May 8 and 9: Final Sea Days. Some Final Reflections

We left Cadiz in sunshine, but within an hour or so, as we approached Portugal, the seas began to rise and the temperature plummeted. As we woke on the 8th, our penultimate day at sea, it was very grey and very cold. The sea, already lively, seemed to promise an interesting journey across The Bay Of Biscay. In the event we crossed the Bay on gentle seas and, on our last day, in pleasant, if watery, sunshine.

Final Reflections

This has been a remarkable experience. We have cruised some 44,000 miles over 120 days. We can’t conceive that we would ever do it again – by contrast, lots of people on the ship have bookings for additional world cruises in both 2019 and 2020 – but it has been a privilege to do this. It has been everything we hoped for.

Britannia Restaurant

The greatest challenge for Cunard – we feel – has been to ensure passenger satisfaction with the unnatural experience of eating for almost all of 120 consecutive nights in the same restaurant. In that, it has succeeded remarkably well. That’s not to say that some greater variation in food or location would not have been welcome, but eating in the Britannia – essentially Cunard’s 4th tier restaurant after the Queen’s Grill, The Princess Grill and the Britannia Club – has always been a pleasant experience. The food has very occasionally been mediocre. Much more frequently it has been good. And sometimes, it has been outstanding. Staples like roast lamb, steak, salmon and lobster have always been very good. When one measures the quality of the Britannia Restaurant against, say, a corporate meal for two or three hundred people at a good London hotel, the Britannia excels. And the challenge facing the chefs on QM2, every day, is much greater than that facing any hotel. As we learned on our visit to the Galley, 16,000 meals are consumed every day, 50 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed every week, along with eight tons of meat, two tons of dairy produce and 20,000 litres of milk.

The dining experience has been helped by having good company at our table. One couple became somewhat semi-detached toward the end of the cruise, attending irregularly, sometimes seeming determined not to enjoy the food, and having become disenchanted with the cruise generally. That was a pity, because they’d provided pleasant company for the first 10 weeks or so. But the remaining five of us often sat after dinner, drinking coffee, until almost everyone else had left the restaurant.

Breakfast in Britannia

This was our favourite experience (not just dining experience) on QM2. The service and the standard of food, particularly the fresh bakery products, was consistently outstanding. We breakfasted there on most of our sea days, generally arriving at 8am to get a precious table by one of the windows (although in the final weeks of the cruise, having intervened with the Maître D’ when we witnessed some unconscionable rudeness toward one of the waiters at dinner, we were given a window seat for breakfast, no matter what time we turned up)

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King’s Court

We had a very different view of Kings Court. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the food there: indeed it’s always good and often better, particularly at breakfast and lunch. Kings Court was, apparently, much improved during the recent QM2 refit. It must have been worse than mediocre then because now, as a place to sit and enjoy a meal, it fails rather badly. There are too few tables in sight of a window and the blandness of the decor reminds one of a cafe in a John Lewis Store: clean, dependable, but rather boring:

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We didn’t eat there after the fourth week of the cruise, preferring to pick up the (often excellent) food and take it to our room or to one of the steamer chairs on deck 7.

Room Service

We used room service much less than anticipated, largely because we so enjoyed breakfast in the Britannia Restaurant. But whenever we used it we were not disappointed, although the quality of breakfast food – delivered in huge volumes – is poorer than the quality of meals served later in the day. Things like the Sirloin Steak and the Pasta Bolognese were always good.

Coffee

The regular coffee served in Kings Court and in Britannia is poor. Half decent coffee can be obtained from the rather better machine outside Connexions on deck two (the decaff is better than the regular) but for a coffee remotely of the standard of, say, a Starbucks or Cafe Nero drink, will require you to pay. A coffee card, which covers the cost of ten coffees, and including the 15% service charge costs about $39 (about £27). We bought our coffee at Sir Samuels, whether to drink there or as a takeaway, and it was always excellent.

Putting on Weight

Jan never puts on weight. I do, and at home, I seem to spend half my life on the 5/2 diet trying, mostly successfully, to ensure I don’t exceed 14 stones. I love food.

