Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Life on board a cruise ship...

A cruise. It conjures up so many ideas, like sea-sickness, romance, luxury, sunbathing and Titanic. It wasn't like that for me though JC did quip initially that we were on Titantic 2. It's extremely organised to military precision. I didn't really know what to expect but I hoped I'd like it when JC made a snap decision 2 weeks out to go on a cruise of the Greek Islands. First up I'd never been on a cruise, second it was the Med and Greece which were complete unknowns to me.

Early starts from well, start to finish were not negotiable. We left our lodgings which were a good distance out from Athens then bused for what seemed like forever, picking up passengers at other hostelries until we reached the port of Pireus, the port of Athens.

Embarkation took a lot of time standing around being processed. Our passports were confiscated. We each had our photo taken, for which we could pay a small fortune for a copy if we wanted...we didn't. Our cabin was exterior meaning it had a window on the ocean. That was great as I loved watching the ocean swooshing by any time of the day or night.

As soon as I stepped on board I felt it, that slow rolling. There was a very strong wind which picked up so much while we were settling in that all the transats were roped together and the pool was out of bounds. Not surprising really as the water was looking for ways to escape its confines. But that was the roughest part of the trip-half a day of rolling. The rest of the time it was barely noticable that we were on a ship and our ship wasn't humungous.

In fact The Louis Olympia is old She was built in 1982 Helsinki, Finland and has been through several changes of ownership and name since. Her window frames are rusting and the cabinsare very dated, despite being renovated not too long ago. They're making an effort to maintain her but the bigger ships we passed by were in a different class. Ours was still a little inimate, we weren't living on a floating city.

Louis Olympia has twelve decks, eleven of which are accessible to passengers.
  1. Engine room, crew spaces, gangway
  2. B deck - Outside and inside cabins, gangway
  3. A deck - Outside and inside cabins, gangway
  4. Main deck - Outside and inside cabins, internet cafe, reception, library, The Seven Seas restaurant (formal), shops
  5. Cabaret deck - Outside and inside cabins, Can Can Lounge (show lounge), casino Royale, Clipper bar, Oklahoma Lounge (Nightclub), Oceans Beauty salon, video arcade
  6. Upper deck - Outside and inside cabins (deck only exists in the forward part of the ship)
  7. Promenade deck - Deluxe cabins, Blakes bar/café/lounge, Kidzone, outdoor promenade
  8. Bridge deck - Bridge, saunas, Oceans gym
  9. Sun deck - Suites & Grand Suites (deck only exists in the forward part of the ship)
  10. Compass deck - Lido bar, swimming pools, Lido buffét restaurant, sundeck[7]
  11. Mast bar, sundeck
  12. Skybar

Before the tug moved us out of the harbour we had life vest drill. What a serious hoot. I grabbed my life vest and popped it on correctly before I left the cabin. I was so intrigued by the whole thing and remembering all the relevant scenes from the movie Titanic I forgot to bring my camera - sorry about that.

We then followed the general direction on the gangways and were directed to OUR allocated lifeboat, Number 10. Women at the front, men at the back. The crew took it seriously but I wished some of the tardy passengers had, Many of us were probably thinking about the ill-fated Concordia. In short you put your lifevest on correctly, locate your little light and whistle and make sure you know YOUR lifeboat and you're then dismissed to watch the tugboat guiding us before we left the harbour for the Aegean Sea.
Our cabin, as I said, had a view of the sea. We were on level 3 and our room consisted of two little beds: one almost comfy (mine) and the other not (JC's). I often woke up in the night to hear the engines come to life or stop. Not that loud but the vibrations inevitably are more noticeable when you are sitting or lying down. I didn't mind them at all- rather like being in an artificial womb- reasuring and lulling.

The bathroom is tiny so you take turns using it. The shower is even smaller and the soap is liquid stuff, there is no conditiner etc supplied. You have to be very careful not to stuff up the toilet too. It was all old and small but it was clean and it worked.

On three occasions we arrived back after dinner to see a towel creation from a member of the rooms crew. Rather amusing. The crew were very friendly but often the waiting staff in the restaurants were too busy to even look at you if you wanted something, they were like robots.

Each day we returned to our cabin after our last excursion were was a copy of the Olympia Newsletter which gave the meal times options, suggestions for the upcoming excursions, practical stuff about tips for the staff (almost compulsory, the way they put it, you have to sign a letter if you don't want to pay). There's an intercom in every room so there are loud mustering messages from time to time. Using the phone to call anywhere ashore is too expensive so we didn't so it. Didn't need to, thank goodness.

I loved the fact that it was more comfortable for me travelling by liner than hours and hours in a bus or train or plane. You could go to sleep in Greece and wake up in Turkey. As with all organised tours you get really tired, you're on the go from morning until night, However, all excursions are optional on the cruise and need to be paid for in addition to the cruise. I suppose you could just stay on the boat for the week and see nothing but the sea and the transats.
It's very hard to lose weight on board a ship. There are three meals a day. I preferred buffet because I could portion-control and only eat what I wanted. JC liked the options of a la carte in the other restaurant so we did a bit of both.

I enjoyed walking around the decks, especially if we were anchored somewhere. Many of our excursions required us to transfer to a small vessel to go ashore if a deep harbour was not available. This meant a lot of waiting around to be organised. In fact the organising takes up quite a lot of your day, but it's necessary and in most instances well done. We were each issued with a photographic ID which was scanned every time we left or returned to the ship.

There are usually shows put on each night but they start very late. I only saw one by planning it. It consisted of song and dance, not JCs thing but I enjoyed it and I thought the performers were talented- it wasn't second-rate stuff considering the boat's not at the top end of the market. You can wander into a bar and a duet may be performing. There was a casino - yuck, no interest to me.

JC discovered the only way to get a decent coffee was to go to the bar in the middle of the boat but he only discovered that halfway through the cruise.

We both put the Island of Santorini at the top of our list of favourite places and things to do. JC was disappointed that the whole place was so multicultural he didn't get to make any friends. Normally he'd be in a group of French folks that would all travel together but this time we were a small group in a large universe and we rarely saw anyone recognisable that we could communicate with. This was less of a problem for me because my French is not great anyway so I'm usually left out. I got to spend more one-on-one time with JC so to me that was a bonus, but I understood his point. We tried to meet up with a Canadian family we got on well with but mostly it was too random, you couldn't plan to be in a certain place at a certain time as we were on a Francophone package and they were on an Anglophone one.

All up I enjoyed my first cruise. There were bits I'd have liked improved like the cabins and to see more shows and make some friends but on the whole a great experience and there are some parts of this world you can only get to by boat anyway.

Here's a lengthy video taken by a Brit of his experiences on the same ship before I had my cruise

Next post - Athens.


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