The P&O Cruises Shore Excursions experience..

Marty Feldman foresaw the P&O Cruises shore excursion coach tours that I recently undertook.

We lost two passengers for a short time (they got on the wrong bus), and given the number of times we got off and on, plus overrunning some stops (including lunch) because of buffets and what not – this sketch sums up the experience pretty well:

In all seriousness, however, I did feel that the majority of the coach tours were far too tightly packed & rushed (though to be fair, we didn’t have a great deal of time at each port – only Reykjavik and Dublin had any useful time limits on them), along with either too many stops (which means having to get everybody off the coach, then back on again, then to the next stop, repeat) or there wasn’t any time for a lunch break (the worst case was in Akureyri, Iceland, where “lunch” consisted of an energy bar, Icelandic chocolate bar and a bottle of water).

Or if there was a lunch stop, it was a buffet and given the number of coaches/passengers plus different levels of walking ability, lunch was a horrific affair.  At one point, in Voss, Norway, I gave up and went to a small cafe in the centre of town which for £15 I got a sandwich and a diet coke, and wasn’t packed in line sardines in a hotel dining hall.  The other buffet lunch was outside of Reykjavik and it was only for 25 minutes.  Being the last one off the coach, and having had another coach party arrive at the same time as us, 35 minutes later I had finally managed to get something to eat.  We left around 20 minutes late.

That said, not all the tours were jam packed madness.  And I should also mention that the destinations far outweighed the overall experience. I got to see some truly remarkable landscapes.

Just beyond Flam, Norway, there is the village of Gudvangen:

The absolutely stunning Námafjall geothermal area in Iceland, just outside of Akureyri:

Here’s a geyser blowing at the Geothermal Park, Iceland.  The Sony RX100 V camera has a rather noisy zoom motor – but then again, it’s intended as a compact still camera than a fully fledged video camera:

and while I was on the remote island of Hesteyri (one of the better shore excursions, though there were so many flies it was difficult to pay attention to the tour leader because we were all swatting the buggers all the time), there were some Red Wing chicks in a nest right by the small cafe:

The Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall tour wasn’t really Games of Thtone-sy enough, if I were to be honest.  But it didn’t matter to me – the alien landscape of Iceland was more than enough to make you appreciate why HBO came to Iceland (though as we found out, the producer was married to an Icelander and had worked there on previous projects).

I found that the best shore excursion is the one you put together yourself.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dublin by taking the P&O supplied shuttle bus into the city, then taking a City Sightseeing bus around (with at least two of the ticket sellers, both Danes, having worked as extras up at Ardmore Studios – which I paid a visit to back in my early days at MPC whilst working on Ella Enchanted – for the History Channel’s hugely popular Vikings TV series).  I just wished I had done this in Reykjavik.  But then again, I’m definitely planning on returning to Iceland, and I’ll set the agenda next time.

Dear P&O Cruises

On the 9th April this year, I paid for a variety of shore excursions for my trip on the Arcadia to Norway, Iceland and Ireland. One of them was for a tuk-tuk tour of Reykjavik. I’ve taken tuk-tuks before – I know they come in a variety of sizes and styles. But it wasn’t until I left the Arcadia and went shore side to see how cramped they were. One tuk-tuk looked as if people were crammed in there like sardines – one poor sod facing backwards looked very uncomfortable.

Then it was my turn.

Bloody hell, I’ve never known anything like it. I’m a big lad – both tall and, well, outwards (fat). There were two other people (presumably a husband and wife) who were sitting forwards, which left me, realistically, facing backwards in the middle seat. Given how high the floor was, it was physically painful to sit in that position for 90 minutes, so I left. I don’t pay £56 for 90 minutes of being super uncomfortable.

Or let me put it this way: you pay for a tour in a car, except you end up shoved in the boot.   Would you pay for something like that?  No, I didn’t think so.  Not unless you’re a bit kinky.

I went back on board the Arcadia and made my way to the Shore Excursion desk (since nobody from the tour company pointed out there was a tour manager or anybody managerial shore side – in fact, nobody from the tuk-tuk company offered to assist me with anything). I was then told I should have spoken to a man called Frasier, but it would be pointless to do it there and then because it was “rush” hour. So I left for the shore side again and took the City Sightseeing tour bus instead.

When I got back from that, I managed to find Frasier and told him the problem. “Sorry,” he said, “but we cannot issue a refund because you saw what the tuk-tuks were like on the website, that there are all sizes of tuk-tuks, and we buy all tickets up front”. I went on to explain that yes, I saw what was on the web site, but it gave no indication whatsoever about what they were really like – that it was only until I saw them up close and personal could I make an assessment. And I DID try to get in them. Frasier told me flat out that there would be no refund, and that if I made a complaint, it would be referred back to them, and he’d still decline any refund.