After an encouraging first couple of weeks onboard, when I didn’t appear to put on very much at all, my weight leaped. I cut out the biscuits and cakes which are offered at every minute of the day and we generally had just two meals a day: a full English breakfast and dinner. We drank every day, which we don’t at home, but I offset that by speedy walking around the decks. I set myself the target of walking 300 miles in our four months away and managed just under 290. That amounted to about 65 hours of intense walking or about an hour a day on sea days only. But as a result, my weight is a couple of pounds less than when we set off.

Books

The great indulgence of the holiday has been reading. First the E version of The Times every day, but secondly, and mostly books. I’ve read 56 and our most contented moments have been on the balcony or promenade deck with a book and a gin and tonic.

Excursions

We did very few of these and most of those we did take were the On Your Own variety (essentially a longer distance shuttle trip). Feedback from many passengers about the more traditional excursions was mixed with frequent reports of hours wasted at various gem factories, embroidery exhibitions, and potteries, where the main purpose was to induce passengers to pay over the top for souvenirs.

Shuttles

This sounds to be an unexceptional issue but we found the shuttle service – in every single port – to be excellent. In four months we never waited more than a few minutes to board a bus, whether leaving or returning to the ship. The shuttles allowed us to avoid the cost of excursions in the vast majority of ports while giving us the security of knowing we could, with ease, return to the ship. On every occasion the shuttles were free.

Tour and Port Information

This was sometimes poor, with basic information about opening times and, alarmingly, expected temperatures, often being inaccurate. Sometimes the challenge of doing one’s own thing in a particular port was exaggerated and we had a sense of a Port Lecturer re-peddling research completed some years ago. That said, he was clearly a kind and considerate man and we heard a great deal of his kindness to individual travellers.

Nationalities

We have missed the lack of Americans and Canadians on this cruise. In previous cruises – one on Cunard and two on Holland America – they have outnumbered all other nationalities and we have enjoyed their company, particularly at dinner. There were very few of them on this ship. Between Cape Town and Sydney (the second of our two visits to Sydney) the largest nationality was Australian. They were good company and for a while, we were frequent spectators at the Pub Karaoke, so entertaining and self-deprecating were the Aussie performers. A handful, who joined for one of the mini cruises – a four-day Melbourne to Melbourne for example – had been wrongly advised to travel on the QM2. They were too young and looking for a bit of a party which they failed to find on this rather sedate – and fast asleep by midnight ship. But overall, it was great having so many Australians onboard. David Gower’s lectures would have been much less fun without them in the audience.

The Japanese dominated the ship between Sydney and Singapore. They were very quiet, hardly ever went in the sun (so the pool decks were never busy while they were onboard) and unfailingly polite. They sometimes weren’t too good at queuing, particularly at the Kings Court buffets. They clearly enjoyed their food. When I would wake early and sometimes walk the deck before 6am they were the only people using Kings Court and later, at the midnight buffet, they dominated. And yet, in stark contrast to the Americans and the British, virtually none of them were overweight.

The British on the full world cruise were individually fine. We dined with five of them and enjoyed their company. But in a larger group, some of the others had a dreadful capacity for whingeing and after just a couple of weeks we avoided the Atlantic Room (dedicated for World Cruisers only) because we tired of the ceaseless complaining about minor blemishes in the cruise experience. And there was a frequent and barely hidden schadenfreude as World Cruisers speculated about the deaths or serious illnesses of various real or imaginary passengers. Their resentment of those not fortunate enough to be doing the whole trip was as petty as it was ridiculous.

Some of them, particularly those for whom world cruising is an annual event, need to get a sense of balance into their lives. Terry Darlington, the author of one of the last books I read on this cruise: Narrow Boat To Indian River, writes about a different sort of boating and is coruscating about those of us who choose the Cruising route. He talks of cruise ships being “full of the recently dead and those soon to cross the river…” That’s a little unfair – although funny – but an earlier reference to “rich desperate, sick people, running away from their families and the world” captured our perception of some of those addicted in the Atlantic Room and who ceaselessly complained about minutiae before booking up again, for next year and sometimes for the year after too.

