Passport Interviews

Getting a passport for the first time can be exciting. It opens the door to explore the world.

But what if you receive a letter asking you to attend an interview?

That’s exactly what happened to my dad. It wasn’t his first passport either, but his original one expired in 1985 so there was probably no record. Plus 33 years is a long time to wait for another!

We had a feeling this would happen. The birth certificate copy he had was issued in 1947 for the Family Allowances Act (1945) caretaker Conservative government brought in. As he was 5 years old, he has no idea what happened to his original one. The 1947 one was tatty, held together with Sellotape and practically illegible so a new copy was ordered.

Check and send at the Post Office is my usual method of applying, so we did the same for him with the birth certificate copy. It may cost a little more, but any mistakes on the form are dealt with quickly so it’s worth it.

The appointment was made. Thankfully, there are numerous local passport offices around the country so you no longer need to go to a major city like London. Ours is at Cosham, near Portsmouth, in a huge building at Lakeside North Harbour industrial estate. There are no buses except for employees early morning and from mid-afternoon. Taxis are available at Cosham station. Sally was the name of our driver and she gave me her mobile to call when we’d finished.

If you are delayed, you could be buggered. Our train was stuck at Fratton due to a broken down one ahead. I called the number on the letter since there wasn’t one to the local office. The gentleman on the other end kept repeating like a mantra, “You have ten minutes leeway. I cannot pass on your message but as it’s being recorded, they will know you called.” Fat lot of use that is! But we made it.

So you arrive at the vast building, sign in and go to the correct office. But how can you prove you are who you say you are?

Fact is, you can’t. They won’t accept any documents in case they’re forged. You just get taken to a room to chat for about half an hour.

My paternal grandparents both died when he was 8 years old so he dreaded being asked questions about them. Thankfully, they never really came up, he said, and he received a text a couple of days later saying his passport would be delivered within 48 hours.

Life’s never dull!

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Cunard Dress Code Changing? (Updated)

There has been no official announcement but cruises booked from mid-June 2018 no longer state Formal or Informal on the Voyage Personaliser.

As with Carnival Cruise Lines and Holland America Line, Formal becomes Gala Evening while Informal is Smart Attire.

No surprise since Holland America Group has overseen Carnival UK (Cunard and P&O) since July 2017.

Transatlantic crossings on Queen Mary 2 will currently still have three Gala Evenings.

Holland America Line’s dress code is stated from their website as:

Most evenings smart casual attire is appropriate. Shorts, pool/beachwear, distressed jeans and men’s tank tops are best left to the daytime and are not permitted in fine dining restaurants.

Gala Nights evoke the grand traditions of cruising as guests dress to impress for special events on board, including our five-course gourmet dinner in the Dining Room. For gentlemen, collared shirts and slacks are required in all fine dining restaurants.

They also say jacket and tie is not required on Gala Nights, so Cunard’s version (when announced) will be interesting.

Changes have been afoot a while. Short breaks have been Informal only since before HAL Group came along.

Dress code is one of the hottest topics, moreso as cruising itself changes to try and attract new passengers.

Are Cunard “dumbing down” or should they move with the times? Have your say below.

Update – 28th March 2018

Cunard have said it is only a change of wording. I messaged for more information but at the time of writing, have not received a reply.

However, the Voyage Personaliser had a dress code update, including expanding areas where you were restricted to if you prefer to remain casual (many thanks to Mark Katzenberger from my Facebook group, Cunard Past, Present and Future for the following).

During the day, feel free to relax and dress as you please in all areas of the ship.

From 6pm on ‘Informal’ nights, we ask that you wear smart attire in most of our bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. On our much-anticipated Gala evenings, dress attire is Formal. We invite you to dress to impress and celebrate with us. There are two or three of these Gala evenings for every seven days of your voyage.

Informal/Smart Attire: Gentlemen, every night we request you wear smart trousers with a shirt and jacket; tie is optional. Ladies, blouses and skirts or stylish trousers and dresses are welcome.

Formal/Gala Evenings: It’s Showtime. Dinner jacket, tuxedo, or dark suit for the men with a regular tie or bow tie. Evening or cocktail dress, smart trouser suit, or formal separates for the ladies please.

Of course, if you prefer to spend your evenings in more relaxed attire, feel free to dress casually as you visit any of the following venues: Kings Court or Lido Buffet, Golden Lion, Casino, Carinthia Lounge, Winter Garden/Winter Lounge and G32 or Yacht Club. Non-ripped jeans are appropriate, but please refrain from wearing shorts, sports attire, swim wear or sleeveless t-shirts outside of the gym, spa and deck spaces.

