Tuesday 5th January
We were off! To Avonmouth... to catch our coach to Southampton. The Marco Polo had encountered some 'adverse weather conditions' coming across the Bay of Biscay and as a result of the slower journey time was unable to reach Avonmouth for her allotted time during the high tide. The ship was able to berth at Southampton instead, so we had an additional 2 and a bit hour journey to reach the ship there. After security (just like at an airport) we were on board just before 17.00. The revised sailing time had been 17.00 but was then adjusted to 20.45 as not all passengers were on board by the earlier time.
We had a quick look around the ship and then went back to the cabin to start unpacking but soon had to take part in the emergency procedure - taking our life jackets and making our way to the muster point for our allocated life boat - Number 7 (of 10). The muster point wasn't actually at the lifeboat and it was explained that we wouldn't proceed to the lifeboat from the muster point as they normally did, as it was dark and the decks wet, so they described to us what would normally happen - in a single line, with one hand on the shoulder of person in front, a member of staff would lead us to the lifeboat and another would bring up the rear.
A schedule for the rest of the day had been left in the cabin for us to read and described all the evening entertainment in 3 different areas of the ship; the Show Lounge (an hour's unhosted ballroom dancing, and then the Welcome Aboard Show - a taster of entertainment to come), the Captain's Club (The Carmen Duo - violin and piano set and Julia & Alona's acoustic set) and Scott's Bar (Excelsior Musicians - upbeat melodies - 3 sets throughout the evening, Play Your Cards Right, and Meet the Singers as they sing some of their favourite songs, and finally the Late Night Disco). But we didn't go to any of them.
After another spell unpacking (Martin finished his) we went and ate in the informal Marco's Bistro. Later the ship left Southampton and in the dark, from the wooden pool deck we watched all the lights of the industrial areas along the coast thinking they would disappear any minute and we would be out on the open sea. But we must have sailed alongside the coast towards South West England for quite a while as the lights were still present for ages. When we got too cold outside on the deck we went back to our cabin and I finished my unpacking. Everything unpacked and all cases stowed under the beds we went to bed and I read up on the activities and entertainment for the following day ... picking out the 09.45 Shore Excursion Presentation - covering the first 3 ports of call, 11.00 Hips, Bums & Thighs (difficulty rating 'hard') exercise session and 15.30 Photography for Everyone - hints and tips. But giving the Knit and Natter, Rope Quoits, Silly Bingo, Table Tennis Tournament, Carpet Bowls, Chairobics (difficulty rating 'easy'), Countdown and a few other activities a miss ... not that it would matter.
The gentle rocking motion of the ship had slowly increased up to then and lying in bed we were gently rocked from side to side as if in a baby's cradle. Not too unpleasant.
Wednesday 6th January
Both of us slept fitfully - it will take time to get used to the general creaking of the cabin, the quiet hum of the engine and the rocking. The rocking...that had got slightly worse during the night. I was fine until I got up and had a wash (thinking I'll shower after Hips, Bums & Thighs) started to get dressed, then sat down not feeling too good, took a seasickness tablet, then threw up (but not much), felt a little better, but only if I was lying down. So I put on my motion sickness wrist bands and lay down for the next few hours, missing breakfast and The Shore Excursion Presentation and Hips, Bums & Thighs.
Martin ventured out first for a cigarette and then breakfast a bit later. He attended the Shore Excursion Presentation but as it was at the front of the ship (which was going up and down a bit too much) he didn't last the session. He came back with reports of some people walking around happily, some people tottering around unhappily and one or two throwing up like me (at least I was in the cabin...). We both dozed for a while, until woken up by the drawers between the beds sliding out and stopping with a clunk. That must have been a big wave.
At 12.00 we had an update on our position - at coordinates ??? ???, have travelled ? miles, passing ??? (the top left tip of France), still got ? miles to go to La Coruna where we should arrive at 10.00 tomorrow. Sorry, lots of '???' as the only bit I really remember is the fact that we were currently experiencing swells of 4-5 metres and it could be up to 6m later and through the night.
At 14.00 I decided I felt a little better and we ventured up to the Bistro for a light lunch and a cup of frothy coffee (we had brought some Latte Coffee packets with us as I had read reviews saying that the drinks at the Tea and Coffee stations weren't the best. Well, you made your own tea with hot water so that wasn't actually too bad when we had it after dinner last night. But the filter(?) coffee from the urn that we had later was a little bit grey after the milk was put in, so perhaps it was best to have coffee from there immediately after they top it up so it is as fresh as it gets.). Back to the cabin to lie down again, giving the Photography Session a miss. On the way back to the cabin Martin checked the weather forecast for tomorrow in La Coruna - heavy rain. Well, at least my lunch is staying down, perhaps I'm getting used to the swell.
Later had a light dinner in the bistro again and more lying down, not feeling good, and missed the evening's entertainment. Just as well we hadn't opted for the 'all inclusive drinks package at £17 each per day for the whole 54 day trip' as we would have wasted £68 by now - the last thing either of us wanted was a pint of beer or glass of wine!
Thursday 7th January
Well that was eventful night! Must have slept quite a bit as we were frequently woken up by the drawers sliding in and out, clunking away. We had a good variety of side to side rocking and top to toe rolling, but couldn't understand how the circular sensation was achieved! Later that morning we were informed that there had been very high winds and swells of over 7 metres high, across the Bay of Biscay during the night and the stabilisers had been fully extended 'for our comfort'. Consequently we had been slower than anticipated and would arrive later than scheduled. I was happy in my bed so waited for the swells to die down as we approached La Coruna. We docked at 12.30 and I had a shower once we were stable and tied up. YAY! That was for the stillness of the ship, but not the shower, or 'Boiling hot/freezing cold Dribble' as I like to call it. (Looks like a few saunas and dips in the whirlpools might be on the cards in the future - they have their own showers.) Luckily the excellent mixer tap over the sink was high enough for me to wash my hair under or I would still have been doing it in the shower an hour later.
