Queen Elizabeth 2 August 1998 Crossing from Southampton to New York
A BRIEF HISTORY
I had seen the ship twice previously. As a small boy my father had taken me to see her, unfinished and on the stocks at Clydebank. This must have been during the summer of 1967 and she has changed a little since then, but then again, so have I. Three days before we boarded at Southampton she was in Invergordon, around ten miles from our house. We went along to watch, and felt very smug listening to all the 'Ooh's' and 'Ah's' and comments from everyone around, knowing that in a few days we would be on-board. We had enquired about boarding here but the ship was full. We could have boarded the following day in Edinburgh, and a couple of hundred did, but if we were going to have to travel it was just as easy to go to Southampton as Edinburgh.
We travelled to London on the overnight sleeper train, then we planned to transfer across London from Euston to Victoria on the Underground but when we got to the station, there was a notice that the escalator was out of action and to use the stairs instead. We looked at our luggage, then at each other and said 'Taxi'.
We had taken the option of the journey from London to Southampton on the Orient Express. When we arrived at Platform 2 at Victoria station, there were two porters loading the suitcases onto baggage trolleys; this was the last we saw of our cases until they arrived at our cabin ten minutes after we did.
We figured that if we were going to travel across the Atlantic on the QE2 and stay in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria, then there was simply no other way to arrive at the ship than on 'The Boat Train'. The idea of the train pulling right onto the dockside, next to the ship and us getting off, having eaten an excellent lunch, with no luggage and not a care in the world was just too tempting. And the reality was even better than the dream.
The carriages were built between 1925 and '38. They are all named and each has its own history. Ours was called Minerva and was built in 1927. The interior was all beautiful wood panelling and marquetry in mahogany, ash and rosewood. Everything, even the upholstery and the carpets are as they were when the carriages were new. These are full-sized railway carriages and yet they only seat 20-26 people so you can imagine how spacious they are.
Lunch was delicious:
Courgette and Mint Soup
I couldn't believe it when the train stopped so that the soup could be served without risking any accidents.
Not long after we finished eating, we travelled through Southampton and between some of the buildings we caught our first glimpse of that famous red and black funnel.
BOARDING AT SOUTHAMPTON
With around 1700 people disembarking and embarking I had expected fairly long lines for checking in, but when we entered the terminal there were about 15 desks with short queues at each of them. We found one desk with one couple being dealt with and one couple waiting. When we got to the desk, they checked our tickets and passports, registered my credit card and that was it. After the obligatory photo on the gangway, although there were a number of stewards waiting to escort us to our cabin none of them stepped forward, and as we were fairly confident of where we were going, we just walked aboard. Within fifteen minutes of stepping off the train we were in our cabin.
BOARDING AT NEW YORK
We timed things badly on our return to the ship, and our taxi arrived around the same time as a load of busses so when we got into the terminal there were two queues, each about 75 yards long. They were moving forward fairly rapidly and there was a string quartet playing to distract your attention. In no time at all we were through the check-in desks, had our photo taken again, and as we approached the gangway, a steward stepped forward to take our hand baggage from us and escort us to our cabin. It was about 20 minutes from taxi to cabin, and the suitcases arrived about ten minutes later.
We were in cabin 3131 on the outward journey, and 3133 on the return. These are about two-thirds of the way aft on the starboard side of the ship on Three Deck. They are C1 category cabins, which meant that we were assigned to the Caronia restaurant. The two cabins, apart from being mirror images, are almost identical; 3131 is slightly wider. On entering the cabin there is a small hallway with a large walk-in closet ahead of you, the bathroom to the right (or left, this could get confusing, so I'll just stick to the one cabin), and the bedroom to the left. The large closet contains about 12 feet of hanging rail with plenty of hangers (and we managed to fill it!) and a couple of large shelves. There is also a small closet which contains a small safe, a minibar fridge and another couple of feet of hanging rail.
There's not much to say about the bathroom. It is a good size. There is a full size tub with a shower fitting, and a decent-sized vanity unit over the washbasin.
We may have managed to use all the hanging space in the cabin, but there was no way that we could fill the drawers. On either side of the six foot bed there is a chest with four wide drawers, and this was adequate for us. On the short wall beneath the two portholes there is a dressing table which had four very wide drawers and maybe six smaller ones; we never touched any of these. This unit also has an illuminated vanity mirror and the TV sits at one end.