A minority of other British onboard – and they dominated the ship from Dubai onward – did not always distinguish themselves. One of the nice things about QM2 has been the courtesy in individual interactions with other passengers. For most of the cruise there has been virtually no reserving of sun beds and lots of examples of people giving way to others, making space on deck or swapping beds. After Dubai, particularly on the promenade deck where many of us try and walk a few miles every day, beds were routinely rearranged often to allow virtually no room for promenading. And the incidence of beds being reserved – often for some hours – and from early morning, has hugely increased and there have been more than one or two loud disagreements. The fond belief that the reserving of sun beds is a German trait is clearly inaccurate. It’s a British thing.

Speakers

The number, range and quality of speakers has been first class and added a great deal to the holiday. Michael Howard, Martin Bell, David Gower, Sally Gunnell, Anthony Horowitz and other celebrities have been very good value. And other lesser-known speakers have been excellent, most recently, Allen Morrison who has given a remarkable four lecture series on the history of Jazz.

Wi Fi

There are no shortage of complainants about the ship’s Wi Fi and a profound failure to understand the nonsense of comparing download speeds with that obtained on land, often through a hard-wired connection. On sea days, and during the mid morning and mid afternoon the Internet speed can indeed be slothful. But early morning, during dinner, and particularly after dinner, the speed is perfectly acceptable. Each morning it took me no more than a minute or two to download my copy of the Times. And by downloading emails each morning, and then answering them offline before sending them during the evening, meant I used relatively few minutes. The complimentary minutes provided by Cunard on each sector have always been sufficient.

Laundry

Forget all the apocryphal stories about the self-service laundries and the impossibly of getting a machine or the fights which apparently are a regular feature. The laundries were fine. Sometimes we had to wait for a machine, but never if we took the trouble to attend a few minutes before laundry rooms were unlocked at 7.30 or during the early dinner sitting. That said, there would be no queues at all if Cunard imposed a modest charge for the use of the machines since that would discourage those passengers who use the machines, particularly the driers, for just a couple of items.

The professional laundry service provided by Cunard which involves collection, 24 hour turnaround and delivery of beautifully cleaned and pressed clothes, hung in your wardrobe, was outstanding, At least once on each sector, we World Cruisers were allowed to send 20 items for just $32 (after loyalty discount. $40 dollars without that discount). Nothing was ever damaged. Nothing was ever lost.

Beauty Around The Ship

This is a beautiful ship with elegant public rooms, restaurants and bars. But this was my favourite view as I walked around the ship each day:

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And I was always struck by the unconscious beauty of these spare propeller blades, which are stored, displayed, at the front of the promenade deck.

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And a lot of the maritime art around the ship is excellent (in contrast to the over-priced stuff in the Clarendon Gallery)

 

And we loved some of the black and white photography in the Champagne Bar, all from movies in which the Queen Mary featured. This was our favourite:

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Against all the elegance and beauty on the ship it’s surprising that Cunard have not sought to make more of the Grand Lobby, which is rather dull and unduly dominated by the ugly Casino:

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Length of the Cruise?

Jan and I are excited about going home. And we feel almost guilty about that, as if we are failing to appreciate this unique experience. In truth our enthusiasm for the port stops has not diminished. We approached our stay at Seville with every bit as much enthusiasm as our first stop, in Madeira, almost four months ago. But four months has certainly been enough and we’re ready to get back to normal life, and see grandchildren, children and friends and, in our case, return to beautiful Whitby in North Yorkshire just in time for summer and long days and early mornings at our Beach Hut. But there was never a day where we regretted doing this and without a number of days of this magnitude (120) we could not have enjoyed that wonderful month long meander around Australasia.

Value for Money

This has been, of course, the most expensive holiday we’ve ever had or will ever have. And yet, by some considerable distance it has provided the best value for money. Our balcony cabin on deck 11, and after deducting the value of the onboard credit, but including the pre-paid daily service charges of $22 a day, cost us £39,500. We spent about $1800 (£1276) on excursions and total additional spending for things bought onboard over the four months, mainly beer and wine was $6,300 (£4,468). Our spending ashore came to very little. With one exception – our wonderful Chinese meal at the two Michelin Star Shangri La in Hong Kong, lunches eaten ashore were inexpensive. We bought lots of presents for our children and grandchildren but much of that expenditure would have taken place had we remained in the UK.

