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SEACATION SAILING UK REGAL THE FULL STORY


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This is my very detailed account - everything you need to know and more about the first UK Seacation Sailing on Regal 31 July

Bear with it its a long account warts and all!

 

I had always intended this to be a fact finding mission;  What is it like sailing under covid restrictions, does it impede on your enjoyment, how strict are the rules etc.  Despite the fact we are sailing in UK waters there is also the added stricter layer of sailing conditions imposed by the cruising authorities that the cruise line must comply with.  I can hear my Sister In Laws words echoing in my ear ‘ Now don’t go around nit picking, just go and enjoy yourself.’  I had every intention to do so, I know its not going to be perfect, I know its not going to be like a ‘normal’ cruise, I know its going to be ‘different’.  I am also well aware we are on the first Princess Sailing for some near on 18 months, there are bound to be teething problems, expect them and I wont be disappointed.  Now as you know many of my adventures turn into a Saga, and well Saga it has ended up being.  Please read and take from it what you want, some parts may be of interest to your some not.   Its full of detail (I like detail)!

THE MEDALLION APP

But first, I want to go back about six weeks and start almost at the beginning with the newly introduced Medallion App.  Oh the stress, I cant even begin to convey into words, how stressful, how frustrating, how damn annoying this app in its application has been.  I thought if anything my main concern about travelling would be the ‘covid’ situation but forget that, that’s way back in the far depths of my mind.  The app is almost consuming my daily thoughts, so much so I am on the phone at least twice a week to Princess moaning and complaining.  The whole of the Princess Fleet is or has been converted as Medallion Class, the object being this app and its medallion does everything.  No longer can you use your cruise personaliser on a normal computer web application, its all done through the app – providing of course two things 1. You are not a technophobe/ Dinosaur and 2- you have the latest iphone or gadgets on which the app will work.

So I can work my way through most things and I will attempt to give it a go, but more often than not I chuck my iphone at one of the kids and say sort this out for me will you.  I have an SE I think its about 4 years old – let me tell you this is the borderline version of which they have built this app to be used on, anything older it wont work and especially if you have an android phone that is 4 years old or more.  So its been problematic. Initally I managed to install the app, I managed to link my booking, I managed to set up an account, it asked me did I want to check both of us in, Well yes of course.  So carefully I sat down trying to follow it through but getting stuck with pages that wouldn’t load, that whirling thing that just keeps going round and around or quite simply blank white pages.  A couple of phone calls to Princess, I get told yes we are having problems with the app, its being updated can I suggest you leave it a couple of days and try again, ok so try again, get so far then open it up later all the stuff I started to put in has disappeared.  More phone calls, can I leave it for a week and try again.  Ok, so I find a quiet afternoon and work through methodically,  Check personal details, upload  - scan in passports with my phone, I start getting green ticks, next step accept voyage contract – green tick, this is starting to look good I am getting ticks, upload a security and profile picture another tick, great I am so pleased with myself its done it.  We are almost set just health declaration which cant be completed until nearer the time.  I thought now I have managed this I I will see if I can put the app on OH’s phone (thinking it might be good ordering drinks onboard with the phone and I didn’t want to leave him behind with the technology), so start by making him an online account with Princess so I can create a login for the App.  However, I then find it simply wont work on his phone as his version of phone is out of date and not compatible with the app.  So Ok I thought I will log him in on my phone.  As soon as I did this, it separated us, no longer could I toggle the two of us on my log in so had to start again putting data in again for him under his log in.  It’s a complete faff logging in as it doesn’t do fingerprint touch log in – it painful email address password on a small phone screen where the keypad overlays the bit you are typing in – you cant see if you have spelt anything wrong and is a total chore.