Full marks for the TV system. There are 18 channels with a mixture of satellite channels (when in range), re-runs of popular TV comedy shows, travel documentaries, an interesting GPS map showing the ships position, heading, wind and wave conditions etc., and continuous repeats of that day's talks and lectures. So if the timing clashed with something else you could always catch it later on TV. I found myself doing this quite a lot.
I had thought that with ten full days at sea (five in each direction) this would be a very relaxing holiday. I was wrong. I normally take a couple of books with me and then start on the library; this time I only managed a couple of chapters of my first book!
The cabin also has two armchairs, a small table which, when we arrived, held a small plate of strawberries and a bowl of sugar to dip them in, and an ice bucket and bottle of champagne. This was from the Cunard World Club, their past passengers' club. 'The Club' has three levels of membership depending on how many times you have cruised with Cunard in the past: Bronze members receive Cunard's own label champagne; Silver members get Perrier Jouet: and Gold members get Dom Perignon. It may just be me but I think that says more about the quality of Cunard Champagne than it does about anything else. There are other benefits as well: there are varying levels of onboard credits, discounts, and if there are cabins available, Gold and Silver members are the first to be upgraded.
The decoration was quite unusual in that one wall was some sort of padded material and the other three were wood panelled. This looked very classy, but once the ship started to roll a little, boy, did that panelling creak!
She may be the most famous ship in the world, but she doesn't get too many reviews, so I'll spend a bit of time on this.
This is a BIG ship. She may only be 70,000 GRT compared to Carnival Destiny's 101,000 and Grand Princess's 109,000, but she is longer, and has one deck more than either of them.
She is also nearly three times the size of our usual ships, Sagafjord, Dynasty and Vistafjord. We booked this trip last year while on board the Vistafjord, and we were well warned not to compare them as we would be disappointed. However, maybe because we weren't expecting too much, in the end we were pleasantly surprised by the QE2. To be fair to the person that told us this, I get the impression that the QE2, particularly the food, has improved considerably over the last year or so.
I said 'in the end' because after the first several hours aboard, we both felt that we weren't going to enjoy this cruise (I must stop calling it a cruise it was a crossing, and yes, there is a noticeable difference). It started during the lifeboat drill when, despite reading the instructions on the back of the door, I still managed to take a wrong turning on the way to the muster station; anyone who knows our recent cruising history will understand why this concerned me. It continued when we went out on deck to watch us sailing out of Southampton and we couldn't get near the rail to watch the brass band playing on the quayside due to all 1700 people being on one deck at one side of the ship.
After the first day, once everyone had found their own favourite space, she turned out to be quite a spacious ship. Then there were the sail-away drinks . . . we had to pay for them! I know that on the Vistafjord we more than pay for a couple of complimentary drinks in the price of the cruise (there's no such thing as a free drink), it just came as a bit of a surprise, that's all.
One thing that made it a little easier was a number of remembered names and faces from previous cruises on other ships: the assistant cruise director; the DJ; one of the restaurant managers; the Purser; the Staff Chief Engineer and the Captain. The Staff Captain was sure that we had met before, but we never managed to work out where our paths had crossed. Cunard seems to have a loyal workforce and a very low turnover of staff, hence you will see the same people if you go back again and again. Our own restaurant manager, John Douglas, has been there for thirty-three years, and one of the Mauretania managers has been with them since the inaugural world cruise on the Caronia (around 1950).
My own opinion is that it is the people that make a cruise, or any holiday for that matter, and it is the people as much as the ships that bring us back to Cunard time and time again.
As I said, this is a big ship and it can be quite confusing at times. She has thirteen decks. There are fifteen passenger elevators, including one on Two Deck that goes nowhere! There are twelve stairways labelled A to H (!!!) and I found one that is not shown on any deck plan. And none of the stairways or elevators go to every deck. We found ourselves on one occasion, in order to go up four decks, having to go down two decks, walk forward a hundred yards, then take an elevator up four decks and finally climb the last two decks using the stairs. I'm not joking. We had the captain with us to show us the way.
If you choose not to use the elevators you will get a lot of exercise on this ship.
The only public area on Seven Deck is the gym. This has a reasonably sized open area for aerobics, etc. several treadmills, cycles and steppers, around eight or nine weight machines, plus free weights. And the indoor pool. The most popular equipment could be booked, but only one day in advance.