So, ignoring day to day spending off the boat, but including all spending on it, including shore excursions, drinks, meals at the specialty restaurants, and one or two QM2 souvenirs, totalled about £45,000, about $63,500. That amounts to about £375 ($528) a day. That’s not a sum we could contemplate ever spending again on a holiday. But at the same time, that’s great value for money and amounts to about £1.02 ($1.43) a mile.

It has been a privilege and something we will remember forever and with great affection. Cunard have added to our feeling of goodwill by holding a particularly pleasant cocktail party on our penultimate night, serving caviar and vodka before an excellent meal of lobster and beef wellington. Then, when we returned to our rooms we saw our final gift, this very attractive Wedgewood commemorative plate:

 

It will remind us of a fantastic time on a great ship staffed by consistently outstanding staff. We’d recommend the experience most warmly.

Martin Narey

May 2018

May 7: Cadiz for Sienna

This was a very worthy final port of call and we were undecided whether to stay in Cadiz – which looked lovely from our balcony as we docked at 7am – or travel the eighty miles or so to Seville. Eventually, late in the day and tempted by a Sevilla on Your Own coach transfer, we decided on the latter.

We were not disappointed although never, simply never, have we seen a town so overwhelmed by Tour Groups (to which of course Cunard made a contribution along with passengers from Holland America, Thompson, Seabourn and other cruise ships also in Cadiz today).

I’d done a bit of research and we were determined to see The Alcazar Palace, the Cathedral and have lunch on the Las Barrios area (between the cathedral and the city walls). We managed the last of these, albeit it was a cheap and cheerful meal (of tourist paella for me). But the queues outside The Alcazar, even for those with pre-purchased tickets were enormous as were those for the Cathedral. We had only five hours and didn’t much fancy spending at least an hour in a queue as the temperature hit the 80s.

Instead we had an explore of the pretty streets which radiated out from the Cathedral, we had coffee and later beer and wine at pleasant and shady pavement cafes and we discovered a beautiful house – The Palacio De La Condesa De Lebrija – owned and restored in the first half of the twentieth century. For nine euros each we had a guided tour in Spanish and English. It was beautiful, with stunning tiled floors, mostly reclaimed from Roman Villas.

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Later, it seemed sad to board the QM2 for the last time. It looked stunning in it’s final World Cruise Port:

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This amazing experience is almost over. I shall make one final post in the next day or two and offer some final reflections. In the meantime, I’m very grateful to the nearly 6,000 individuals who have viewed this blog more than 28,000 times. Rather to my surprise, completing it has been a very enjoyable part of the cruise.

May 4 and 5: Rome and Barcelona

Rome

This was Cunard organisation at its slickest. We entered the Theatre to wait for the call for the coach to Rome at 8.15 and at 8.25 we were on the bus. We were on Rome On Your Own and after a journey of about an hour and a half we were dropped off, very conveniently, next to the Coliseum, and with six and a half hours to ourselves.

We walked for miles. But first we found a cafe far enough away from the Coliseum so as to be half affordable. But even then we paid as much for coffee and pastries (19 Euros) as we’ve paid elsewhere for full meals. Then, using the wonder that is Google Maps, and now using data exactly as if we were at home and without additional charge, we meandered along.

We found the Trevi Fountain first. We first saw it in 1974 when I was just nineteen, we had been going out for just a few months, and I was armed with the technology gadget of the year, a Kodak Instamatic Camera. All that had changed was that the advent of digital cameras and irritating selfie sticks meant that there was a lot more posing for photos with selfies particularly preponderant. Getting these snaps without a hundred heads intruding was quite a triumph:

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We walked next to a wet and grey Spanish Steps:

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As the rain became heavier, we dodged into MacDonald’s for a while to escape the worst. When we left, by now in rain gear, Jan found a pretty and inexpensive handbag as we wandered toward Piazza Novona. I had a recommendation for lunch from The Rough Guide and we intended to find the anonymous side street on which it was situated. But in the event, we did the touristy thing, and ate in Piazza Novona, on a covered terrace. The food was mediocre and of course expensive. But the sun came out as we ate, watching the theatre of the Piazza. It was a brilliant break: the best thing we could have done.