Update – 29th March 2018

Cunard have got back to me. This is what they say:

We have completed extensive global research with over 13,000 guests who told us that they love the glamour of a Cunard voyage; the chance to dress up is something that is becoming increasingly rare yet increasingly desirable.

We are not making any changes to the dress code, just simply updating the language that we use to describe the evening attire on board.

Informal/smart attire will be shirt and jacket for gentlemen, tie optional. Blouses, skirts or stylish trousers for ladies, with dresses optional. For formal/gala nights, it’s showtime! Dinner jacket, tuxedo, or dark suit for the men with a regular tie or bow tie. Evening or cocktail dress, smart trouser suit, or formal separates for the ladies.

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Shipboard Announcements

We’ve all been there. They say announcements won’t be in your cabin due to privacy and if you want to hear them, turn on whatever. Fair enough for things like bingo but what of the important ones?

The one thing I’ll never understand is why missing passenger calls before sailaway or when people are asked to go to reception due to some issue are ONLY in public areas.

Mr Smith from cabin 5315 could be asleep or in the shower and not realise they believe he’s not onboard. Money is wasted hanging around past the departure time due to them not checking properly everyone is accounted for.

Privacy is one thing but passenger call announcements SHOULD be everywhere regardless.

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Astoria Cruise – Rouen to Tilbury

We had a full day in Rainy Rouen as we’d be sailing at 1.15am for Honfleur the following morning. I had arranged to meet my good friend Marie Mariani after 12pm so had a wander. I had been twice before (the second time to meet up with Marie) but I love the place.

Then we had lunch at La Petite Bouffe, which is popular with students at lunchtime then turns into a restaurant at night. Both our delicious meals came to just €12.50.

I returned to the ship in time for afternoon tea while Marie went back to the cathedral.

The show after dinner was Around the World, which was brilliant. I’d love to know where the dancers get their energy from. We later sailed in the pouring rain.

I had a lazy day in Honfleur since the following day would be a long one getting home. We had received a letter explaining any unused money from the lost Amsterdam day would be refunded but still people weren’t happy and removed gratuities. Lunch in the dining room was interesting as our view, due to tide, was the dock wall. It rained most of the day but was sunny when we left 45 minutes late, the same time Peter Knego’s lecture started. We waited for a small cargo ship to pass then two tankers which were miles away. If that had been Southampton, we’d have gone between them. AIDAperla was docked in Le Havre.

Peter Knego lecture


Mike, me and Peter Knego by the original Stockholm bell which went down with the Andrea Doria after their collision in 1956.

It was the Baked Alaska parade with sparklers during dinner. Then comedian Gerry Graham was on again. I went to bed after that.

Gerry Graham as Max Wall

Morning and we were late. We had a medivac during the night and pulled into Calais. Someone had been taken ill during dinner resulting in the doctor being called, so we naturally wondered if it was them. Our 8am arrival was now 10.30am but we still had to be out of the cabin by 7.30am. I spoke to Julie and had permission to stay longer due to the stoma. Carol sat at my table for breakfast then we went to the lounge after I collected my stuff.

Then it all became farcical. Several people on the transfer coach to Victoria had connections but certainly weren’t a priority despite paying for it. Self-disembarkation went first, many of whom had cars or lived locally. Then Gold Columbus Club members. Coach was third and we finally left the terminal at 11.25am. It was a different company to our arrival. The driver had only been told that morning he was doing it and had been waiting since 10.15am. I was on the noon coach to Southampton, Carol the 12.30pm to Chippenham. Another lady was going to Edinburgh. Going by last year when the return journey had taken less time, Carol and I rebooked our respective coaches for one hour later. Things were going really well until the Embankment which is 10 minutes away in good traffic. There was an organised protest in Parliament Square which no one told the driver about so he could avoid the area. We finally arrived 2 hours after setting off so missed more connections.

Now we had been given a letter for National Express by Mark, the Guest Service Host, after we had said about losing money. It wasn’t exactly common knowledge surprisingly. Despite handing it over at Victoria, I was charged £5 to change my ticket while Carol had to buy a new one.

All in all, despite things beyond their control and extra expenses, I had a bloody great cruise on my favourite ship and cannot wait to go back.

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Astoria Cruise – Antwerp to Rouen

Sailaway was at 4pm and we had a band playing us off. We were waiting for one passenger but no idea if he was on the ship or didn’t make it.

It was formal night and the Captain’s reception. He talked about the ship and his history with her since 2006. The show was great followed by a cabaret where you could get up and dance.

Partial sea day as we headed to Rouen on the Sunday. Very windy. Comedian Gerry Graham was sat on deck with Mitch the cruise director.