Above the gym is the hospital. Thankfully we didn't see the inside of the hospital on this trip, but many people did. On the second day out of Southampton there were queues of people waiting for 'The Injection'. This was just after the captain announced that we should not leave anything lying loose in our cabins as we were expecting to run through two hurricanes, Bonnie and Danielle, and a severe depression. The QE2 was built on the Clyde to withstand the worst that the North Atlantic could throw at her, but they still managed to pick up a rather large dent just below the bridge a couple of years ago when she went head first into a ninety-five foot wave.
Also on Six Deck is the spa which includes, so I'm told, the world's largest whirlpool tub.
FIVE and FOUR DECKS
Only cabins here.
This is mostly cabins, but also houses the synagogue, the florist and the self-service launderette. This contains twelve washers and dryers and four ironing boards.
The computer learning centre has recently been refitted with more than a dozen PC's and a network laser printer. This was always a busy spot and when the classes were being run, it was two and three to a machine with others standing watching, and these classes were repeated twice and three times a day. You could also send e-mail from here. It goes to the radio room and they are transmitted in batches several times a day. Incoming e-mail is printed and delivered to your cabin.
The Midships Lobby is the first area of the ship that you see when boarding. It is a large circular area on two levels and is decorated with large murals depicting Cunard's history. Once at sea, however, it is a much underused space. On transatlantic crossings this is where the immigration officers set up camp. This is a great idea as it means that when you arrive at your destination you only have to go through customs, and disembarkation is that much quicker.
At the aft end of Two Deck is the financial centre of the ship, the bureau de change, the purser's desk, the cashier and the safe deposit centre; obviously not all grades are equipped with in-cabin safes.
The Cunard Collection shop. This is where Harrods used to be and I get the impression that when that went, this collection of Cunard Logo products was put here just to fill the space. It is really just an expansion of one of the shops in the Royal Promenade on the Boat Deck.
The beauty salon, as usual run by Steiners. The salon was always busy, but on formal nights it was full for most of the time so booking early is a good idea. The standard of service was good but the staff are usually trying to sell you one of the products they use, which is annoying.
The Pavilion is open for early breakfasts through to light lunches. We never ate here, so I can't comment on the quality of the food. There are also self-service tea and coffee facilities and a frozen yoghurt machine.
Outdoors are the pool and a couple of hot tubs. I never ventured near any of these myself but plenty of people did. I was amazed when I crawled out of bed in the mornings to do my mile around the deck how many people were lying around on loungers in swimsuits or in the pool. We were told many times that the weather was rarely this good on the North Atlantic, and never in September. There was clay pigeon shooting run from here on several occasions.
This is really the start of the public areas of the ship and there are no cabins on either Quarter or Upper decks. At the forward end is the galley that serves the Princess and Britannia Grills and the Caronia Restaurant. We got a tour of this galley one day and I was quite impressed. It was larger than I expected but I didn't realise beforehand that it served three restaurants. These tours certainly weren't advertised, but a good few people must have asked, as we saw two other groups being shown round while we were there. These three restaurants follow the same menu and the food is all cooked together, but the Grills have their own area for final preparation.
Next are the Princess and Britannia Grills, one on each side of the ship. These are of the same standard and passengers in P grade cabins can request either when booking. There used to be nothing to choose but now one of them is non-smoking (Princess, I think) and the other has a smoking area. The Queens Grill also has a smoking area but the other restaurants are non-smoking. I looked into the Britannia Grill on our way back from the galley and it looked quite pleasant and a good deal smaller than . . .
The Caronia Restaurant. This was our restaurant, so it is the only one that I can comment on in any detail. It is the largest restaurant on the ship, just. There are nearly twice as many people assigned to the Mauretania, but it has two seatings.
It is basically a U-shape and it looks smaller than it is really is as the legs of the U point backwards behind you as you enter. The entrance is raised about for or five steps above the floor of the restaurant so those who like to be noticed can make a grand entrance. The restaurant manager was always at the door and greeted everyone by name (after the first day).
We had a surprise when we went to the restaurant on the first night. We were shown to our table, given the menus and we had just introduced ourselves to the two other couples who were already seated, when the restaurant manager came over. He was full of apologies and explained that we had been seated at the wrong table and would we mind if he moved us to another table. Sandra was a little disappointed as she had spotted a little card at one of the empty seats that said 'Host' (I didn't see this), and she had guessed that we were at an officer's table. I checked our table assignment card and it matched the table number. However we said nothing other than goodbye to our table companions, and we were shown to a completely empty table. The waiter came over, addressed us by name! introduced himself and said 'that was a quick promotion.' When we both looked puzzled, he explained that we had been sitting at the Hotel Manager's table and were now at the Captain's table!