After lunch, and with Jan staggering somewhat having ordered a trio of desserts, and having been presented not with three mini desserts, but three pretty much full sized portions, we meandered on to Campo Fiori. We got there later than planned and the flower, vegetable and food stalls were beginning to pack up their produce. But it was still beautiful and lively. After that we had to race back to the Coliseum to find our coach amongst the hundreds parked there.

A great day.

Barcelona

We’ve been lucky enough to visit Barcelona a few times, most memorably on our daughter’s first birthday and on a day trip from Salou where our family spent our first foreign holiday in 1985. We’ve been a further time or two since, and so we decided, for a change, to take an early morning, half day, excursion to the Monastery in the mountains at Montserrat, where the famous Black Madonna is revered each year by millions of pilgrims.

We had breakfast in our room, the first time we’ve done that for some weeks, before going to the Theatre to be shepherded onto our tour bus. We hate the shepherding and hanging around inherent in excursions, which is why we do so few. This reminded us why – we think – that’s the sensible thing to do. First we’re escorted off the ship – not being trusted simply to leave the ship and find coach 14, which was our vehicle for the morning. On the coach we’re given maps and counted over and over again until it’s established that we have the right number and we’re driven to Montserrat, suffering the most banal commentary including “Coming up on the right is my favourite shop, Primark.”

On arrival we leave the bus and then stand around while the guide gets our entry tickets, finds replacement maps for those who’ve already lost theirs, and carries on with an introduction to Montserrat apparently designed for toddlers. We make painfully slow process and spend much of our time standing and waiting on what is a cold and grey morning on the mountain. We detach ourselves from the group and do our own thing. It’s only because we do that we are able to see the Black Madonna, the queue for which is about twenty minutes long when we join it, but an hour or so long by the time the rest of the group get to it.

Thankfully. Montserrat was beautiful, even on a cold, misty and grey morning. It’s perched, almost impossibly, on the side of a mountain and with glorious views below:

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And the Black Madonna is indeed beautiful:

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As is the Monks’ Basilica:

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We were back at the ship for about two-thirty and left immediately for a walk down Las Ramblas. For the first time in 4 months I was dressed in trousers and wearing a jacket.

Las Ramblas was a bit of a disappointment. There were many fewer flower stalls than we remembered from previous visits and no caged bird stalls at all. Instead, stall after stall sold the same tiresome tourist tat (and I generally like a bit of tourist tat). Even lunch was a letdown. As the rain increased once again we dashed into a lovely looking Tapas Restaurant. But we did so along with about a hundred others and the place was soon cramped and damp. And the tapas, all beautifully presented, were mediocre.

Back at the ship I watched some Premier League Football (Everton v Southampton) before a pleasant dinner with our four regular table companions (two having become irregular attendees) before watching Die Hard on the cabin TV.

 

May 2: Sorrento (for Pompeii)

The failure to dock at Naples led to a certain amount of chaos, as Sorrento proved unable easily to manage the tendering of so many passengers. It’s a resort which is largely on a cliff top standing above a very small port. Although we were able to dock in deep water close to the port, and tenders ran frequently and quickly, there was a late start caused by a failure to clear us for immigration (blamed on the Italian authorities by Cunard, but more probably caused by our late anchorage).

Once tenders reached the port we all had to squeeze onto shuttle buses, which were randomly distributed around the typically chaotic and double-parked car park. The shuttles took us to the other side of Sorrento where the coaches for Pompeii and other excursion destinations were parked.

As a result of all this we were an hour late arriving at Pompeii. But it was all worth it.

After the inevitable bathroom break – which afforded us the chance to get a drink and an extortionately priced, but excellent, slice of pizza – we were taken into Pompeii by a commendably brisk guide. She equipped us with receivers and earpieces and we spent about two and a half hours racing around the huge site. It was astonishing.

These are stepping-stones across the main street, which allowed residents to avoid the dirt and moisture of the main road which ran steadily downhill.

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This, in one of the largest villas was a remarkably preserved floor mosaic, one of the earliest Beware Of The Dog signs:

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These were just two of some of the numerous and beautiful frescoes, which somehow survived the 13 to 30 feet of ash that inundated Pompeii in AD79.

