ARCADIA on the horizon it took approximately 25 to 30 minutes for her to near the breakwater of the harbour, unlike ORIANA however ARCADIA’s commander Commodore Burgoine instead swung ARCADIA’s stern and then proceeded to bring the ship slowly in to port by going astern on her engines.

On the stern decks of both ships passengers and a few crew members waved and cheered at each other for meeting a fleet mate which for me was more of a reunion.

ARCADIA arrives: Photos, João Abreu & Steve Martin.

With the cloud breaking a little it was for the first time I had seen ARCADIA without full cloud cover and in a temperature above 0.
With the time at just after 12:30 lunch we decided was next on the agenda
For this day we were much more fortunate than the previous day’s lunch and had managed to avoid being placed with any augmentative elderly passengers and instead were alone on a table for 6 by ourselves with a view out across the harbour with thoughts of returning to the city after lunch had finished.
Even it seemed ORIANA’s chef’s had decided to make the menu fitting to the destination and I chose a delicious beef dish cooked in a Madeira sauce made from Madeira’s famous wine, a drink I had at that point yet to try but had heard many good reports about.
There were very few passengers in the restaurant I assumed that many of those on the tours had lunch included in their excursion or alternatively were eating in the city.
With lunch finished we returned briefly to city for another look around, there was many features which we had missed on our first visit such as the patterned pavements which I had read were something of a Portuguese tradition being found predominately in many cities.
While walking near the marina a number of the teenagers from ORIANA by making it seemed a short film of the adventure of being on board ORIANA’s 2009 Christmas cruise before running with childlike excitement off towards the cable cars which were some distance away.
I must admit I found it quite amazing how quickly time passed and before long it was about 4:15 pm although passengers did not need to be on board until 5:30pm we felt that with a wheelchair it would be better to head back to ORIANA earlier so we would avoid having to hurry back if we were to have stayed any later.
Taking a relatively pleasant gentle walk back along the Marina and being offered help with manoeuvring my father’s wheelchair through the tighter and more difficult areas by some very friendly locals who were so willing to help I could hardly believe it, I was certain had we been at home passers-by would have ignored us completely.
Arriving back at ORIANA’s side and waiting to board once more it seemed now that the majority of the passengers had also returned to the ship with most of those who were still away on the final part of excursions around this beautiful island.
From the conversations I could hear from the others waiting to board it seemed that they were envious of ARCADIA’s passengers who would be staying considerably later and get a relaxing evening in the port, despite their envy it would seem for the time they had in Funchal they had enjoyed themselves.
Getting back on board it was relaxing and reassuring to be greeted once again by ORIANA’s elegant surroundings, I think for me personally one of the great joys of being on a cruise is that after a day exploring exotic and beautiful destination returning to the ship offers a sense of a warm welcome, and being ORIANA to be welcomed to our “home” from home was of course very pleasant.
Firstly returning my parents to the cabin I then ventured first to the promenade deck and then to the lido deck where cd music was playing around the pools which were fairly empty with only few passengers sitting around the tables near the pool area.
Looking through the window onto the pier and several of the last coaches were arriving back at the terminal.
Walking further aft though The Conservatory buffet the sound of passengers bustling greeted me as walked onto the terraced decks where passengers had begun to gather on each of the terraces I assume in readiness for the first Sail away deck party of the cruise.
Down below on the terrace pool the Cruise Director, DJ and rest of the team were warming up making sure everything was working fine and then having a bit of banter with the assembling passenger before a little after 5:20pm in the tradition of P&O Cruises all formality was put aside briefly when the speakers burst into life with music much to the cheer of those on terraces and also spectators on ARCADIA’s stern decks and balconies whom it seemed were also enjoy the jovial atmosphere with even a bit of dancing too.
Beginning with the 90’s pop group Steps before moving onto the deck party favourite Macarena with a little encouragement from the DJ some of the passengers watching from ARCADIA decided to join in and were
“Macarenaing” across the decks, the party continued with the slightly mad but always fun to listen to folk and children’s song The Music Man, which along with some strange actions to accompany it such as pretending to play the bagpipes and pretending to be a bomber aircraft, the later having the entertainment team running around the pool with arms outstretched. Reflecting to myself, I thought well on the old liners such entertainment would not have been allowed, thankfully things had moved on since then!

Just as the party had started and a little later during it there was several announcements the first from reception was to ensure various passengers were on board and the second was from the Captain and was his pre departure speech saying that ORIANA’s most of lines were clear and the pilot on board and clearance was given before ending with ORIANA’s planned movements over the next several hours beginning with going astern of ARCADIA.
With his speech finished the party resumed for its last 10 minutes ending in a typically loud and energetic way.
Leaving during the final moments of the party and making my way up to the sun deck ORIANA began slowly off her berth firstly out into the bay and then slowly headed astern passing by ARCADIA’s port side and as she did both ships saluted each other with horn blasts both Captain Brown and Commodore Burgoine attempting to outdo each other however in the end ORIANA emerged the winner and almost in defeat ARCADIA’s horn fell silent.
Having reached the starboard promenade deck I could see the Christmas Lights beginning to be illuminated also from what I would later learn is the Santa Catarina Park many cameras flashed as ORIANA made her slow exit from the harbour
Slowly ORIANA reached the bow of ARCADIA and the far end of the breakwater before she slowly turned away quoting ORIANA’s cruise log
“Once safely in position and the bow clear of the breakwater, we commenced our swing: swinging the bow to port and the stern to starboard as we aligned ORIANA on her departure track and sounded whistles, as we said goodbye to Madeira and ARCADIA.”
Once again watching João filmed this excellent video and below gives his description of the departure.
“Both ships decorated Funchal's harbour in P&O style during all day, until ORIANA's departure by 6:30 pm. Again with the assitance of the port's tug, she slowly and efficiantly left her berth soon to challange ARCADIA to a tremendous horn fight, attracting the locals to the shores even besides the rain.
After the pilot disembarked, ORIANA made her way inbound Las Palmas, just about time as the heavy rain started to fall.
Due to the local Winter time zone, night was already showing a bit of her colours, therefore passengers onboard ORIANA had the chance, to see for a little while, the city's Christmas illumination, a beautiful and traditional sight that enlighted the bay, covered by the dense rain clouds as she was sailing south towards the Canary Islands.”
Having left Madeira it was time to prepare for dinner thankfully a for the evening it was a casual night, and reaching the restaurant it was relief to rest although as I eat and enjoyed a good glass of wine I felt a slight sadness of not having been able to have explored more of Madeira’s sights not even having reached the famous botanical gardens, although I hoped that I would get the chance to return sooner rather than later.
With dinner served in its usual excellent style it was to the theatre for the nights show named Award although it was about Musical Theatre not a subject I am not knowledgeable about I did find the show to interesting in many respects and like the previous shows I had watched the performances were excellent.
Afterwards after a walk on deck we decided to spend the remainder of the night in The Crow’s Nest although no formal entertainment was performing on this night the cocktail pianist graced the keys of the white Yamaha Piano and the music filled the air making for a relaxed yet refined scene and a fitting end way for a day to end on board ORIANA as her crew guided her towards her next destination Las Palmas on Gran Canaria
Although I did not know it at this day would eventually lead me to meet some truly great people including my good friend João and would also lead to the creation of this blog such is the power of ORIANA.

Photo Copyrights : João Abreu & Steve Martin.