We have sailed with Captain Hasell a number of times on other ships, but I'm sure that he didn't remember us until one night we told a story of how we had got our own back on one of the waiters two years ago on the Dynasty (now the Norwegian Dynasty). During our first week aboard we had three occasions at our table, two birthdays and a couple on their honeymoon, so the waiters were forever producing cakes and singing to us, all very embarrassing. But we found out that our waiter's birthday was the following week. On that night, when he went to collect the desserts from the galley we produced balloons and streamers from under the table. When he returned, we sat him down, presented him with a birthday card signed by all of us, and a cake complete with candles and sang 'Happy Birthday' to him. This, the Captain remembered.
Due to other commitments the Captain and his wife only dined with us on two evenings. On the other two formal nights the Staff Captain joined us. Our other companions were a couple from Glasgow, Scotland and a couple from Bridgend, Wales. We had a great time but unfortunately missed almost all of the evening entertainment. It was frequently after eleven before we left the table. I looked around at one point to discover that we were the last people there. Have you ever seen a hundred waiters all trying to look busy in an empty restaurant? We weren't too bothered about missing the entertainment, as we surmised that much of it would be repeated on the return journey and we could catch it then.
The QE2 is a fairly dressy ship and particularly on transatlantic crossings. The first and last nights are informal, there were three formal nights and the other night is listed as optional. There were no casual nights so it was always jacket and tie for the restaurants. Boy, do the ladies have it easy!
The Staff Captain told us of one passenger who took exception to being stopped at the door, when he turned up in a T-shirt, and reminded of the ship's policy. It is in the brochure, it's in the literature that comes with your tickets, it's in the daily programme and there are notices outside the restaurants. So he went back to his cabin, changed, and came back to the restaurant wearing a jacket and tie but minus his trousers, obviously expecting to be stopped at the door again. The restaurant manager, however, called his bluff and made no comment whatsoever. He only tried this once.
There are two waiters/waitresses assigned to each table and they appeared to have two large and two small tables between them. There are no busboys. The majority of the waiters are British or Irish, and this surprised me. Indeed the largest group, by nationality, among the whole crew is British followed by Philipino. On the outward crossing both our waiters were Scottish and on the return one Scottish and one Irish. Maybe they sat us with the Scottish waiters so that we could understand each other.
We found the service and the food to be very good, among the best that we have had. I have no doubt that sitting where we were had some influence on that but it seemed to be of a high standard everywhere. If a waiter from another table saw that you needed something, or that your water glass was empty or even if they saw you looking around for your waiter they would come over and serve you, not merely pass on a message to your waiters. On a couple of occasions, on our way in or out of the restaurant we were addressed by name by waiters that had never served us.
On our return to the ship after five days in New York, we were wondering what our new table companions would be like and we received another surprise. More of a shock really, when the restaurant manager greeted us at the door. 'Good evening Mr and Mrs Cameron. We have your usual table for you.'
So I guess we can't have misbehaved too badly earlier. This time our companions were a couple from Washington DC. and a lady from Hickory, North Carolina. She had been on the world cruise last year and said that there had been a great improvement in the food since then. She was supposed to be travelling with her husband but last minute work commitments had kept him in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, this time the weather kept the Captain on the bridge for two and a half days. So one night we had the company of one of the First Officers. On another night we had left the Captain and Mrs Hasell not five minutes earlier with comments of 'see you at the table'; he only got halfway there when we ran into more fog and he was called to the bridge. Mrs Hasell came on her own that night and the weather cleared sufficiently to allow the Captain to join us in time for dessert.
Aft of the Caronia Restaurant, on the port side are the library and bookshop. This is the largest library afloat and now has two professional librarians to run it. It also has a multimedia section with a large collection of reference works on CD-ROM. The bookshop is a great idea, and as well as the usual collections of paperbacks it has a good selection of books on maritime history, the great transatlantic liners (the Titanic in particular), and ships in general.
