Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

From Southampton To Panama And Back

We have just returned from our second Winter weather escape cruise - this one a round trip courtesy of P&O Cruises once again and over 5 weeks from the 3rd January to the 7th February.

As is now usual we booked for a one night stay in our local Premier Inn, which also happens to be the collection point for our Cruise Connect luxury motor coach down to Southampton the day after. All went to plan and in no time at all we were boarding Oceana to settle into our cabin (I hesitate to use the more normal term of stateroom, as Oceana's cabins are notoriously small, and ours was no exception - the person using the shower room could not get out if the other was sat at the dressing table).

The itinerary for this cruise was La Coruna, Antigua, St. Kitts, Falmouth Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Roatan Honduras, Port Limon Costa Rica, Panama, Aruba, St. Lucia, Barbados, Ponta Delgada.

We had asked for a table for 6, but on the first night in the dining room it soon became apparent that we were to be dining on a 2nd sitting table for the two of us. We also chose second sitting, but it is far less popular with many others, hence our missing table companions. That is until we were joined by a delightful couple from Hampshire who asked if we minded them joining us. Not at all, and as it happened we had both shared the same working career which caused much "talking shop" - sorry ladies if you were bored sometimes as a result.

From the beginning the weather out into the English Channel heading towards our first port of call, La Coruna, was absolutely foul with much bumping and banging. Although our day visit in Spain was fair, the Atlantic crossing towards our second call - Antigua - immediately after that was just as bumpy. Once in the Caribbean for a little island hopping down to Panama things became much better with calm and warm sunny weather, except for Honduras where it poured with rain all day long.

La Coruna
La Coruna
At sea in the warm Caribbean sun
Always an impressive sight in foreign ports
Regular deck BBQ's in  the Caribbean sun
St. Kitts
A walk through the park St. Kitts
St. Kitts
P&O Cruises still hold on to formal nights - 7 on this cruise

Panama Canal Locks together with Arcadia
An Aruba shopping mall
A typical house in Aruba
Beautiful Aruba
Out and about in St. Lucia
A visit to Botanical Gardens, St. Lucia
Our chartered catamaran in St. Lucia

Swimming off our catamaran,  St. Lucia
Bridgetown Barbados
This cruise included a partial transit of the Panama Canal, which was a highlight to look forward to for many, but we have made a full transit passage three times in the past. The partial transit consisted of passing through the first three locks into Gatun Lake together with P&O Cruises Arcadia - which was heading into the Pacific Ocean as part of her world cruise, before we headed out again. A very interesting day again though.

Once that was completed, it was back out into the Caribbean to island hop our way towards home. Our final port of call was to be Ponta Delgada in the Azores - a place we have visited previously.

All too soon we were back in Southampton and heading back home, again on our luxury coach. I have no idea why, but there were several aspects of this cruise that irritated me. None more so than the ridiculously expensive ship's internet service. It was segregated into three categories. The basic one would only allow limited social media and messaging. The intermediate one would also include email and limited browsing of the internet, but no video streaming. The top tier - priced at an eye watering price of well over £600 for the full duration of the cruise, would allow full use of the internet just as at home. I chose the intermediate level after a couple of weeks as I couldn't find any regular free shore wifi in the often Carnival owned and controlled Caribbean cruise ports. I paid the rather silly amount of £220 for this privilege.

One thing to note though if using an Apple iPhone to connect to the ship's wifi at this level.

Because video streaming is not allowed, their wifi system blocks the iOS iMessage and FaceTime services while using it, causing those services to become disconnected. However, once ashore and connected to a free wifi service in a bar for example, the iOS reconnected these services, but the way the iPhone does this is to send an automated and hidden service text message. The iPhone also does this if the phone is turned off and then on again, but would normally leave the iMessage and FaceTime services dormant but connected while roaming with mobile data off. Being in a worldwide destination and not Europe, the reconnection texts triggered my phone service provider's rest of the world 24 hour pass - which if I chose to activate it myself would allow me to use my UK calls, texts and data at a daily cost of £7.50.

Unfortunately, and unbeknown to me these regular one second hidden text messages to reactivate the iMessage service that had been blocked and disconnected by P&O's internet service cost me £7.50 a time while ashore, and 40p a time while back on the ship and connected to the Telenor Maritime satellite phone service. And all this happened while I had data roaming disabled throughout in the belief that I would be protected from additional phone costs. My normal monthly phone contract cost of £16 went up to over £60 for the duration of the cruise, and this of course was on top of the crazy price of using P&O Cruises internet service, which together with the way the iPhone's iOS works was responsible.

I am completely "all cruised out" now, and looking forward to a couple of long foreign tours in the motorhome during 2018 together with "normal" good quality, well served food.

No more cruises planned for the foreseeable future.