So I went and cancelled my Dublin city tour.

I reached out to P&O on Twitter who reached out to the Shore Excursion team and said that the manager would get hold of me. If that manager is Frasier, there is little point. Also whoever the team leader for the Shore Excursion team is, they haven’t reached out to me yet since I made the complaint.

While I have generally enjoyed this cruise so far, and I have been looking at cruises from 2018 onwards – I am thoroughly hacked off with P&O regarding a single £56 refund. In the 17+ years I’ve been travelling (and I was married to a travel agent who has worked for Lastminute.com, Wexas, Royal Caribbean and Cruise.co.uk amongst others – and let me tell you that we did a heck of a lot of travelling together to all manner of destinations far and wide), I have NEVER had to make a complaint about anything travel related. Then along comes P&O Cruises – my first P&O cruise, but my second overall (the first was with Azamara) and they managed to hack me off big time because apparently I have to care about their contracts with their vendors.

So this will be my first and last cruise with P&O unless they pull their fingers out and do something. If we still cannot resolve the issue when I write to P&O’s head office, then I’ll take them through the small claims court.  If I do end up buying another holiday from P&O again, I won’t be booking any of their shore excurions ever again.

The stupid thing is that I ended up not doing the Herdal Mountain Farm tour. I lost £52 for that. And I completely understand that – nobody needed to explain that to me. And because I am nice, I actually went down to the Shore Excursions desk as early as possible to apologise and say I wouldn’t be coming so that they didn’t have to wait around. So I did them a favour.

Oh, and the stupid thing about the tuk-tuk tour was they had to move the start time backwards from 9am to 8am. I could have had a refund then, apparently. I wish I took it. But I wouldn’t have known what these tuk-tuks are like until I got out there.

I’ll write more about my trips a bit later. Lots and lots of photos to come.

 

The joys of Tuvan Throat Singing

Though I subscribe to Apple Music, I still keep Spotify around (which has a free tier) for the Discover Weekly.  It’s recommended some decent tracks, and thanks to its latest recommendations I’ve discovered the joy that is Tuvan throat singing through the band Huun-Huur-Tu and their album, Sixty Horses in my Herd.

The following song was the one Spotify recommended to me:

They’ve toured a fair old way over the years, and you can find a number of their live shows on YouTube.  During my research, I also came across the band the Alash Ensemble, and the following TEDx talk introduces us to a song which really makes full use of throat singing – it’s quite ethereal!

Also, Spotify recommended me a lot of Balkan music.  It too is very good.  I particularly like this one:

Digital video: renting vs buying, and why Apple is best for buying

With news that iTunes’ share of video sales and rentals are falling against competitors such as Amazon (Prime) Video and other services, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on why iTunes is the better platform for buying movies digitally, despite my brain screaming at me, “Look what happened to the digital BBC Store.”

iTunes offers iTunes Extras of which an increasing number of titles are including the same features as physical media.  Audio commentaries are regularly included, for example.  No other service offers this.

iTunes has one of the best device allowances of any service – and this includes the ability to download the content to a Mac, Windows PC, iPad and/or iPhone.

The UI of iTunes is much better than that of the competitors.  The Apple TV, not so much, but still considerably better than most.  Therefore it’s easier to manage existing titles.  And in all the years I’ve been buying movies from iTunes, I’ve never lost a single title due to film studios deciding to withdraw from the platform.  This could change, of course, but I’m sure if that happened, consumers would be lining up to lynch whoever decided it was a good idea to do so.

In terms of renting, Amazon (Prime) Video very narrowly outshines iTunes. There’s almost always a promotion which allows me to pay far less for renting an HD title via Amazon (Prime) Video than iTunes.  For example, I’ve just rented Hidden Figures (*superb* film) and T2: Trainspotting (also very good) – both in HD – £2.49 for both titles.  Amazon Video is baked into my LG television, making it very easy to access.

Don’t get me started on the UltraViolet digital platform.  It’s a completely useless pile of sputum devised by the film studios to make them look kind and generous by providing a non-physical digital copy of a film.  The truth is that it’s a massive pain in the arse to manage and I don’t bother with it anymore.   TalkTalk’s app (TalkTalk having bought Blinkbox which in turn is an UltraViolet partner) for LG televisions is awful.  I accept that one has to log in again occasionally, but the process is just stupid.  Look at what Google is doing for logging in to YouTube – much, much easier for televisions.  Entering a password via a remote control is the epitome of piss-poor user interface design.  But TalkTalk isn’t the only one guilty of this crime (NOW TV, Amazon, and even Netflix are guilty – but their TV apps allow for significantly long log in times).