Outside the bookshop is the cruise sales desk. This was always busy with people taking advantage of the extra 5% onboard discount. All the arrangements are made through your own travel agent, so this discount is over and above any deal they offer you. We succumbed in the middle of our second week and booked a short cruise next June to Tenerife, Las Palmas and Madeira. This gives us an opportunity to say goodbye to Captain Hasell before he retires in July.
On the starboard side is the Chartroom Bar. As the name suggests, this has a large illuminated chart of the North Atlantic on the wall behind the bar and various other charts decorate the walls. The piano in this bar is originally from the Queen Mary. The entertainment alternated between a pianist and a harpist and I wondered why they never played a duet until I realised that they both used the same stool to sit on. The Chartroom also has the only original decor on the ship. The three gold leaf panels on the ceiling are all that remain of the 1969 decoration, which is probably just as well, as there was an awful lot of plastic and Formica used. Remember, that was state-of-the-art stuff back in the late 60's.
Next there is the Queens Room. This is a large function room with a good-sized dance floor and is where the large receptions and parties are held. There is dancing in here each evening and dancing lessons, both ballroom and line dancing, during the day. As it has large windows along both sides it is quite light and airy during the day and is where they serve afternoon tea. At one of the cocktail parties in here one of the stewards, who served us fairly regularly, noticed that I wasn't drinking very much of the champagne that had been handed out at the door. He came over and asked if I would prefer a real drink. When he came back from the bar he had two decent-sized malt whiskies on his tray. I assumed that someone else also wanted one but he promptly poured one glass into the other and placed it in front of me. I guess they're not really supposed to serve doubles at the parties.
Club 2000 is the kid's room. I suspect that there were only around twenty children on board and on a ship this size they were rarely seen. Of course, having a couple of children's co-ordinators, and two nursery nurses to look after the infants, helps.
The Lido is a relatively recent addition and as buffets go, it was pretty good. We ate breakfast here twice when we slept in and were too late for the restaurant. We always ate lunch in the restaurant, as did most people. We are used to seeing the restaurant half empty at lunchtime, but not on this trip.
The Lido also serves afternoon tea I guess for those folks who would rather sit at a table than on the armchairs and settees in the Queens room. We did both, and found the selection and service to be equally as good.
I went along to the Gala Midnight Buffet, which as you might expect, starts at eleven thirty. But only to take pictures. Honest. With the late night buffet starting, on some nights, fifteen or twenty minutes after we left the dining room there was no chance of us eating anything.
The Mauretania Restaurant is the assigned restaurant for those in M grade cabins. That's basically the insides and those on the outsides of the lowest decks. It has two seatings for dinner, 6:15 and 8:30. Most days, breakfast and lunch were open seating. During the world cruise the capacity of the ship is reduced and the Mauretania is single sitting like the others.
I've just realised that during the whole cruise I never heard anyone with anything other than praise for the food, which is saying something. Usually there's someone who grumbles about something. The only adverse comment that I heard was that there was too much choice. With so many good things on the menu we never felt the need to order off-menu, but there were others who did and it was apparently encouraged in the Grills.
The Crystal Bar seemed like a quiet corner, but that may just have been because there was nobody playing the piano on the one occasion that we visited. The pianist plays in the early evening, and during the day the port side of the room is used as the card room.
The theatre was well used, both as a cinema with three film showings a day (and yes, 'Titanic' was amongst them), and for the various talks and lectures. There was a good selection of guest lecturers including: Millvina Dean, the youngest survivor of the Titanic; Sir Bernard Ingham, described as a journalist and broadcaster, but probably best known as Margaret Thatcher's press secretary; David McCullough, TV presenter and Pulitzer prize-winning author; Captain Leslie Scott, Concorde pilot; and many others.
The Golden Lion Pub is on the starboard side of the ship. It was always fairly busy and sold draught beer as well as the bottled variety. Maybe the air-conditioning needs an overhaul in this area, as the smoking area of the pub got quite smoky at times. There was a variety of entertainment here; Karaoke on several evenings; a keyboard player lunchtimes and evenings and on Sunday some excellent lunchtime jazz with the QE2 All Stars. I didn't recognise any of them from any of the other bands so they may just have been ordinary crew members (or maybe even passengers).
On the starboard side of the ship is the Casino. We spent a grand total of $10 in here. There was a selection of slots, from quarters up to $5; a craps table; two roulette wheels and eight or ten other tables.