 

This was part of the public baths:

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Most dramatically, this was one of the plaster casts of one of the 11,000 victims, a girl of about fourteen, and caught in the moment of her death:

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It was all remarkable. And although one could spend a couple of days there, the two and a half hours were enough for an introductory visit. There’s quite a bit of clambering to do and a certain amount of pushing and shoving necessary to see the various highlights.

Sorrento

We were dropped in central Sorrento where the shuttle buses to return us to the ship were parked. But we decided to have a wander and find our own way down the cliff to the port (which was very easy). We had intentionally missed breakfast so as to enjoy a lunch. We found a tiny place down a side street with a handful of tables outside but under a canopy, important as rain threatened and later fell. The meal was simple (beef carpaccio and parmesan followed by a Pizza Napoli with lots of anchovies for me, and a lasagne for Jan. With beer and small carafe of house white, the bill was only 40 Euros.

Sorrento is a much more attractive town than nearby Amalfi or Positano (which are drastically over populated by Limoncello and Pottery shops) although it’s almost as expensive. But we had a pleasant wander, particularly as the clouds disappeared as the day turned into a sunny evening. We found our own way back to the port where a tender waited. It had been another excellent day.

April 28 – May 1: The Suez Canal; Cyprus; Cunard’s list of ports at which they’ve failed to dock reaches five; and our sea days begin to run out…

Suez Canal

We entered the canal at about four in the morning. We were not up quite that early but we were established on the balcony not long after eight. With a cabin on the 11th deck and on the Port side we were in a brilliant position to enjoy the day, the starboard side presenting, mainly, views of the Sinai.

We brought up breakfast from Kings Court and then spent the whole day reading on the balcony and watching Egypt drift by. It was fascinating and varied – sometimes desert, often-busy roads and railways and the city of Ismailia – and we loved it. We were greeted warmly by so many on land, particularly at these ferry crossings, which we passed every mile, or so:

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We had not used the bottle of champagne given to us at embarkation so we got Alex (our excellent Steward) to bring us a large ice bucket and as the sun came on to the balcony at about 1pm, we enjoyed that along with the last of my (nicely chilled by the ice bucket) Tiger Beer.

It was a perfect and relaxing day and we were a little sad when, at about 5pm, we left the canal and entered the Mediterranean:

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Cyprus

Neither of us had visited Cyprus before. We docked at Limassol at about eight am the ship was soon cleared for disembarkation. We had not booked an excursion; instead, taking advantage of the excellent Shuttle service (consistently outstanding on this cruise) we were dropped in Limassol, just near the promenade, at about ten. This was a Sunday (and a Sunday in April) and the town was very quiet but for Cunard passengers. However nice people or couples might be individually, the group swamping of smaller or less busy ports can detract from the day. Everywhere we went, on the beach – where we hired beds for a couple of hours – or in restaurants, we were surrounded by others from the ship. That was a shame because Limassol was pleasant and the weather very kind. The harbour, a real one with a mixture of pleasure craft and working fishing boats was attractive:

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We had breakfast in one promenade restaurant (Bruschetta and Greek Cheese Pie) and lunch in another. I had mussels, accompanied by an excellent Cypriot beer, Keo.

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Missing Ports

Wonderful as this cruise has been, the number of scheduled ports we have failed to visit has been significant. Our Auckland stop went first, being replaced by a second night in Tauranga. The weather drove us away from Darwin (although a smaller P and O ship successfully docked that day) and immigration difficulties prevented us having our day in Bali. The Brunei authorities, we were told, had failed properly to prepare the harbour to allow us to dock. Now we have been told that Naples has similarly failed and our visit there is also cancelled. That’s five ports in all. The various announcements from the Captain have been quick to say these omissions have been anyone’s fault other than Cunard’s. But in truth, it suggests a lack of forward planning and a failure properly to liaise with various ports.

Those of us looking forward to seeing Pompeii will still get there because, instead of docking at Naples, we shall anchor off Sorrento. But it’s still an irritation and those intending to spend the day in Naples, are entitled to feel disappointed.

