January 15 to the 17th: Tenerife and en route to Namibia

The 15th

We were a little later arriving in Tenerife than expected, and then docking was evidently a challenge as we berthed alongside two Saga Liners (over which we towered). But minutes after docking the Spanish immediately cleared the ship and, encouraged by the beautiful morning sunshine we skipped breakfast – and with me in shorts for the first time – we set out into the Capital, Puerto De La Cruz. Our dinner companions suggested that the thing to do here was to get a taxi or a bus to one of the resorts. But we decided to give the city a try and after a simple breakfast at a Panaderia, we found the centre of the town, Plaza D’Espana, and the shopping streets, which radiated away from the harbour. We wandered along and bought the first presents for our grandchildren (in Zara) and Jan bought a pullover in Massimo Dutti. I paid two Euros for a penknife having forgotten to pack one and needing one for cutting lemons.

The shops were generally upmarket and the main roads were attractive in the morning sun. We enjoyed it very much and had a rather special and inexpensive lunch at a tiny two table Cafe, at the end of the main drag: crusty bread and Iberico Ham. It was perfect and was just half the cost of an umbrella we had to buy half an hour later as the heavens opened. The rain, heavy and persistent couldn’t be dodged, and we arrived back at the ship in the midst of other passengers, like us, spectacularly soaked.

We had a couple of hours by the Pavilion Pool – still under cover – before yet another good dinner. For the second time I had one of the main courses – Pasta – as a starter (before a second main course as a main course). Later, Jan went back to the Cabin while I went to the show. This was a Soprano from Sheffield who sang a selection from Opera and Musical Theatre. She explained that she had been in Sheffield this morning and the fact that she’d patently had little time to rehearse with the band was all too evident as she was persistently drowned, particularly by the percussionist. But it was still an enjoyable show. And then, quite unnecessarily, I wandered up to the Kings Court which was serving its midnight/late night buffet and I had some Beef Vindaloo and Daal which was rather good.

16th En route to Namibia

The first of eight consecutive sea days, but the first where the weather allowed us to spend time on deck. We had breakfast in the room: good rather than brilliant, we thought, before Jan went to her second Fencing lesson and I secured beds by the indoor pool, it being still rather cool outside and with a cool wind from the north. But we moved outside just before lunch, had burgers and other barbecue food on deck at The Boardwalk Cafe, and then spent a couple more hours reading on deck twelve, overlooking the starboard side.

Jan then went to the Spa, from which she has bought six day passes for $105 – rather a good deal and which gives her access to the sauna, steam rooms and a large and impressive hydrotherapy pool. And then, before dinner, we went to see the film in the really excellent Cinema (which doubles as The Planetarium). It was the much praised Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and it was as good a film as we’ve seen for a couple of years. Francis MacDormand and Woody Harrelson were both brilliant and must be likely Oscar winners.

17th En route to Namibia

Our second of eight sea days. It was very sunny all day and after my second attendance at The Photography Club, we spent most of our time by one of the two outdoor pools. We had lunch at the Boardwalk Cafe again before an increase in the wind made things less pleasant and we retreated to our Cabin. I went to an astronomy lecture – which provided a useful introduction to the southern skies – before we cross the Equator the day after tomorrow.

The day was enlivened by the need, after we’d passed the City, for the ship to divert to Dacca so a passenger could be transferred to a hospital. It must all be very scary for him or her her and her spouse or partner. We visited Dacca a couple of years ago from a Regent Seven Seas Cruise and it’s not the place you’d first choose for hospitalisation, so one assumes that the passenger is rather poorly although later, reports from other passengers, suggested that the transfer was precautionary. Hopefully, she and her spouse might be able to rejoin the ship at Cape Town.

I walked my three miles around the promenade deck. It’s often crowded during the day, at least on the sunny side of the ship and I find it better to walk early morning or, more often, at about six when half the ship have gone to the first sitting in the Britannia Restaurant. I walk quickly in the hope that the brisk exercise will compensate a little for the amount I’m eating. Individual circuits take about five minutes. There’s a certain natural order to the procession of other walkers. Someone ordained that we should orbit the deck anti clockwise and almost all of us follow that, which helps progress. But it’s amusing to see a handful of the same faces which, perversely, insist on walking against the tide, and spend as much time threading between walkers as they do in walking forward. I suspect they believe they’re free thinkers…

Another good dinner in the restaurant where the food seems to be consistently good and where the atmosphere is always pleasant. By contrast, my observations of the Grills Restaurant, which I pass during my early evening deck walks, is that the ability to eat at any time means that the restaurant is sometimes rather empty and lacking the welcome bustle of the Britannia. But service in the Britannia may not be quite up to the standards we experienced in 2009 on the Queen Victoria and certainly the Sommelier is inattentive (despite the cost of the most modestly priced wines being $37 including service charge).