The Grand Lounge was the venue for the main evening entertainment. I can tell you what was on, but as I said earlier we missed most of it so I can't say what it was like. We did catch the production show on the first night following the cruise staff introductions and it was fairly good. A collection of 50's numbers. The only other show that we saw was Edison Lighthouse, a sixties band that had one chart hit and then disappeared. When I saw their name on the programme I was surprised that they were still playing. We caught the last five minutes of the show the first week and it was excellent, so we made a point of getting there in time on the way back. It was a superb night. They also played another night in the Queens Room for dancing too, and this was very well received.
The Yacht Club was the late night spot. There was a band playing until late and then the disco took over. It was used for smaller parties and group meetings during the day and the large screen TV was used for screening music concerts each afternoon.
We seem to have done little else other than go to cocktail parties. The usual Welcome party, one in each direction (these are done by restaurant to make them a manageable size). The World Club party, again one in each direction. The Captain's private parties; we were invited to two of these, which were held in the boardroom and were roughly a fifty-fifty mix of passengers and officers. As if this wasn't enough, a small number of us were invited to the Wardroom, the Officer's Mess, on the last night before New York. This is directly below the bridge, overlooking the bow. It is a delightful club-like room with leather settees and chairs. The walls are covered in plaques and trophies and there are a number of ships' bells from bygone Cunard liners (Franconia, Aquitania, Mauritania) among the nautical memorabilia.
There was a definite atmosphere about this room. It may have had something to do with the fact that this wasn't a collection that had been put together in order to furnish a room it had been built up over one hundred and fifty years, and the QE2 is the successor to all these legendary liners. It may also have been the fact that this wasn't a public room maintained as a museum for passengers who come aboard once a year, or even once a lifetime. It is a room that is used every day by the people who live and work here. It is their one refuge. Indeed, even the Captain and Staff Captain have to be invited.
This was one of two occasions when I felt almost transported back in time to the heyday of transatlantic crossings. The other was late one night, or was it early one morning, sitting in the Chartroom with a group of friends watching the ocean speed by and listening to a group of publicly-known people playing the Queen Mary piano and singing (badly) 'Won't you come home Bill Bailey'. It looked exactly like any one of a number of pictures in one of the display cases of the stars of yesteryear when the only way to cross the Atlantic was on a Cunard 'Queen'. But then again, for some of us it still is.
As we were leaving the Wardroom, Nick Bates, the Staff Captain was coming in and I said to him something along the lines of, 'I've just been told that you're not allowed in here'. He put his hand into his pocket and produced his invitation, exactly like ours.
The Queens Grill is the restaurant for the Q grade cabins, that is the suites and penthouses. I'm told that this has a full à la carte menu (I know that's bad French, but it's reasonable English), and even that is only there as a suggestion. Basically you can order what you want.
There has been a great deal of talk about the class restrictions aboard QE2, but other than the restaurants, The Queens Grill Lounge is now the only room aboard that is not open to all. It is limited to Grill class passengers only. The Princess and Britannia Grills used to have their own Lounges, but they went a few years ago.
The Boardroom looks exactly like it sounds. It is used for small business meetings and private parties. I guess that it could hold maybe twenty or so around the table but with that removed, as it was for the Captains cocktail parties, the room could hold around fifty.
The Royal Promenade is shops, shops and more shops. I've never seen so many shops aboard a ship. I've already mentioned the bookshop, the Cunard Collection shop and the florist. Up here are:
The shops are situated around the balcony of the Grand Lounge.
Outdoors was the sports area, paddle tennis, golf nets, putting, deck quoits and shuffleboard. The outdoor promenade was also on this deck and I made it up here every day on the westbound crossing and most days on the eastbound to do one or two miles every morning.
That was one big difference between the two directions: on the way out, the days were twenty five hours long, on the way back the days were only twenty three hours long. The cumulative effect of every night being two hours shorter was much greater than I had expected, hence the two missed breakfasts and morning walks. A couple of mornings while pounding the decks I spotted whales, but I was on the wrong side of the ship when a school of dolphins was spotted.
SUN DECK or Helicopter Deck
This is a large sheltered open area with lots of deck chairs and loungers. In this area alone, they could be reserved. They fixed a little tag with your cabin number to the lounger and I'm told that they charged $17. This wasn't necessary even with the exceptionally good weather that we had, but I guess on a Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise it may be worthwhile. There are plenty of chairs and loungers available on other decks. Inside on this deck was the nursery and a dozen penthouses.