More Sea Days

Today, May 1st is our 69th sea day. The proportion of days at sea has fallen as we have sailed closer to home. But, clearly, as we hear frequently around the ship, the number has become to feel a little wearing for some. A couple at our table want to go home, as does one of our neighbours. By contrast we have really enjoyed this last bunch of days at sea, and have been conscious that they, and the cruise in its entirety, are soon to finish. Cunard have helped by serving up some excellent speakers. Anthony Horowitz, the author, has been very entertaining in a very self-deprecating way. And Eric Flounders gave two fascinating lectures about the Carpathia (the tiny Cunard ship which rescued the Titanic survivors) and The Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U Boat in 1916.

And we’ve had a couple of breaks from routine in terms of dining. Jo on our table had a birthday to celebrate and twelve of us took over the Captain’s Table (the second time on this cruise having done so to a couple of months ago to celebrate David’s birthday). We had a lovely evening. Jo was generous in providing plenty of excellent wine (the white and the bubbly all from Tenterden in Kent). She asked me to propose her birthday toast, which I was pleased to do, and after, most of us, went to the Commodore Club for after dinner drinks. It was one of our best evenings. A couple of days later, on 30 April, and to celebrate the one year anniversary of David’s heart surgery, most of us from our table and a few other friends, gave The King’s Court pop up Indian Restaurant a try. The food is very mildly spiced and, even with a few fresh chillies, which the waiter brought me, it wasn’t brilliant. But the service was excellent and we had a lovely evening, finishing, once again, in the Commodore Club.

April 27: Aqaba (for Petra)

Nine years ago, the only time we have previously been on a Cunard ship, the highlight of our cruise was a visit to Petra. We thought long and hard whether to repeat it, thinking it might be a disappointment on a second visit. And the price gave us food for thought. Two tickets on the Cunard excursion cost us $450, about £320. The Jordanian Government – who must be forever grateful to the Jordanian official who had the prescience to allow the denouement of the third Indiana Jones film to be filmed in Petra – now charge £50 to enter the site. On top of all that we were aware that just from this ship, there were 1300 of us descending on the now inappropriately named Lost City. We thought they’d swamp it.

Cunard organisation was at its best as we gathered in the theatre for our coach departure. We were on our way at about 8.30 and enjoyed the two-hour drive as we climbed the Jordanian mountains. We stopped – inevitably – at a roadside bazaar – a rather good one – before arriving at Petra at about 10.30.

We were so glad we visited again. £320? A bargain. Petra is fantastic, almost unbelievable in its beauty. Unique in terms of the sense of history, which overwhelms you when you’re there. And in no time at all the crowds dispersed, particularly as we climbed above the ruins:

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This is the famous Siq, which leads to the even more famous Treasury, revealing it suddenly and dramatically:

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And this is the Treasury:

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But magnificent as the Treasury is, Petra is about much more. As you wander beyond the Treasury you pass tomb after tomb and then come to this beautiful amphitheatre:

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It’s not built, but carved into the rock. And then further on, almost as stunning as the Treasury, but less frequently photographed, is this elaborate tomb:

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We spent about four hours wandering and climbing the site as well as buying a couple of souvenirs and drinking some remarkably acceptable coffee at a scruffy little temporary cafe. After, we had lunch – provided as part of the excursion – in The Petra Palace Hotel. It was cold and tasteless. But it hardly mattered. Later, as we arrived back at the ship, and for no particular reason, there were more than twenty waiters serving us complimentary fizz.

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Later, despite it having been a long day, six of us, largely from our table, picked up the Cunard Shuttle into Aqaba. There were only us and another couple on it, the remainder possibly having believed the Aqaba Port Lecture, which suggested that the shops all close at 5pm.

Aqaba, was really nice. It’s a real town, but a town on at the seaside and there’s a jolly atmosphere. There’s very little English spoken and using credit cards is not easy. But shops were willing to accept US$ and it felt friendly and safe. After a wander (and a re-stocking of tonic) we found a pleasant courtyard restaurant full of Jordanian families and had a very pleasant meal. For most of us that included barbecued meat, pitta and salad. A beer would have been perfect but, as were all the restaurants we looked at, this one was dry.