A week later I check the app – everything has disappeared, no lovely green ticks anymore, no documents uploaded, nothing. Some stuff I have to reload, pages going white again, just so much stress, they are really pushing this has to be done via the app – I am going to be left behind, it will make embarkation longer, I wont get a choice of embarkation time, I wont be able to order drinks with it, I wont be able to make reservations without it, I wont get priority to onboard events.  It took many phone calls, emails and screen shots of what was appearing on my phone for Princess to email the HO in Miami to get it finally sorted about two weeks prior to travel.  And they were working on issues on a one by one individual basis based on sail date.  At one point I was told ‘We are advising passengers that if they don’t have an iphone, they could possibly borrow one from a family member or use a tablet?  Well even in my techno phobe mind I am thinking but how will that work if you don’t have a tablet linked to a wifi account how will this work at the test centre and the embarkation hall?  The problem being they had invested so much into the Ship based technology but hadn’t shoreside and so it simply wasnt working as it should.  The staff on the end of the phone reassuring me that if it wasn’t working on the day they would have staff on hand to assist at the embarkation terminal – but all the emails kept coming….. you will be denied boarding if you haven’t completed your Health Declaration at least 24 hours prior to embarkation, You must upload a copy of your NHS Covid Certificate, you must do this you must do that!  But none of this could be done on a web based platform, only the App.

It was literally just 10 days prior to sailing before the app steadied itself and I now have a full row of green ticks.  The health declaration changed – the first one I looked at was saying have you left the US or Canada in the past 14 days – well no I am not even in the US – obviously the wrong questionnaire.

Nevertheless with it being so intermittent I am taking no chances, screen shots made and emailed to myself and printed off too, for a belt and braces approach.  My usual folder now bulging with everything from Covid Certificates, Ins Cert and Policy brochure all neatly tabbed, the Booking paperwork from my travel agent, the confirmation from Princess Cruises, everything I could think of – and this is supposed to be paperless!

TRAVEL INS & VACCINATIONS

There was also strict criteria they were requesting for Insurance and said that Insurance would be checked prior to embarkation.  You must have cruise cover, you must have a min of £2m Medical repatriation cover, you must have Covid cover and you must have cover for Europe incase you need a medical evacuation to nearest land which might be France/Spain etc.  It said staff would be checking not only your Travel ins Certificate but also your Policy to ensure you had adequate cover or else you would be denied boarding.

You had to have had both Covid Vaccinations with the second dose being administered a minimum of 14 days prior to sail date.  And a negative lateral flow test done at embarkation.

 

THE DAYS HAS ARRIVED!

To ease us into the break and to make the most of it, we coupled this cruise with a two night TravelZoo Country hotel Break in Newbury – about a halfway house between home and Southampton.  A good choice as we felt relaxed and fresh for the start of our Cruise.  I felt like a child again as we approached the docks, that feeling of anticipation, neck straining to get that first glimpse of a cruise ship.  I was smiling to myself, happy that still after all these years that feeling has still not left me. 

THE COVID TEST

Our embarkation time was group B 11.45-12.15.  Now by embarkation I took it to mean embarkation terminal and not Covid Test Centre base, so we decided to aim for around 11am.  All the precruise blub proliferating you must not arrive any earlier that your stated time as you will be turned and away and asked to return later!  The instructions were to find the Test Centre via Dock Gate 20.  As soon as we took the turn I said to OH this doesn’t feel right, this is the industrial end.  We end up driving around for 15-20 minutes, at one point I said – I think that could be it over there, we drive around, no signage, couldn’t even see an entrance.  There were around eight or so cars in a car park with a tent;  though  it was all a bit strange and we could even see cars in the road we were driving down, turning round, driving up, obviously lost, passing the same cars again.  I said theres only one thing for it, we must drive to one of the gates near Herbert Walker Ave and get one of the gate men to direct us.  As we were approaching the Holiday Inn we drove past the MSC Virtuosa and guys were on hand directing traffic for them – so upon asking he said; you need to turn your car around, go back the way we had come, keep on going until we see a white marque.  So some 25 mins from being there in the first place we are back to where I said it was, but this time big neon signs now directed you in but with some 50 or so cars infront of us!  So annoying when we were practically there earlier with no queues.  To be fair it was well organised, initially driving in two cars abreast, staff come to your car and check your Covid Certificate is valid and names match your passport.  You then spread into four lanes.  Another member of staff then give you a bar code, hand over a strip of paper with more bar code stickers and write your name in bold letters at the top.  Also checking they have a valid mobile number for you, so they could text your results though.  Mine was fine and I was pinged to say the results would be texted later.  But OH’s record had the landline listed which was obviously no good, so he was given a bright green wristband and his bar code was placed on this.  I see so this is how its going to work.  Thank goodness it wasn’t going to via email as I was ready to say ok so who is going to drive all the way back to Coventry to log into our computer so we can read the email!  This is how old fashioned we are – We don’t have our main emails set to come through on our phones.  The next step was to drive to the end of the tent where two members of staff each approached driver and passenger and did the test at the same time.  It was a simple nasal swab in both nostrils done by the staff.  This was handed over with the bar codes to await the results and we were off.  All in all this part took best part of an hour.  Then back through the docks upto the HWA entrance and across the other side to dock gate 4 for Ocean Terminal.  Again CPS was swift, we had to remain seated in our vehicle until a member of staff had register our car in, took photos and taken our keys off us.  We could then get out unload luggage take it across the road and off to the embarkation terminal.  The car would be moved back to Mayflower terminal for the return.

There were staff on the door checking your arrival time either by app or paper was acceptable.  We were than told if we needed toilet facilities we must remain downstairs as the toilets were not in use on the upper floor.  Not wanting to delay I said to OH I can wait, he said same as we didn’t want to delay things any further.  If you had arrived by any other means that CPS your covid test was done here on the lower floor – for those that might be interested to know.  So off up the escalator to the upper level, reading about this app – we are in the green lane – its supposed to be straight through and on board.  Well the reality is No, not really.  Atop of the escalator we are directed to a line of ladies with tablets ontop of podiums, going thought the medical questionnaire once more.  Tapping away at the answers as we went along.  We are asked if we have been to the test centre and have we had the result through yet.  Yes we have and no we haven’t and also show her OH’s wristband to ask how we get his results.  She says a member of staff can check for us in the hall and gives us a slip of paper with a BLUE tick on it.  Hmmm I have and (WE) did have green ticks!  We are directed to be seated until we receive a ping with the results.  I said it likely they will appear together so as soon as I get mine- he can ask about his.  We did at one point get a lady to check for us but it was still pending. It was near on an hour from them taking the test to receiving the result.  We are both negative and can proceed.  I show the lady my GREEN Boarding screenshot and we head off up the green lane, thinking this is it, straight on.  Well no , at end of green lane, lady spots my Blue tick piece of paper and we are sent back to the blue line and to normal check in desks (I think even at green line you still went to a check in desk) she said it was different steps and stages, that needed to be completed).  So for ours it was the On Board Charge hadn’t linked both of us up for one card – I know at one point I had definitely done this but with all the losing data and reinputting wasn’t surprised that this had separated itself.  Even so she couldn’t link it either, so had to swipe my card old fashioned way. And she hands us our Medallions which are on a lanyard in a plastic bag, we are instructed to take them out and get them read just prior to the security check.  Finally, just around 1pm – two hours from Queuing at Covid Test through Security and up the gangway we are on board.  Under the circumstances – not bad really.

WE ARE ONBOARD

The medallions are pinged as we enter the ship, our photos taken at home on the app pop up on the screen – Welcome on board Mrs Bradbury (Think of them in the same way as the usual cruise card).  The cabins are open, so we gladly alleviate ourselves of the hand luggage and we are up two decks above us to the Lido Deck, promptly finding two sun loungers around the pool and swiftly ordering a couple of drinks.  The old fashioned way I might add by hailing over a waiter.  I have made my mind up I don’t want to keep turning my phone on to use this app, apart from which it makes my phone get red hot within a minute of using it.  (I am convinced its going to blow it up)!  A beer and Cocktail now in hand.  We’ve done it!  We are here.  I cant believe it, oh how I have missed being on a Ship.

THE SAILAWAY

Now sorry but back to this damn app.  Annoyingly with it being so intermittent some days working some days not, on the day it released the ‘events’ to book an board it wasn’t working.  Just 24 hours later I am seeing ‘Sailaway Party Poolside  Deck 16    316 place available  316 guest going – no places left. So I spent two weeks miffed that we were not allowed to the Sailaway because capacity was full.  Just how this was going to work I wasn’t sure.  I had imagined in my head it being roped off, staff checking you in with your medallion, not being able to go to the party because I wasn’t on the ‘guest list’.  On the other hand thinking well what if I get there an hour earlier and stake myself out on a sunbed – will they turf me off it?  I really had no need to worry, nothing was checked, no-one was counted, it just happened like any normal sailaway.

And normal it was to the extent it was like a damp squib.  This was the first sailing in near on 18 months of any Princess Cruise Ship – this was an event, we should all be dancing (but no we cant dance because of covid) well at least there should be some ceremony about it surely.  Flags were handed out and the sail away party took place between 3.45 and 4.45pm.  The ship entertainers doing a routine between the pools and an on screen announcement form Princess officials.  But no real excitement, they could have made so much of this. I go back in my mind to the old days of leaving Southampton – every cruise departure had a brass band playing dockside, resplendent in their full uniforms, white helmets, pomp and ceremony, streamers thrown off the promenade deck, glass of fizz in hand, lots of cheering and waving.  Nope they obviously are scared so much of the Covid restrictions they don’t want us jumping up and down in our seats and enjoying ourselves.  We slip away from the dock quietly at 5pm with no announcement, no music, just random and adhoc playing the ‘Love Boat’ theme on the Ships Horn.   They really could have made something of this but sadly they didn’t.

THE DRINKS SERVICE

We had spent all of the afternoon on deck, after earlier taking advantage of the pizza and burger grill just behind us on deck for lunch.  We went through quite a few beers and cocktails whilst I spent my time watching and observing as I do.  Initially we thought the bar service was good, but within an hour could see it becoming more and more of a problem.  Staff were wandering around the deck aimlessly with trays of drinks, checking their devices, looking around.  Can’t find them mate my OH shouted, No they are supposed to be here, the waiter says shaking his head.  The app has a tracking device the object being you order on your phone from anywhere on the ship and food and drink will come to you via the tracker.  It was obviously not working and it soon became apparent there was a lot of this walking around looking with no success, the one guy we spotted 40 mins later with the same two drinks on his tray – still looking.  Then I started to overhear people accosting the waiters – We have been waiting nearly an hour – We ordered on the app – It says still processing – When are we going to get our drinks, etc etc.   People were getting up and leaving in disgust.  The service diminishing to borderline chaos.  The wait staff were working flat out.  It didn’t take long before I saw them with good old fashioned note pads and pencils.  Orders were being taken not with the app, not even registering with the app like they do with your charge card, just relying on you giving the correct cabin Number and hand writing your drinks old style.  This was not working and the staff were undermanned.

 

As we were now leaving nearby land I thought I should get my Free Wifi package set up and make sure I wasn’t connected to the Maritime Network.  The instructions in the Cabin were next to Useless – 3 simple steps it said.  1.  Put your phone on Airplane Mode – Ok.  Step 2 – Connect to Medallion Oceans Network – Ok .  Step 3 Go to your browser and click Get on Line Now ??  Where ?what?

Anyway a trip to Reception should sort it.  There was a bit of a queue but other staff on hand to diminish the queue, resolving small issues if you didnt need to visit the desk clerks.  The young guy quickly sorted me out and got me to type in log in .com which then took it to Medallions Oceans and said I was good to go.

OUR FIRST EVENING ONBOARD

We had an hour to rest before preparing for our evening meal and although we had booked MyTime/Anytime/Freestyle dining – call it what you will, we still chose to preselect , precruise via the app – a table at 7.20 each evening in the Concerto restaurant.  My reasoning being if we wanted to turn up at 7 we should be ok and likewise if we fancied eating a bit later we could get away with near on 7.45.

We were seated straightaway but in the furthest corner and with a bench seat, which I immediately refused and asked if there was another table available with proper seating.  You can bet your bottom dollar the bench will not be at the correct height for eating.  Sorry madam we don’t have any other table available at the moment, so OH said he would take the bench side.  Promptly sitting down the gentleman on the table to the side said you are right – it too low!

 

AND SO THE TABLE WAS BARE!

OMG, it made me gasp the starkness – this is Covid Dining.  A plain tablecloth, a single side plate placed at the dining position upon which was a folded napkin, containing a simple basic set of cutlery – as in a knife, a fork and a spoon.  Nothing other than one upside down wine glass was on the table, no frills, no fuss, no silverware, no salt and pepper, no butter, no flower vase, nothing.  What has happened to cruise ship fine dining, the waiters are not allowed to pull out your chair, the menu is a simple A4 printed page. Gone is the super large menu covers that you can hardly hold in your lap that make you feel so grand and important.  No longer is the napkin placed in your lap for you.  Its hitting me – this is what it is like.