January 13: En Route to Madeira and January 14: Madeira

 

It’s early in the cruise and, no doubt, our enthusiasm will abate, but the challenge today was to fit in all the things from the daily programme which we wanted to do.

 

As usual, I was up early and had coffee in the Kings Court before queuing, at nine, for tickets for the first of the Planetarium Shows at 12.30. There were already plenty of people waiting and, as is so often the case on Cruise Ships, the atmosphere was a little febrile, with passing cruisers observing the queue and anxiously asking what we were waiting for in case they were missing out.

 

We had a late breakfast in Kings Court (I can’t continue having Kedgeree and Corned Beef Hash. Delicious as it is the salt will kill me) before taking advantage of the arrival of our first sunshine and spending an hour by the Pavilion Pool. The glass roof was closed, and we were fully clothed, but it was a pleasant foretaste of things to come. Some braver passengers swam both in the covered pool and the exposed pool at the back of the ship.

 

After that we went to the Planetarium Film – about Asteroids – which was impressive (we queued again as the better seats are at the back. We were right at the front but the experience was still very good). Jan then went to her second French lesson and I went to the Theatre to listen to Overture a tribute band that had been very popular when they played on our first night. And they were indeed excellent with very good copies of stuff from the Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel, The Tornados and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The theatre was packed and the audience were very enthusiastic:

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I walked my nine laps in cool and watery sunshine before watching some live Premiership Football in the cabin (there were live matches on at three and at five thirty and there are a couple more on tomorrow). We had some afternoon tea, which is served for World Cruisers in our dedicated lounge before resting, reading and getting changed. It was again a formal night. We went first to the Carinthia Room to hear a Dixieland Jazz Quintet and then had a very enjoyable dinner (excellent roast pork). We seem to have lost Wilf from our group of six, who didn’t turn up for the second night running. But the five of us are getting on fine. After dinner, at 10.30, we went to listen to the comedian, Mick Miller, whose presence on the cruise circuit is probably evidence of his sliding career. He was funny in parts but at times seemed to be as tired as most of the passengers. It was notable that his humour was very British, reflecting the fact that we’re the biggest group on the ship. We rather regret that, as we have always enjoyed the presence of large numbers of Americans and Canadians. I had a late night wander, but we were both in bed by midnight and ready for our first port call tomorrow.

 

Madeira

 

We docked at seven and just as the sun was rising. Madeira looked beautiful from our berth right on the promenade in Funchal. We know Madeira quite well having been here for a week in September and we took our time leaving the ship, waiting for the sun to gather a bit of strength: as we docked the temperature was just 6 centigrade.

 

We had our first breakfast in the formal dining room managing to get a table for two (vital for breakfast) quite easily. Service and the food was excellent and we then had an hour – still under the glass roof – at the Pavilion Pool before wandering into Funchal at about 11.30. We walked along the promenade and turned into the old Town, had a pleasant coffee and beer there and meandered back to the newer area. We sought out The Golden Cafe which we knew well and which is, in our view, much the nicest stop in Funchal for lunch or a drink. By this time, the temperature was about 16 and warm enough for us to sit outside and have excellent coffee along with Madeira’s wonderful speciality; Pastel De Nata. We did a little functional shopping for water, lemons (anticipating gin and tonics on the balcony when things get warmer) and some wine. But most of the shops were shut on this Sunday.

 

We returned to the ship for afternoon tea in the Queen’s Room: as ever, as much a performance as a culinary event, and then I watched Liverpool v Manchester City before Margaritas in the Commodore Club and another excellent dinner.

11 and 12 January: At sea en-route to Madeira

We left Southampton in deep fog at eight and crept around the Isle of Wight and out into the protected seas of the English Channel. After my early morning explore, I booked into the Camera Class at 9am. There were only a handful of us there but it looks promising and we meet another four times or so before we reach Namibia.