Gerry Graham

We were due to pick up the pilot at 2pm but it was later. Then we commenced our transit along the Seine where we docked around 9pm.

The show was Gerry Graham, who was really funny. As we were allowed off, it as an ideal opportunity to photograph the ship lit up.

Gerry Graham

With Peter Knego and Mike

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Astoria Cruise – Tilbury to Antwerp

It was time for my spring cruise on this fabulous ship. In 2017, they had a short cruise to Amsterdam and Antwerp. This year was double, but again, it was the first after a winter lay-up. Cruise and Maritime Voyages share chartering this beauty with Rivages du Monde, who have her usually from May and during summer. Before resuming service, she was being prettied up in dry dock, leaving it on the 2nd March and Lisbon on the 5th.

2nd March 2018

5th March 2018

Two days before departure, CMV called late morning to say Astoria would now arrive Friday the 9th due to weather delaying her Lisbon departure. Amsterdam was cancelled and would be refunded. They were also giving £50 onboard credit and any you don’t use, she said, they were looking at refunding. Any out of pocket expenses should be emailed to them. In my case there was a hotel it was too late for free cancellation, more expensive one booked and outbound coach ticket. They later sent out a text.

It buggered up a lot of plans but at least they let people know in time to hopefully alter them.

My new hotel was a stone’s throw from Victoria Coach Station. Having been a regular National Express coach user since 1987, I knew the area pretty well and where to find food. After settling in, I went for a little wander.

Meanwhile, Astoria was still slowly making her way to Tilbury. Svitzer Madeleine on her stern as she approached, who was once a familiar sight in Southampton.

Tilbury is quite difficult to get to without a car or living in Gravesend, but CMV have a coach transfer to and from Victoria Coach Station. I was impressed with it last time so booked it again. As with 2017, it was at 11am. Originally, I had a coach booked from Southampton at the crack of yawn (hence booking a hotel since the buses wouldn’t get me into town on time) and would change in London. This at least gave me a bit of a lie-in.

As with last year, it went smoothly. The CMV rep arrived around 10am, highlighted our names and handed out the health questionnaire and revised itinerary. Boarding was from Gate 2 as Gate 1 was closed for work. I saw Carol, who I’d met on the transfer last year and met Rob Guest from Facebook.

We arrived just before 1pm. Due to my parastomal hernia returning and Ileostomy, they allowed me to do priority check-in with Carol. The queue was absolutely horrendous. We were on at 1.15pm. Lunch! It was much better organised than last year but maybe due to so many in the terminal.

Muster was scheduled for 2.30pm but was 15 minutes late. Broadcast broke off three times and we didn’t go to the lifeboats, probably due to rain. Sailaway was slightly delayed due to traffic.

I went to reception about the onboard credit and discovered they day missed was non-refundable like the £50. That’s not good when you’re not a big spender like me and a lot of money to lose. The receptionist told me there had been a lot of complaints and they had emailed the finance department.

Dinner was good. Peter Knego managed to get us all a table together so I went from table 66 to 6. Our waiter was excellent and replaced my supposedly bell pepper free Thai salad with one that had none. Then we saw the show which the cruise director took part in too. Then it was time for bed after a long day.

Morning in Antwerp. I decided not to go into the city since it would be a long day in Rouen and I ached after the travelling. So I chilled, had lunch with Carol then wandered.

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What Next For The Astor Sisters?

News today that CMV Travel & Leisure Group has purchased Pacific Eden from Carnival Corporation to summer for Transocean Kreuzfahrten in Germany and winter in Australia. This is currently done by Astor so you have to wonder what future she has.

Entering service in 1987 and designed as a slightly larger version to her predecessor, she had a few owners but has been Astor the longest and with Transocean since 2001.

Astor in Zeebrugge 2008

Astor in Southampton 2012

She isn’t the only former Safmarine Astor to face an uncertain future. The original from 1981, now Saga Pearl II, is ending her career with Saga in April 2019 after 9 years. At one time, she was a fleetmate to her sister under the Transocean banner as Astoria (not to be confused with the CMV ship of the same name) until 2009.

Astoria in Southampton 2008

Saga Pearl II in Southampton 2015

So, what is to become of these sisters? While CMV have their classics, they have also expanded in recent years by acquiring larger tonnage such as Magellan and Columbus. Far too many old girls have become memories and history or end their days as casino ships in the Far East. Will these or will someone reunite them to sail together again? I hope we find out soon.

Posted in Cruise & Maritime Voyages, General, Saga Cruises, Transocean Kreuzfahrten | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment