Saturday, 7 May 2011

Vision of the Seas - Part 4

Monday night was the final night of the cruise and we'd be docking at Copenhagen at 0700 the following morning, 3rd May.
During the evening we entered the Skagerrak and we'd spend the night cruising down the Kattegat to Copenhagen. I went onto the Boat Deck and could see lights on the coast of Norway (probably the town of Kristiansand) off the port side, and those of Denmark on the starboard side.

Norwegian coast and light pollution
An atrocious photo of the map of our route through the North Sea, the Skaggerak and down the Kattegat.
I took a few more shots around the ship

Illuminated deck plan model. One of these was located next to the elevators on each deck
Boat deck on the port side. Apologies for quality of photo but I had to resort to ISO 12800 and use a fair bit of noise reduction
A cute little waterfall arrangement under the stairs on Deck 4
We arrived in Copenhagen early the next morning, docking at 0700. All the following pics were taken with my little Samsung compact, rather than the SLR.

Arrival at Copenhagen

All to soon the sad moment to leave the ship came. When it came to it, I didn't really want to leave, Vision of the Seas is a lovely ship, one of the last of the nice looking passenger ships before the floating blocks of flats that have come along since she was built in 1998.
As Patsy has 'Platinum' status, we got priority disembarkation and we got the chance to take pictures of the ship at the dockside. We left our bags with a Royal Caribbean shoreside employee and got some pictures of her alongside. Unfortunately, we couldn't get bow shots as she'd dock stern in, but made do with stern shots instead. It has to be said that, as far as modern ships go, Vision also has a nice arse...Patsy says the ship's stern reminds her of a duck's backside and so nicknames her 'Ducky', but I can't see it myself.

Alongside at Copenhagen
We took a taxi into Copenhagen town centre, as we were booked at a hotel next to the railway station, in order to get to the airport quickly the next morning. The original plan had been to fly straight back to the UK, but we decided to have a look round the city instead; however, that plan came to nothing in the end as the weather turned nasty and it poured with rain for the rest of the day.  Also, Denmark proved incredibly expensive. The taxi ride from the docks came to the equivalent of £20, a snack at lunch was the same. As I only had 300 Kroner and I don't think Patsy had a large amount either, doing a lot wasn't practical.
We had gone as far as Tivoli Gardens, but we didn't go in because they wanted 75 DKK for the privelige so, especially as it began to rain, we headed back and watched Fawlty Towers, Allo Allo (both with Danish subtitles) and some assorted rubbish on the tv for the rest of the day. It was one of the most boring afternoons and evenings of my life!

The Axelborg 

Not at 75 DKK
The next morning we left early and caught the train to the airport for our 0745 flight to London Heathrow. The plane's route almost matched the ship's route but instead of 4 days, we took less than two hours to arrive back in England. After the usual formalities (only the second time I'd needed my passport the entire trip was at the UK Border - the first time was at check in at Southampton. At Amsterdam and Copenhagen, formalities were non-existent) we had a 2.5 hour wait for our National Express coach back to Southampton, where we arrived at the Central Coach Station just before 1415.
Patsy and Kevin, who'd come round to meet her, headed back to Dibden on their bus, while I had a short wait for the free bus to Town Quay.
The 1415 Red Jet was cancelled, due to some saga or other with technical difficulties (the fast ferries of RF and Wightlink always seem to have some issues) so I had a bit of a wait for the next one at 1445, so I took the opportunity to walk along Town Quay, get the SLR out and take some pics of Independence of the Seas alongside Berth 101. Typically a Red Funnel car ferry got in the way, as Red Funnel ships always do, so I had to wait until it was out of the frame.

Independence of the Seas at Southampton. Click for larger photo

And that was that. The trip went quickly, as all good trips always do. Would I go on a cruise again? Yes, probably, but I am not in a hurry to do so. I like ships (of course), I like the sea, I like being on the sea and it's something different. I wouldn't want to do it all the time though, and I don't think I'd want to go for more than a week or even 10 days, mostly because it gets expensive and because there are people around all the time (I like to get away from people, something almost impossible to do aboard a ship). I have to admit that I prefer backpacking trips to the USA, Australia, Asia and South America.
The reason for the expense is that you don't pay for things on board at the time of purchase, you have a card that they swipe every time you get a drink in a bar, or an item in the shop and, if you're not careful, it mounts up. On one visit to the shop, I managed to rack up a bill for $94 and when I added up all my costs for drinks, etc, later the bill came to far more than I intended to spend. If you could pay by cash or debit card, life would be simpler, rather than getting an unexpectedly massive bill at the end.

A round trip, Southampton back to Southampton, would be better. It saves the hassle of having to fly one way. If I did another cruise one day, I would take one that went from Southampton and back to Southampton. But, despite minor aggravations such as one or two idiot passengers and the formal night, I enjoyed it.
As for Vision of the Seas herself, she's a poppet of a ship with a lovely happy crew and I hope she comes to Southampton again sometime in the not-too-distant future. She gets 4.5/5 from me, not that I know anything! The missing 0.5 was for the food being slightly hit-and-miss, especially the steak being practically inedible.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Vision of the Seas - Part 3: Amsterdam (continued)

The following morning, Sunday 1st May, was hot and sunny, with not a cloud in the sky. I got up late, partly due to feeling lazy and partly due to the inside cabin being as black as a coal cellar at midnight and consequently not having a clue whether it was day or night.
Cunard's Queen Elizabeth was due to dock in the cruise terminal at 1300, so I went on deck and waited for her to arrive. Patsy was already there but the ship was late so, instead of turning round in the river, she was put in behind us bow forward. As Queen Elizabeth approached, people poured out on deck to watch her approach and be stuffed into her dock. It was a tight fit, between ourselves and some Rhine river boats opposite, and we were half expecting a prang, but the pilot, captain and tugs all knew what they were doing and QE went into her berth with (little!) room to spare. It was around 3pm before she was alongside.

Click on photos to see larger ones.

Not much room!

Very little space between the QE, us and the river boats opposite. There was actually less room than it appears in this photo.

We were scheduled to depart at 5pm but were delayed slightly because some people were late back to the ship, having got lost in Amsterdam. They'd phoned the ship to tell them they were late, luckily for them they had the number.
While we were waiting to leave, a very loud ship's horn sounded from somewhere. It sounded like a Tyfon horn, of the sort QE2 had and similar to Vision's own horn. It wasn't us and, from the direction of the sound, it wasn't Queen Elizabeth either. The small mystery was solved as a sailing ship passed us, with a ship's horn mounted on deck and a bloke with ear defenders on pressing the button at regular intervals.

Picking up the tug (Svitzer Medemblik)

Our escort. This ensured that small boats and other vessels didn't get in the way. We had the pleasure of seeing the crew give a WAFI and a small open boat a right telling off for coming too close.

Local ferry

Rochdale One again. This rather cute ship is a former Soviet cruise ship, now a static accommodation ship.
Tanker Cape Bruny
Through IJmuiden locks, with the gate closing behind us as we head back out into the North Sea
Next stop, the final stop, would be Copenhagen in Denmark, over 500 nautical miles from Amsterdam and it would take two nights and a day to get there, at 17 knots.
The night we left Amsterdam I tried to get some interior views of the ship, including a couple of very nice models in the Crown and Anchor Study on Deck 8. One model was of the SS United States (I think I heard somewhere that RCI own, or once owned, the United States) while the other was of Vision of the Seas. I used ISO 'stupid hundred' (my camera ISO goes up to 6400, with a High setting of ISO 12800) to get the photos because the models were in glass cases and flash would just reflect off the glass, so I used ISO 6400 rather than 12800 which is very much for 'emergencies only'. The Canon 7D handles noise very well, and the photos only needed a little noise reduction.

SS United States

Vision of the Seas

At the centre of the ship, several decks high, there is the Centrum. At the bottom of this, on Deck 4, is an area where there is usually a band playing in the evenings. On the nights we were there, one of the entertainers was an Elvis impersonator and he actually wasn't bad. The lighting was neon whose colours changed from green to blue, pink and back again and the effect was quite pretty.

Looking down at the entertainers. This one was an Elvis impersonator.
There was a huge sculpture hanging down through the Centrum, I am not sure exactly what it was supposed to be but, to me, it looked like a dinosaur skeleton of some sort, or HR Giger's 'Alien', from the Sci-fi horror film of the same name.

The 'skeleton' sculpture
The next day, Monday 2nd April, we were at sea and cruising along the coast of Denmark but for me another pressing concern had arisen - Saints were away at Plymouth this afternoon. Win and automatic promotion was all but assured, we'd be three points clear of Huddersfield Town, with one game to go and a massive, insurmountable, goal difference of 18 in our favour. Frustratingly, the ship's satellite system went down, so there was no internet and no mobile phones meaning I was unable to find out the score. It really was annoying but there was nothing that we could do until we came within range of Denmark's mobile phone networks and could get a signal.
Patsy was eventually able to get a signal from the Telenor system of Denmark and look at the BBC Sports website. Full time result: Plymouth 1, Saints 3. YES! WE ARE GOING UP! Saints are effectively promoted back to the Championship, barring a highly unlikely turnaround in goal difference in the final game this coming Saturday (May 7th). It'd need Huddersfield to win 18-0 and us to lose, or them to win 8-0 and us lose 10-0 or something equally daft. Saints' final game this season is against Walsall at St. Mary's. Unfortunately I can't go as it's a sell-out (should have got a ticket before I left!). Hopefully, we'll go out of L1 in style by beating Walsall and by going up on points difference rather than goal difference if Huddersfield win their game. It may send Walsall down if Dagenham and Redbridge win, but I don't care about that, it'll be good to get out of this crap league at last.

One night of the cruise was left, we'd dock at Copenhagen at 0700 on Tuesday May 3rd and get off the ship at 0800. I'll put that in the next - and final - part.

