The cruise started in Southampton and we had one day on the North Sea before reaching Norway. This cruise to Norway on Iona was our second on the ship and the first P&O cruise of our grandson.
The requirement to have a negative test the day before boarding was supposed to have been easy. At least this cruise’s destination country, Norway, didn’t require passenger locator forms.
From the NHS app we printed our updated travel confirmation of Covid inoculations and these now valid until November 2022.
Failure of Randox to provide “fit to travel” paperwork
P&O on their website listed various companies that could perform the lateral flow tests and provide a “fit to travel certificate”. We chose to use Randox. They offered a pick up service locally as well as a mailing service of test kits. We picked up our three kits at a small shop nearby in Wokingham.
Next we had to download their app, take a scan of each passport and enter all our details into the profiles being set up for each of us.
On Friday, we took our first test at 7 am and after a little fiddling with the app attempted to upload an image of the test result. This failed. Next we went to our grandson’s house as originally scheduled to test him before he left for school. Again, posting the results failed.
After 9 am we placed our first call to Randox. On the Facebook group for our cruise we were “relieved “ to see that we were not the only passengers having problems. After a 40 minute wait we were assured that it was not our problem but an issue with the Randox “app“. In my opinion it was more likely a server issue but whatever it was we were no nearer to getting our certificates.
Randox app still not working
To further complicate matters the app stated that to be valid the registration had to be done within 30 minutes of taking a test, this clearly was already way past. By lunchtime we were getting a little more concerned as their system still would not accept our results. After a 60 minute wait on the customer service telephone line we were told that Randox’s IT guys were “working “on a fix. But in any case we would be able to scan the test results from our four hour old tests and this would be accepted.
To further help things along it was suggested that we delete the iOS app, reinstall it, re-register ourselves and that might work. From the Facebook group we learned that this tactic hadn’t worked for others and remember that we’d have all the hassle of re-entering everyone’s profile details.
As of September 2022 Randox have yet to refund our monies for the three tests, despite a verbal promise from their call centre operator and repeated requests by email.
Switched to another Covid tester
We decided to abandon Randox and their frankly lousy customer service and booked (expensive) walk-in tests. This was at a pop-up clinic at the Reading football ground. Our grandson joined us outside his school and we went off to the ground.
Everyone was friendly and chatty and we were quickly tested and promised our results by email in 40 minutes. In fact they arrived just as we dropped our grandson off at his home.
That evening the Randox shambles was still ongoing and it seems that Android app were now working to accept results but the Apple iOS app was still not working. (As an aside some passengers were still struggling to register results the following morning!)
Day 1: Saturday 28th May 2022 Southampton
The list of documents that we needed was a little shorter than our December Iona cruise:
- NHS Covid vaccination documentation
- NHS Covid vaccination travel certificates
- The “fit to travel” certificates from the walk-in clinic
- The “fit to travel form” from the P&O website
- E tickets
- Boarding passes
Just as in December, we had checked in online and passed our photos back to P&O. This part of check-in had been easy but the same cannot be said for our E-tickets and luggage tags. We had had to call P&O a couple of times to get these as it seems they had issues with the website again.
Our boarding time was set to be at noon. Because of school half term and the impending Jubilee celebrations, we had expected the roads down to Southampton to be busy. As it turned out the northbound A34/M3 junction had a couple of miles of tailback as we went South. Our traffic jam started as we came to the southbound A34 junction and the traffic became stop and go the nearer we came to Southampton.
Rather than join the M27 and enter the port area at Gate 10, we chose to go through the centre of Southampton. This turned out to be a good choice as traffic was so light.
Once in the docks, near the Ocean terminal we joined a long queue waiting to hand cars over to CPS. This took surprisingly over 30 minutes and just as our December cruise we had to take our own suitcases to the terminal building.
We then joined another queue outside the terminal where we had to have all our documents and passports checked and receive stickers to show that we had “passed“ all the relevant checks. The lady looking at our documents thanked us profusely for having everything printed as it made her checking so much easier and faster.
As we rode up the escalator, below us there was a row of desks where queues of other passengers were having all their documents checked or their smartphones examined.
At the check-in desk everything went smoothly and we were soon going through security. The bad news was that my watch triggered the alarm and I had to pass it through the x-ray scanner separately before I could get through the body scanner OK!
Lunch in the Coral Restaurant on Deck 7
Boarding the ship follow the same process as before. We went to our muster station checked in there and then we headed off to the Peninsular Club lunch on Deck 7. Once there we had an excellent lunch while we waited for our rooms to be available. I did manage lots of extra steps as I visited the buffet a few times as I was only offered three or four prawns per visit!
Once the cabins were announced to be ready, it was an easy walk for us, as the lift outside the restaurant took us to Deck 14 just where our cabin was. Our suitcases had yet to arrive and while we waited we explored the cabin and had a quick conversation with our cabin steward. This cabin was larger than our other Iona cabin, as the large settee would convert into a full-size single bed for our grandson.
While we waited for the suitcases we watched a car carrying train unload about BMW Minis from Oxford, Sky Princess leave Southampton with a fanfare from her horn and SS Wayfarer pass by on her way in.
The cabin had basically the same configuration of hanging space and and again had limited drawer space. With three of us in the cabin this made for lots of scrunched up clothes as finding room for all our stuff was a challenge. This was only matched by trying to fit three suitcases and our carry-on bags under the bed along with the two linen boxes already there.
We went to the Pearl restaurant, on Deck 6, for dinner and were immediately sharing a table. While we ate we booked to go to the show, FESTIVAL, early that evening in the theatre.
This had lots of music from West End shows and some quite outstanding solo performances from the cast.
The Rise in the SkyDome
We were then in time to see a performance in the SkyDome.
The ship’s clocks were adjusted overnight to European time and we “lost” an hour’s sleep.
Day 2 Sunday 29th of May 2022 the North Sea
Despite loosing the hour’s sleep, we still managed to make breakfast in the Pearl restaurant on Deck 6 with just 30 minutes to before it closed. The queue for passengers who hadn’t reserved was long but we were soon hustled to a table.
The outside the temperature was quite cool and we spent most of the morning but well wrapped up out on deck. Our grandson tried to spend time in the sports arena but either there were no footballs available or the whole court was booked out.
Lunch in the Olive Grove
Our lunch was in the Olive Grove that we had booked as we came on board the day before. Salads, pizza and a glass of beer were the order of the day. Sat next to us in the Olive Grove was Marco Pierre White. He was on board to give cooking demonstrations and signed copies of his latest cookbook.
Afternoon and then a formal evening
Back in our cabin our half bottle of fizz had arrived, as this evening was the one and only formal night. Our afternoon was spent chilling out in the cabin with an occasional foray outside between showers of rain.
When we were on our balcony we first noticed water cascading over the glass walls above us from the infinity pool. Luckily for us the large amounts of cascading water hit the balconies on decks 11 and 12 below us. We just had occasional splashes or drops of water like heavy rain falling on us.
In the evening we were all dressed up as we joined the queue for the restaurant on Deck 6. This formal meal was the usual Marco Pierre White menu plus alternatives.
After we had eaten we went to see the Voxons singing in the SkyDome. We had a short wait as we were early for their middle of the evening show. After the first two numbers we decided that the acoustics in the SkyDome was simply not good enough and we left.
The North Sea was calm as we retired for the night.