|Leaving the AFRICA MERCY we crossed the river via the Tyne Tunnel and Richard made a round trip on the Shields Ferry – having done this several times before and with freezing cold weather and no chance of decent shots of the JUPITER and QUEEN OF SCANDINAVIA, I passed on this one and remained ensconced in the car. To warm up again, we headed for the fish docks and some fantastic fish and chips – even though it was a Bank Holiday, it was still somewhat surprising to see people prepared to queue literally out of the door and down the street to sit down for the admittedly superb fare on offer. At the time we both thought we had perhaps overdone lunch given that we had booked the smorgasbord on the JUPITER that evening. But the experience of the latter and the bargain price of the former ensured it turned out to be a wise choice…
We had one final diversion to make before heading for the JUPITER. This was to the EARL OF ZETLAND, which lies in the Albert & Edward Dock just adjacent to the Royal Quays Ferry terminal and serves as a pub. Most of the ship, including the restaurant areas, were closed off on this occasion, and we watched the second half of the England-Northern Ireland match in the bar area, beneath the huge and ugly all-weather canopy that has been installed. Presumably when this was originally fitted, it looked sparkling and white. Now years of hard winters have turned it a dirty off-white/grey colour with streaks of green in places. Not a pleasant sight.
The football over, we jumped back into the car and went around the corner to the ferry terminal itself. I have to say I really couldn't see what the recent fuss was about with this place. It was clean and tidy with plenty of seating which is more than can be said for many or even most European terminals. Boarding was a bit of a mad rush but eventually we were aboard and ready to go. Dumping the bags in the cabin was followed by a quick scramble up top to capture the QUEEN OF SCANDINAVIA departing into the murk. Then a look around:
The main passenger spaces on JUPITER are located on Decks 5 and 6, which both have a simple cabins forward/public spaces aft format. Deck 4 below has an aft upper car garage and, moving forward, the shopping centre and then the main entrance hall where you enter at Newcastle with information desk etc off to starboard.
Decks 3 and 2 are the main car decks, with cabins on both levels on either side. Beneath this, on Deck 1 there are more cabins and, right forward, a cinema and curiously, a couple of small conference rooms. Once this was the swimming pool with sauna etc and the showers for this purpose remain, as does an adjacent bar area. Presumably this conversion was made by DFDS for the Oslo-Copenhagen route when the ship was stretched in 1988. Nowadays, there seems to be little use of these conference facilities.
Heading back upstairs to the main passenger decks, we start astern on Deck 5. Here is found the main smorgasbord restaurant, the Stavangerfjord which was once one large room (the Codan Restaurant under DFDS) but has now been divided up into a series of smaller spaces, with the rump left as the restaurant with its compact smorgasbord table towards the front. The restaurant also has a central stage area as in the evenings this fulfils the function of an alternative live entertainment venue once passengers have finished eating. Large floor-to-ceiling windows can be found astern overlooking the aft outside deck but most of the other external windows on port and starboard have been appropriated by the adjacent facilities: several small rooms for private parties to eat in have been sectioned off on either side at the stern, whilst the forward section to port is a small bar area for pre- and post-dinner drinks. To starboard a separate cafeteria area has been carved out.
Heading forward of all this is what was once the Scandia Coffee Shop. At some stage however (presumably when the new cafeteria was squeezed into the restaurant aft) this has been converted into an Italian restaurant, Little Italy, with a very small square a la carte restaurant off to starboard which was open but almost entirely devoid of customers during our crossings. The decor in Little Italy is bemusing and it suffers not only from an identity crisis, but also a severe overload of bizarre clutter. This is an Italian restaurant which seems to desperately want to be a New York diner, with Americana all over the walls, mock-NY street signs and diner-style booth seating. The idea, as far as I could work out over three days of en-route contemplation, is that this is an Italian restaurant as it would be if we were in New York, but I suspect the main reason is to justify the various bits of non-Italian food on the menu (especially the very good burgers). Meanwhile, even more perplexingly, at first sight it looks like the contents of an unfortunate family's weekly supermarket shopping has been accidentally spilled all over the restaurant. Closer inspection though revealed that all this really should be there - the tins of fruit, jars of cook-in sauces and all the rest were actually carefully glued down! At first I wondered whether this was an innovative way of advertising wares for sale downstairs in the shop, but later resolved that it was just an eccentric bit of decoration.