Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Mediterranean Magic (2016)

Casting off in a towering giant

About to board Royal Princess at Piraeus

It could have been because we turned up more than six hours prior to departure. Or it might have been because the ship was docked in the middle of a sprawling port complex, and large numbers of passengers had somehow managed to get lost. It could even be that the Greeks had decided to defy tired old national stereotypes and had designed an embarkation process that was fast, cutting-edge and super-efficient. But one way or another, there was simply no denying one central truth: boarding the Royal Princess was spectacularly well organised and as straightforward and effortless as it could possibly have been. In particular, it was streets ahead of the previous year's experience in Vancouver.

And this, mark you, despite the fact that the vessel we would be calling home for the next week was an absolute giant. No, make that colossus - we were in Greece, after all. With a complement of 3,560 passengers accommodated in precisely half that number of guest cabins, and with a total of 15 passenger-accessible decks, Royal Princess was easily the largest ship that I had ever been on.

Earlier that day, it had seemed as though I'd regressed to my teenage years when I woke up at the quite ridiculous hour of 10am. For some reason - and let's be honest, it could only realistically have been down to my own forgetfulness - my watch was still showing UK time (8am). I had spent the previous two days travelling first to London Heathrow and then on to Athens International Airport. After meeting up with Bruce on arrival, we had enjoyed a light supper in the lobby bar of the Sofitel on Friday evening.

Fast-forward to 2pm on Saturday and you join us once again as we settled into stateroom R101 on Riviera deck. Although smaller than the rooms we had occupied in 2014 and 2015, this cabin enjoyed a superb, end-of-corridor location. We quickly met our Cabin Stewardess, Marianna from Romania. Various deliveries were made, but it took hours for Bruce's suitcase to appear. It turned out that the presence of two bottles of water had caused the bag to be referred to the secondary inspection team who then, rightly, saw no problem whatsoever. (There is a strict carry-on limit of one bottle of wine per person, so I suspect the decision to have a closer look had something to do with this rule.)

After a quick exploratory tour of the ship, we managed to polish off a bottle of champagne in time-honoured fashion, together with our pre-ordered shrimp and canapés. Unlike the previous year's August departure from Vancouver, we were able to do this on our balcony, albeit in decidedly hazy conditions.

LEFT: A striking new feature found while getting to know Royal Princess
RIGHT: What's a balcony for, if not a civilised pre-departure celebration? Hic!

First-night crowds in the central Piazza

The ship departed at 8pm without ceremony and set a course for the Greek island of Santorini. For our evening meal, we decided to order two pizzas at Alfredo's and share them. Both turned out to be very nicely made. We then amused ourselves by watching some of the entertainment taking place on the lowest level of the 'Piazza' (i.e. central atrium), before going to bed. First up was a display by Trio Aeroflot, a group of brawny strongmen in costumes that were either suggestive of dinner suits, or just plain suggestive, depending on your point of view.   This was followed by the Welcome Aboard party, featuring dance band Rhapsody.

Saturday 21 May

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