BTW, I also hate the Amazon Prime Video UI too – it makes discovery difficult and it seems so random that I rarely watch anything on the service other than the really big TV productions.  I watched the German comedy, Toni Erdmann the other day (very, very funny – especially the nude party scene), but I had to manually enable the subtitles (found under CC for closed captioning – usually referencing subtitles for the hard of hearing – in my case, hard of not knowing enough German to understand the film without English subtitles).

The only other service I’ve purchased films from is Google Play.  I can watch the films on a tablet, my phone and even my TV through the YouTube app.  But those titles are generally either freebies or were heavily discounted.

Otherwise, I’ll be sticking with iTunes for future film purchases.  The next one, in fact, will probably be Hidden Figures because it was just such a great film, and there’s an audio commentary included in iTunes Extras which should give the film even more value.

An anthology book for the modern age: Martyn’s Tales of the Bloody Stupid

I’m kicking around the idea of writing a series of short stories, all of them rather silly, but all fantastical in scope.  Think of it as a sillier, stupider version of Black Mirror.  This is what I have so far.  Might need a proof reader if I take this further as, you’ll probably have guessed, I’m terrible at it.

Pandora’s Gogglebox

After the film and television industry destroys itself in the Hollywood Guild Wars of the 22nd century (in which the DGA, WGA, SGA and other acronyms ending in “GA” fought to a bloody death with the big film & TV studios which were all eventually owned by internet service providers and web hosting companies), a surviving computer technician working with advanced AI develops a simple black box (resplendent with a 200ft aerial) that connects to the cloud to generate any story the consumer wants to watch.  No actors, no directors, no writers – the whole thing is generated photo-realistically in the cloud and delivered to your black box (with it’s aerial which doubles up as a washing line).  No TV required (most electronic manufacturers – principally those that made TVs, radios and DVD/Blu-Ray players – were all blown up in the Hollywood Guild Wars) – you just touch the box and the images and sound are beamed into your brain!

Yet something sinister is happening behind the scenes back in Hollywood (version 3 – version 1 was Los Angeles, version 2 was Vancouver, Canada, and version 3 is now based in the remotest part of Siberia due to efficient tax breaks).

The Pied Pooper of Tower Hamlets

The year is 2045 and the human immune system is straining against new outbreaks of bugs and bacteria.  Antibiotics are now all but useless.  If you’re not wearing a mask when you’re out and about, and if you don’t wash your hands after going to the toilet, this is a federal crime.

An office worker at a company in Tower Hamlets that makes novelty toys for Christmas crackers accidentally forgets to wash his hands after using the toilet.  He’s immediately flagged up as a potential “chemical weapon” and has to go on the run away from the authorities.  The penalty for spreading germs – death!

Close Encounters of The Third Line Support

The latest and greatest operating system has just been released!  It’s got ALL the features that everybody wants and needs.  It puts Windows and MacOS to shame. And the best thing is, it’s free, and runs on ANYTHING.  But nobody knows anything about the company behind it all – the mysterious Fugnugget-Centauri Technologies, run by the enigmatic Mr.  Guff.

Archibald Codswallop, a student straight out of university, applies to work for Fugnugget-Centauri and lands a call centre job, only to discover that it’s going to be a very long commute to work each day – they’re based on a small planet in the Alpha Centauri star system.  When Archibald discovers the truth about Earth’s technology over the past 70 years or so, it will shock you.  SHOCK YOU!  *SHOCK*

The Faeries of the M4 Motorway Cafe

The Green Man walked this Earth long before us.  But he did so with his best buddy, Oberon, King of the Sidhe, who had just divorced his wife Titania and married his on-off girlfriend, Gaia.  The faerie kingdom wasn’t entirely happy with these events, being the stuck up so-and-sos that they are.  So a renegade group left the kingdom and set-up shop in the world of the humans.  What a shock it was! But over the centuries they slowly learned to live a human lifestyle – except as they were practically immortal with magical powers, they could pretty much do whatever they pleased.

But all this didn’t make Robin Goodfellow terribly happy.  The first couple of centuries were plenty fun, but as the ability to torment the humans came so easily to him, he grew bored.  So in the 1980s, he and his family decided to open a restaurant – in one of the service areas along the M4.  And all was good until one day, one of his fellow renegade fairies turned up with a very intriguing proposal – overthrow Oberon and the Faerie kingdom itself.