A quick walk around the old quarter and a little bit of newer La Coruna was all we managed in the pouring rain before we were too wet for anymore. Most of the shops were closed for the afternoon siesta anyway so all we could do was look in the windows. The beaches (18 miles of them) were out, and it was a good thing we didn't walk to the Hercules Tower - 'probably the oldest lighthouse in existence, built in the 2nd Century and after walking up to 242 steps rewards you with splendid views across the Atlantic', as it was shut according to some of the passengers who had been. Or, Monte San Pedro 'where there are splendid views over the harbour', as we probably wouldn't have even been able to see our ship, due to the mist and fog.
Once we had divested ourselves of our wet clothes, and had afternoon tea (frothy coffee) and cakes in the Bistro we were feeling much happier. We again opted for dinner in the bistro - a little bit more eaten this time. Then we watched the sail away from a deck above the front of the ship, the lights of La Coruna slowly fading away. Quickly back to the cabin to put on my seasickness bands as the gentle rocking started up as we left the shelter of the harbour.
Friday 8th January
Again during the night we experienced swells of 7 metres and 'listing' (leaning) on one side causing flooding in some areas of the ship including cabins that had to be evacuated. The Captain addressed the ship and praised passengers for following the advised safety measures whilst moving around the ship - holding on to the rails up and down the stairwells, asking crew for assistance when necessary and not using the bar stools if they feel unsteady. At this time I would point out that whilst I may not be the youngest of the ship's passengers I am not far off. The agility of some of the older passengers is to be admired and the gentleman with the wheeled walker is amazing. Many of them have a walking stick and several of the gentlemen have two, although I think that might be a ploy to get the young waitresses to carry their meals to the tables.
Today I missed breakfast again, as I still didn't feel 100%, but during the day the swell lessened, the rain stopped and the sailing seemed to get smoother. I can't say for certain if the Sea Bands work or I am finding my 'sea legs', but I'm not taking them off just yet!
Martin was accosted by the lady in the cabin opposite ours (they had been evacuated as their toilet was over flowing) who said 'You've got our cabin! We always have cabin 499 when we are on the Marco Polo, it has more wardrobe space.' I would like to point out that there may have been more wardrobe space - we had a double mirrored wardrobe each, with a little chest of drawers inside - but it isn't that useful when there are only 6 hangers! Luckily I had put an extra 8 hangers in one of our cases.
As we were at sea all day there were 28 activities going on between 9.00 and 16.30, and as well as some of those mentioned before there were also Pilates, Silk Painting, Line Dancing and Creative Writing. Martin managed to sit through the next Shore Excursion Presentation this morning and I attended the next Photography Lecture on Travel Portraits. Later in the afternoon we both sat and watched the Marco Polo Eggheads - Crew v Passenger Team.
Neither of us have felt like dressing up for dinner yet and after watching a lovely sunset from one of the decks we dined again in the Bistro. As we were leaving we noticed that the Captain and a few of the Officers had come to the Bistro to eat too. Slumming it today as tomorrow they 'dine'. It is the Captain's Welcome Reception, first shift at 17.15 (that's us), and again at 19.30. I hope the sea is calm as I don't think my posh dress will look quite the same with flat pumps instead of heels...
Saturday 9th January
A rather more successful day - Martin came back from breakfast with two small croissants for me and I felt more at ease as it was definitely 'smooth sailing' as far as the ship was concerned (Sea Bands are still on though). The weather was getting warmer and the clouds were getting whiter with a few blue patches of sky.
Later on in the day we spent some time on deck reading and in the afternoon I went to the Photography Lecture on Land/Seascapes.
With posh dress (and heels) and suit on we went off at 17.15 to the Captain's Welcome Party. It was more of a Queue Party really, waiting our turn to have our picture taken with the Captain and shaking hands down the line of Senior Officers and Heads of Departments. We did have a free drink (some people had several) and canapés though. The Captain then went on stage to introduce the Senior Officers and Heads of Department to us by name and tell us a bit about the ship (50 years old and still going strong) and the crew (351 personnel from 21 different countries).
Still dressed in our finery we headed to the Waldorf Restaurant for our first Formal Dinner. We were seated at Table 75 with Douglas & Heather from Edinburgh, and Steve & Jackie from Coalville, Leics. We would be on the same table with them each time we went to the Waldorf for our evening meal. Luckily they were pleasant enough and not the weirdos we were fearing (does that mean we were the weirdos?) The main topic of conversation was travel and we found some common ground in the places we had all been to, and we learnt about House Swaps from Douglas & Heather who have done it 25 times.
After the reasonably small, but tasty, five courses and coffee, we moved to the Marco Polo Show Lounge and watch the show team perform some Songs from the Musicals. Moving to Scott's Bar we watched some of the passengers take part in a '60's Strikeout' game, guessing which year in the 60's a particular song came out given 2 choices and hoping to be the last one standing to win a free drink. I couldn't take part of course, but Martin did a good job of guessing from the wings and got most of them right! We rounded off the night listening to some 'mood-lifting melodies from the Excelsior Trio' and watching some impressive moves on the dance floor from some of the other passengers, before retiring to our cabin.