Please madam can I ask you to turn your glass over – would you like some water?  In my head I am reminiscing already, going back not just recent years but further back so much further back, to the days when you had a seven piece set of cutlery working inwards from the Soup Spoon to the entrée, to the fish course, to the main, etc etc,  A water glass, a White Wine Glass, A Red Wine Glass a Flute, so much stuff you could barely find room to place a pin on the table.  This was a stark contrast.  And so now already I am thinking this will change cruise ship dining for ever.  This is the demise of fine dining, the bean counters will be rubbing their hands in glee, seeing how ‘little’ they can get away with.  It has very slowly declined over the years, for the past ten years or so, the table settings have got smaller, things have been tailored back.  Now I am thinking it will never be the same.

We both had the always available French Onion Soup, followed by a Caesar Salad.  Then I had Seafood curry, OH choosing Chicken which he said was a tad dry.  Overall the food was good, but nothing outstanding or memorable.

THE EVENING ENTERTAINMENT

This was the bit I was dreading with all the precruise blurb prompting you to ‘reserve your space’ with the app.  Limited seating available, some venues already full when I looked.  Do they turn people away if you haven’t booked?  What happens if like me and tbh most probably have done the same -you have simply booked whatever whenever and wherever just to ‘ensure a space’.  Will places be reserved but unoccupied because someone has chosen to go elsewhere?  Will they let us in?  How will they reserve our place?  Do they scan you in with the app?  So many unanswered questions.  What if you are like me – For goodness sake I don’t know two weeks before whether I want to spend my evening watching the band, sitting in the atrium, going to Movies under the Stars, Going to the Theatre, Sitting in Crooners, We wander room to room, that’s what we like to do, we don’t want to work to a timetable, we stroll, we drop in and out of bars, depending on whether we like the musician, the music or the ambiance.  Well let me tell you – the reality is;  Total waste of time prebooking and using the app.  Just wander do what you want.  If you think that you have a reserved seat, then think again,  you haven’t.  There was no way to either enforce nor monitor this.  A relief in a way but like a double edged sword kind of disappointing if you thought you had a seat but couldn’t find one available.  And this was an issue, so many random seats marked off with a big sticker with a cross on it.  Not allowed to be sat in, some back to back, would have worked for distancing I am sure, but no they had to be well spaced apart.  In reality I think it would have been far better if they had put the seating into storage that couldn’t be used and made better use of the floor space for the seating they could use.  There seemed to be random bundles of chairs squashed up and all higgledy piggledy.

Whilst I realise they have a Covid Protocol to follow, I am finding it to be to the extreme.  When were went up to the pool deck first thing once on board, I had taken my mask off as soon as we hit open deck to be promptly accosted by a deck attendant, maam please keep your facemask on.  What?  Even in the open deck, yes maam you can only take it off when you are seated.  OK   I suppose its become second nature to us anyway now, its not an issue, nevertheless I was surprised this was enforced out on the open decks.

Back to this evening, after spending a bit of time in Crooners, well I say in Crooners we managed to find a couple of seats on the outskirts around the atrium.  We go to seek out the resident band in the Vista Lounge,  The seats all in a row, lines blocked off and every other chair between two with a cross on it.  There was strictly no Dancing and I was told a couple had got up in the far corner and had been swiftly told by a member of the staff to sit down.

How come we can now have nightclubs in the UK packed full of a couple of hundred youngsters, half of them not had any jabs, all crowded in together; yet here we all are, fully double jabbed, just been covid tested and yet still we are not allowed to dance and must at all times socially distance ourselves and wear masks even when seated in the theatre.  We left after one song, not because we didn’t like the band, just simply because I knew I would get so frustrated at just sitting and listening.  We returned to Crooners and the Piano man who was excellent btw, for a nightcap, then it was time for bed.

 

DAY 2

THE PRINCESS & THE PEA

What is it with me, I seem to have an ultra-sensitivity or perhaps I am just a bit eccentric but once I get an idea in my head, Well…..the Bed.  So, the bed has one of those really soft squidgy mattress toppers, which to me makes it feel like you are sleeping in a sleeping bag rather than a bed, so that’s annoying me.  Then I began to notice the sheet didn’t feel right.  The onl

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