But we had a lovely meal, sat outside on a warm but non-humid evening and we were back at the ship by 11, just an hour or so before we departed for the Suez Canal. We ordered cheesecake and Apple Crumble from room service as we made our way back down the Red Sea.

April 20 – 23 Sea Days and QM2’s Bars and Drinks Prices

There’s an old joke which I’ve repeated a time or two this week as we have continued with our anti piracy regime of darkened decks and balconies and with night time access to the Promenade Deck forbidden. And that is that last year Somalian Pirates managed to board the QM2, but left once they saw the Bar prices.

Bar Prices

There’s a frequently and authoritatively expressed view on board that the Bar prices are extortionate. In truth, they’re nothing of the sort. Cunard claim they reflect London Bar prices but I think they do better than that. Here’s the price list from one of the bars (prices are the same whichever bar one uses).

 

 

Prices for the various beers are frequently reduced so that, for example, a pint of Marston’s Pedigree has been $5.50 this week and a pint of American Pale Ale, $4.50. The price for the Peroni is, more often than not, at $5.50, which even with the 15% service charge added comes to just $6.32, the sterling equivalent of less than £4.50.

We generally have cocktails before dinner each evening and two traditional Margaritas, on ice and with salt, cost $21 including service. Whether or not you buy cocktails or two halves of beer, drinks are accompanied by canapés and nuts and the service is impeccable.

Drinks are nevertheless our biggest item of expenditure, but for us the Cruise would be much less enjoyable without it. But a not small minority of passengers resolutely refuse to buy a drink but sit in the bars before dinner, often looking miserable.

Bars

QM2 has ten bars open to all customers (there’s an eleventh available only to Grills Passengers). There are three pool bars, all rather disappointing and none of them providing an attractive sitting out area. They’re not well used and are closed early evening.

The interior bars are much more impressive. The one we attend most frequently is The Chart Room:

 

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Most nights before dinner the resident string quartet play there and often after dinner it is home to the excellent house jazz trio.

The Champagne Bar is next door to the Chart Room:

 

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We often use it when the Chart Room is full or we want to avoid being trapped into familiar and tedious conversation, which the seating arrangements (in The Chart Room) can encourage. There is only so long one can cope with old classics like How long have you been on the ship? Goodness since Southampton? I wouldn’t want to be onboard that long. 14/21/28 days is enough for us. Did you hear about the fight in the Laundry?

 Sir Samuel’s is primarily a coffee bar:

 

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We use it sometimes on a morning for a decent Latte (which, with the purchase of a coffee card, costs about $4 or £2.80). Very occasionally, we have used it on an evening for pre dinner drinks but only when – as on the occasional formal night – The Chart Room and Champagne Bar are full.

The Carinthia Room is another elegant room:

 

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We don’t often use it because it’s at the front of the ship and we tend to walk to the stern and use one of the Bars near to the dining room. But it’s a popular place for breakfast and is well used throughout the day.

The Golden Lion is the QM2’s very British pub.

 

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We sometimes drop into the Karaoke at The Golden Lion or, more frequently, we have the pub lunch there. The menu – by design – is British Pub food: Sausage and Mash, Fish and Chips and Chicken Tikka Masala, but it’s very good (and there’s no additional charge). We try and go there early, at about noon and get a window seat and, because it’s on deck two, enjoy the sea hurtling past.

The most beautiful Bar on the ship is the elegant Commodore Club, on deck nine at the ship’s bow.

 

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We would use it more often but we prefer the string Quartet or Jazz Trio in The Chart Room to the pianist who is generally resident in The Commodore Club (the pianists are patently skilled but all over elaborate their playing). But we shall use it more during these last few weeks because when the nights are light, there’s no lovelier place to sit.

If there’s something missing on QM2, and amongst the elegance of so many of the Bars, it’s somewhere smaller and perhaps with a Sports theme. Holland America ships all have (or did have) small Sports Bars each with six or so TVs showing generally American sport. They’re a good place to visit late at night whereas on the QM2 each of these very attractive drinking places is silent before midnight and the only place to get a drink is the nightclub. But that’s being picky, because, taken together, the Bars here are first class.