We skipped breakfast, intentionally, but dropped into the Atlantic Room, a lounge at the front of the ship, on our deck, and with fine views over the bow. It’s exclusively for the use of the 300 or so full World Cruisers. We were given badges identifying us as such (which we shall not be wearing) and met our dedicated Concierge. Later, again because we re World Cruisers, we were presented with a Pot Plant for the cabin.

We had lunch at the Pub: The Golden Lion. On the Queen Victoria, about eight years ago, the Pub there was something of a British gesture, with the look of a pub but very little in terms of British beer. This pub is different with a host of different beers such as London Pride and a wide selection of craft beers. And the food menu is characteristically British Pub Fare with Fish and Chips and Chicken Tikka Masala. I had Cumberland Sausages and Mash and Jan had Cottage Pie: both were very good. Later, Jan enrolled in French classes, and I did my first nine circuits of the Promenade Deck, equivalent to 3.3 miles. It was bitterly cold, damp and grey, but still enjoyable. I need to do that most days.

By early evening and as we entered the notorious Bay of Biscay, the wind picked up and the ship – certainly on deck 11 where we live – began to roll a little. Jan took a precautionary seasickness tablet and we went to The Chart Room for pre-dinner drinks. Its proximity to the Britannia Restaurant meant it was very crowded but we found seats with a couple from Four Oaks near Sutton Coldfield – where an older brother lived some fifty years or so ago – who were pleased about my childhood recollections of Sutton Park. At dinner we met our dinner companions for the next few months: Nick and Geraldine from Orpington, David from Buxton and Wilf from Shropshire, each travelling independently. All of us, except Wilf, who disembarks at Sydney, are doing the full cruise. I think we’ll all get on rather well. After dinner, and rather than go to the Show we had a final drink in the Carinthia Bar before returning to the room for about 11.

We woke to calmer seas, but to a remorselessly grey day as we ploughed across the Bay of Biscay. Jan was up first thing to enrol in Fencing Classes after which we had an excellent breakfast in The Kings Court. I had both Kedgeree and an excellent Corned Beef Hash while Jan eat more healthily. At the rather odd hour of 11.15, we attended a cocktail party, hosted by the Captain, and again for those of us on the full Cruise. There was plenty of champagne and Mimosas and attractive bite sized food and both the Captain and the Cruise Director – who is from Whitby – made welcoming speeches. Everyone is clearly very keen to make a fuss of us all.

We had a lazy afternoon. Jan went to another French class, I read, downloaded some emails (the first time I’d used the notoriously slow internet) and began my nine laps around the deck. But driving rain and winds, which had increased, to Force 8 closed the deck and I managed only three laps.

Dinner was very good, and with good conversation, preceded by excellent Margaritas in the Carinthia Lounge. We tried the show, a compilation of Broadway songs and dances, but it was mediocre and we were back in our cabin at 11.15.

Embarkation (2)

We have spent the night in Southampton to allow the ship to catch up with its re-provisioning after a late arrival from New York yesterday. So now, at 8am, on day 2, the Captain has announced we’re about to cast off. We now have the arduous task of deciding what interests us from the first daily programme. Mary Robinson as today’s speaker is an impressive start:

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We had a very easy first night, had a wander, picked up some books from the rather good QM2 library, had a drink in the elegant Carinthia Lounge (specialising in Spanish and Portugese wines) and then had room service. This morning I was exploring the ship again at six, although there were plenty of people up before me. The ship is beautiful and impeccably maintained. It’s hard to understand the views of some critics who say that maintenance standards are inadequate. Certainly, to date, everything looks magnificent. This is the entrance to our (steerage class) Dining Room where tonight we have the first Black Tie evenings, The Black and White Ball:

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Embarkation

The day has arrived. And both of us were just about well enough this morning despite Jan shaking off the residue of tonsillitis and my going to bed and waking up shivery. We said goodbye to our daughter, her husband and, most of all our grandson, and set off for the 80 mile drive from South London to Southampton. We made good time and arrived at Penguin Parking – highly recommended – at about 12.15. Our welcome there could not have been better: the receptionist rushed out to greet us, explained what they’d be doing to keep the car in good order rather than letting it stand for four months, and within minutes our 8 cases and numerous suit and dress carriers were transferred to their vehicle and 15 minutes later we were handing over the same cases to Cunard.