One evening after dinner the Captain invited us up to the bridge. This was quite an experience. I couldn't get over how dark it was. I knew that the lights would be out to preserve the officers' night vision but I wasn't expecting even the illuminated instrument panels to be covered. The Captain was explaining the function of the various navigational systems when it got considerably brighter. We had run into some fog and it was reflecting the lights on the ship. As we were looking out over the fo'c's'le, the bow disappeared completely and our visit was cut short as the Officer of the Watch initiated a bad weather routine. The foghorn was switched on and the watertight doors on the lower decks were closed. Unfortunately, this meant that the Captain was back on duty as Captain rather than tour guide.
As far as I could see, the only public way to get to the Signal deck was via the elevator in the Queens Grill Lounge, but that isn't a problem as the only things that are up there are the penthouses. Come to think of it, that isn't true: somewhere up there are the kennels. On several mornings while doing my mile around the deck, I could hear a couple of dogs somewhere above me. There is an exercise area for them and it even has a lamppost to make them feel at home. We didn't see any cats, but one man had brought his parrot along with him.
Since we came home I have read a number of reviews from others who were crossing the Atlantic at the same time as us on other ships and they seem to have had a dreadful time with the weather. This just highlights one of the advantages of this ship: its speed. After we left Southampton the Captain 'put his foot down' and we set off at around thirty knots. We then had time to spare so we could ease off while the storms decided which way they were going to go and then we speeded up again and sailed around them, north of one and south of another. The third one simply fizzled out.
ARRIVAL IN NEW YORK
The Captain advised us the day before that we would be sailing under the Verazano Narrows Bridge at 5:30 am. on Friday morning and passing the Statue of Liberty at around a 5:45 and we should all get up early to see these sights.
Well, we were up, if not fully awake, and out on deck by 5:15. It was pitch black and we could see nothing. It was also warm and very humid and despite all the advice I have given others over the years about avoiding condensation problems with camcorders I got caught out. I just didn't expect that heat or humidity at that time of the morning.
We seemed to just make it under the bridge and then as we approached the Statue of Liberty, it started to get light. It really felt like the end of a journey, although we weren't too sad as we knew that in five days time we would be coming back aboard to do it all again.
I don't propose to go into any great detail about what to see and do in New York as it's not exactly an unknown city, even to those who have never been there.
Cunard offered a package in their brochure that included the Waldorf-Astoria and we really liked the look of it. What we weren't too keen on was the price. So I looked around and managed to book the hotel cheaper myself. The only thing we missed out on was transfers from and to the ship, but these were only $7 taxi rides. On our last morning we were talking with another couple who had taken the package and had arrived at the hotel with everyone else only to be shown to their room in a different area of the hotel. It turned out that some of their friends had paid to have them upgraded from a standard to deluxe room as a wedding anniversary gift.
They had later had a look at some of the others' rooms and said that theirs was quite a bit larger and more luxurious, but it sounded just like ours: large marble bathroom with its own TV, large dressing room, two separate phone lines, three phones and a fax machine and large walk-in closets in the bedroom. When we got back to the hotel we looked at both rooms and they were almost identical. I didn't have the heart to tell them that we had paid slightly less than half the original package price. How or why we ended up in a deluxe room I still have no idea.
We had expected shopping and eating out to be cheaper than at home, but were disappointed. We didn't exactly help things with our choice of restaurants, though. One evening at the Windows on the World at the top of the World Trade Centre and another dining and dancing at the Rainbow Room saw the end of our next two months' food budget. Actually, the price of the meal at the Rainbow Room wasn't that bad (who's he trying to kid?), it was the $25 a head entertainment charge that was unexpected. But it's only money (If you say it often enough you actually start to believe it) and the meals were excellent.
It was a great time to visit New York as it was very quiet due to the holiday weekend. I had expected that to make things busier, but I was wrong again. We got to the top of the Empire State Building with almost no wait at all. We did the open top bus tours of both uptown and downtown on Sunday morning and spent the afternoon in Central Park. On the Monday we met up with friends that we had made two years ago on another cruise. They used to live in Manhattan, but have recently moved out to New Jersey. On Tuesday we ate lunch in the hotel: a Waldorf Salad of course.
We booked next year's cruise already. Need I say more?
Colin & Sandra Cameron live in Inverness, Scotland and can be reached for questions or comment at: email@example.com.
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