Phuket, specifically Patong, was the first port we visited on our first cruise (on the Queen Victoria in 2009). It was vile then and it’s vile now.
About a 750 passengers were visiting the so-called James Bond Island (along with a similar number from Celebrity Constellation). That didn’t appeal to us, and we decided to make the best of the town. But first, taking advantage of the fact that more than a thousand passengers had left on excursions by 8am, we had a long and very civilised breakfast in the formal dining room.
After that we had a pleasant day, but there’s no denying Patong is about as unsuited to the Cunard demographic as one can imagine. It has some redeeming features, including a pleasant beach and good swimming, but they are overwhelmed by the tawdriness of the front, the shops all selling the same T shirts and bags; overpriced and often grubby restaurants and cafes; and huge, noisy and unattractive bars. Behind the road, which runs along the beach, there are other slightly more attractive streets and we wandered away from the front to find a reputable massage shop (one with the reassuring ‘No Sex” sign hanging prominently). Jan had a very good aromatherapy massage (about 75 minutes for £10). I sheltered from the by now ferocious heat in a small and very quiet bar. I was the only customer because this is a place where the majority of visitors, invariably young, are sleeping at eleven in the morning, emerging in late afternoon and then drinking through the night. Later we had a very poor although not inexpensive lunch, before returning, gratefully, to the ship by three. Patong served to emphasise how pleasant Malaysia had been…
Sea Days and Routine…
After booking this cruise, which we did almost two years before our departure, we wondered whether, wonderful as it might be, we might get bored with days at sea. Today, Wednesday the 11th of April is our 56th sea day (and yesterday was our ninetieth day, meaning the cruise is three-quarters completed).
Blogs from past World Cruisers seem to suggest there is a bit of a trough in terms of enthusiasm at about this time and indeed, we have seen some evidence of people losing a bit of enthusiasm. There’s more and louder dissatisfaction expressed – generally about small and irrelevant issues – and impatience about issues such as the weather. Our tender journey back to the ship at Patong was dominated by people complaining about the heat, as if the entirely typical temperatures we have been experiencing, have been unreasonably imposed by Cunard.
One or two people admit to having had enough and deciding that 120 days is too long. Indeed, one couple, a mother and adult son, and who perhaps foolishly booked the full world cruise as their first experience of cruising, found it not to their liking very early on and permanently left the ship at Cape Town. As David, our table companion has accurately described it, a holiday like this, on a ship, even one as large as the QM2, imposes restrictions and the experience becomes to feel routine.
That’s certainly true. Things do become repetitive. We note that more people are opting out of formal dining each evening (not surprising when there are 120 consecutive days in the same restaurant). And for the first time, this week, we too shall have a change attending the pop up Chinese Restaurant in Kings Court tomorrow and the Veranda Restaurant on Sunday (albeit with our usual table companions).
We certainly feel a sense of routine on sea days. But we have not been bored. I think there are two main reasons for that. First of all, we have always loved sea days and they’ve been as important to us on previous shorter cruises as port visits (when we hear people mutter that they don’t like sea days we wonder why they choses this particular cruise). Secondly, we have both read voraciously. I’ve kept a list of books I’ve read which totals forty five at the moment, and both of us are happy to spend much of the day on the promenade deck – mostly in shade for me – reading and drinking tea and coffee. This is generally my view:
We don’t join in many of the activities. Our table companions variously dance, attend Chairobics, paint or learn line dancing. We do none of those although we have attended a good proportion of the Cunard Insight Lectures.
The speaker profile has dropped somewhat since the appearance of Mary Robinson, David Gower, Michael and Sarah Howard and Martin Bell in the first month or so. But the standard has continued generally to be high. In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a very good speaker from NASA; Andrew Barber (who describes himself as an ex diplomat but may have been in GCHQ or somewhere equivalently sensitive) speaking about spying and espionage; and most recently an ex Metropolitan Police detective who has spoken of the intrigue around some notorious murders. His first example, which drew a large audience, concerned the murder of a first class passenger on an Ocean Liner in 1947.
But although we’re not bored it is the case that we are becoming increasingly excited about returning home and seeing our children, grandchildren and friends. When we booked this cruise we did not have grandchildren. We now have two and we have missed them terribly. Numerous videos and Facetime conversations keep us in touch but also accentuate the extent to which we miss them. And we’re also looking forward to returning home. We moved house just a few weeks before departing and we’re excited about living in a new home (even if it is next door to the one we’ve lived in for the last 12 years).
If we were to offer advice to anyone contemplating a cruise like this I think we’d suggest that 120 days is a long time and a cruise of somewhere nearer 80 or 90 days might suffice. I don’t think that if this cruise finished now (after 90 days) we’d feel it had not been long enough. But we’d also suggest thinking carefully about a World Cruise – whether of 90 or 120 days – if you’re not pretty self sufficient in terms of entertainment. We’d have struggled were it not for the extent to which we’re both content reading. Cunard activities might fill up a few hours every day, but there’s a lot of time to fill on a cruise with 72 sea days. And some Cunard activities are themselves repetitive and those on the World Cruise make less use of them as time goes on. The shows in the Theatre, given by the Cunard dancers and singers, are repeated on each sector. The films in the cinema are repeated frequently. Murder On The Orient Express and Swallows and Amazons have each been shown four or five times. More disappointingly, the various classes in things like photography and dancing finish at the end of each sector and then start again. All this means that after the initial sector, which finished for us at Cape Town, eleven weeks ago, there’s a lot of time in which you have to find your own entertainment.
The final bit of advice we’d offer is that, if at all possible, book a room with a balcony and a view. Even when there’s little to see (and on some sea days we never see another ship) this view and accompanying soundtrack from the waves never palls.
And sometimes, the view is like this:
Being on this cruise has been, and continues to be, a privilege. We are looking forward to some more memorable stops, including at Colombo, Petra, Cyprus, Rome, Barcelona and Cadiz. We shall never forget it. But we’ll be ready for home, four weeks tomorrow, when we dock at Southampton.