Vision of the Seas - Part 2: Amsterdam

We sailed along the Channel and up the North Sea to Amsterdam overnight. It had been a stormy night, with a gale and fairly rough seas, meaning the boat deck and sun deck were closed off, but Vision of the Seas is a steady ship and we hardly felt it.The next morning, Saturday 30th April 2011, found us off IJmuiden where we picked up the pilot for our entry through IJmuiden locks into the North Sea Canal.

The pilot boat - blurry photo because it was shot through a window as the outside decks were still closed off.

We also collected a tug, Svitzer Muiden, which was to accompany us through the locks, along the canal and into our dock at the city's cruise terminal. The tug attached itself to our stern, presumably to keep the ship from swinging due to the low speed. It was at this point that that outside decks were, thankfully, reopened. I hate being on a ship and not able to get outside but I can see why they did it as the wind was incredibly strong, enough to blow you off your feet. It was also probably to save the drunken stag do muppets from themselves.

The ferry King Seaways was in the ferry terminal on the seaward side of the locks. This is the former King of Scandinavia but was better known to people on the south coast of England as the former Brittany Ferries' Val de Loire, which I once sailed on with some friends in the early 2000's.

King Seaways

Entering IJmuiden Lock, the steelworks are on the left

The lock gate opens and we enter the canal to Amsterdam

The canal was lined with industrial places, as well as farms and highly cultivated countryside. There were oil refineries, oil storage tanks, bulk berths, coal heaps, container ports, science fictiony-looking chemical factories and steelworks with smoke issueing from their chimneys, docks, warehouses, ships, farms, houses, cows, is a busy place.

Acergy Falcon

Brigit Maersk

Frio Murmansk

Gotland Sofia

John F
Rochdale One

Capt. Johansen hit the horns as we arrived, probably not only to let the world at large know we'd arrived but to warn people that we were turning round. It was a public holiday in Holland, Queen's Day, so the Amstel river was alive with vessels of all shapes, sizes and vintages, from decent-sized ships to frail-looking tiny boats and a party was evidently in full swing, so it would have put a bit of a downer on things if we'd crushed anybody!
At the passenger terminal, the brand new AIDAsol, complete with AIDA's hideous 'eyes and lips' paint scheme, was already there, occupying the rear berth, so we docked in front of her after being turned round.

AIDAsol. That paint scheme...!

If your lens isn't wide enough - I only had my 70-200mm on the camera - go for the 'artistic'!

We were scheduled to remain in Amsterdam until the following day, as was AIDAsol only she was going early the next morning (Patsy was getting up early to get her leaving but I'm not *that* keen, preferring a lie-in! I don't do mornings, particularly early ones, unless in dire emergencies or if I have to be somewhere; I only go to work from lunchtime onward) while we were sailing at 1700.
We decided to get off the ship and walk round to a piece of public land across the canal so we could get some photos of her and AIDAsol docked. It was hot, crowded and a bit of a step to get round there but we could get views of both ships. First though, we could go down to the dockside and photograph Vision from close quarters - imagine being able to do that in the terrorism-paranoid UK where you can be arrested for even aiming a camera at a public building.
I used my 18-55mm wide angle zoom for this picture. This lens is total and utter crap,with softness at the edges and chromatic aberration, and needs replacing but is better than nothing in 'emergencies'.

Vision of the Seas from the dockside. Imagine being able to do that in the UK. Not. A. Chance...!
Then it was the walk round to the other side for more photos. I had far more pressing concerns though, as Southampton FC were playing in a crucial match away at Brentford and with three games left to play, Saints needed to win two of them to be sure of going up, thanks to a massive goal difference advantage over nearest rivals Huddersfield Town. My mobile is not connected to the internet as I am not paying £5 a month for something I hardly use, so I had to get Patsy, also a Saints fan, to check the scores on hers. We won comfortably, 3-0, meaning only one more win was needed. Unfortunately, Hudders also won, away at Brighton, so it was down to the next game, at Plymouth on Monday...

Vision OTS against the light.

That night was 'formal' dress code. I'd brought some posh gear with me but, to be honest, it's one of the things that puts me off cruising a bit. I hate wearing formal clothes as, frankly, it makes me feel grossly uncomfortable and not 'me', so I was glad when the evening was over because I felt like a complete prat. I don't think I'll be taking a trip on a Cunarder any time soon, they love all things formal, as I understand. I even had a 'Blue Wave' cocktail, also known as 'Blue Lagoon' or 'Blue Hawai'i', which was very alcoholic indeed. With that and a beer a bit later, I felt slightly pissed to say the least - I am not a heavy drinker these days and it doesn't take much to get even slightly smashed.
Dinner that evening, though, banished all thoughts of stuffiness and discomfort as it was easily the best meal we'd had. Lobster bisque (soup, in other words) and a curry were on the menu and they were very good.
We still had most of the next day left in Amsterdam before we were due to leave at 1700, so I am going to have to put that in Part 3, because of the arrival of Cunard's Queen Elizabeth in Amsterdam and our journey back out to the North Sea...