We were an hour early for our embarkation slot so we read and stocked up on the complimentary magazines in the terminal (we have a lot of reading time ahead of us) before being called forward exactly on time. Checking In and Security were painless and at two thirty we were in our cabin, which is beautiful. Alex, our Steward, introduced himself and has promised to clear the mini bar so that we can fill it with our own alcohol (some Bourbon, Gin and Spanish Brandy) which – we hope – is finding its way through security.

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We had some lunch at Kings Court (Thai Green Curry), had a quick view of one or two of the bars and restaurants, including a pleasant lounge at the front of the ship which is exclusive to those of us doing the full cruise, before returning to the cabin to await and unpack our cases. We have an evacuation drill at 5 and then sail shortly after. It’s all very exciting and very pleasing.

Preparations…

Someone should publish a book about preparing for a long holiday. Our experience has been rather different from that of young people, including our daughter, who do little more than book flights and go for their year off. We have found there was a lot to do and sometimes one or two problems to overcome. Our house insurers for the past 12 years – and from whom we’ve never claimed – told us that they would not insure us if our home was unoccupied for more than 60 days (our Queen Mary journey is 120 days). We assumed that we would manage that by getting our adult children to have the occasional weekend here. But the insurers were adamant that we, personally, could not be away for more than 60 days. So we are newly insured – albeit not at any significant additional cost.

We have had conflicting advice about whether or not to leave the heating on or turn it off and drain the system. We are opting for the latter. Getting medicines – which Jan needs – for four months has not been straightforward and has taken quite a lot of energy to organise and has necessitated a private prescription for one month because of an apparent NHS limit on prescribing for more than three months at one go. That said we realise how lucky we are. Those without the NHS and travelling on the same cruise will either have had to pay increased insurance premiums or had to buy their medication. whereas our costs have been zero. But we have had to pay extra for travel insurance and for me the combination of a 120 day absence, coupled with the fact that it’s less than five years since I had cancer, meant that my complimentary travel insurance from our Bank would not suffice and I’ve had to pay an additional one off premium of £350.

Mail has been straightforward – everything will be re-directed to our daughter. But for the last twelve months we have also sought to put every possible transaction online; gas, electricity, phones, Council Tax, motor and home insurance as well as banking.

And then there were Visas. Generally, things have been straightforward, our journey mostly takes us to places which don’t require a visa for UK travellers or where visas are granted on arrival. We do require Australian visas but their excellent online system granted each of us those within 12 hours. The problem, of course, has been India. We love India and have holidayed there on four occasions, staying for a total of about ten weeks. But we were told by Cunard, some months ago, that we needed full visas, rather than E visas, for our single stop in India, in Cochin. The cost of a full visa is pretty steep at around £175 each (including fees charged by the specialist visa company). But it’s the bureaucracy in the application process and the documentation required which irritates. And Cochin, which we’ve visited before, is unexceptional. So we decided that we shall stay on the ship for that day. Nevertheless, CIBT Visas, Cunard’s specialist visa provider, encouraged us to believe we would still need an e visa because we’d be entering Indian waters. It’s not so – and CIBT should know that.  We’ve now had confirmation from The Indian High Commission, via Cunard, that if we don’t leave the ship we do not require a visa. It’s clear that a number of other passengers will be staying onboard as well.

Nine days to go. I’m not yet fully confident that something won’t happen to thwart our going. But I’ve thought that during most of the last two years when we’ve been planning the trip.

Introduction…

Jan and I first cruised in 2006 when, tentatively, we decided to try this often derided form of travel. We sailed on the Queen Victoria, one of Cunard’s three ships, and loved it. Since then we have cruised with Holland America Line, Princess, and Regent Seven Seas. All were enjoyable but our Cunard experience was the best. So, in 2015, we decided we’d try a Cunard World Cruise, literally, a holiday of a lifetime and never to be repeated. So, early in 2016, on the day bookings opened, we made a reservation for the 2018 World Cruise on the Cunard flagship, The Queen Mary 2. Along the way, we have wondered whether we’d actually travel, not least whether I could find a way of stopping work for four months. But, I’ve managed that and we have even come to terms with the unforeseen challenge of not seeing either of our wonderful grandchildren – born since we made the booking – for four long months. Thank God for Facetime…IMG_2037