Tuesday 19th June 2012
Its always a good feeling when you can look out of your Southampton hotel window and see the funnels of the ship waiting for you. Today I was at the Premier Inn West Quay and the funnels in question were the famous red and black funnels of Cunard. Queen Elizabeth was in Ocean Terminal and were clearly visible from my hotel window.
Once again we had a very enjoyable stay at Premier Inn West Quay. I have always found the service and welcome to be faultless. I have stayed here a few times in the past, and more recently only 2 weeks before when I was attending the Cunard Three Queens event. Premier Inn ticks all the boxes for me and will continue to be my first option for a night pre cruise in Southampton.
After a very good breakfast we loaded up the car and headed for Ocean Terminal. Ooops, I had left the CPS parking sticker in the boot of the car. Car park marshall was less than impressed, but I guess he has spent to much of his time with clip board woman at some point in his life. What is it about clip boards and fluorescent waistcoats that gives these people such authority? We successfully joined the line of vehicles waiting to be checked in by CPS staff. They were not yet on duty, so the cases were long gone by the time a CPS member of staff appeared to take the car keys from us, no hassle though and it was a fast efficient service.
A short walk into Ocean Terminal, up the escalator, and directed straight into the Priority area for Platinum guests. First to check in were Princess and Queens Grill guests, which sadly I wasn’t this time, but as soon as they were cleared Platinum guests were invited to check in. I had hoped we could have embarked straight away, but it was into another holding pen for us and it was quite a wait we had. But, I was ready on my starting blocks, for when they decided we could board.
Straight to our stateroom to put the hand luggage away and then into Cafe Carinthia for a well deserved glass of Veuve Clicquot, or two!
Our stateroom for this short voyage was a C1 ocean view on deck one, 1045. Much the same layout as the balcony staterooms minus the balcony. We did have a large picture window, with clear view, so for three nights I felt I could cope. We had plenty of wardrobe space, three doors housed hanging space and the other shelving and the safe. Bathroom was the standard compact and bijou variety, so not much room for pampering. We had a comfy sofa and coffee table, and a bedside cabinet either side of the king sized bed. I found it odd that both the sofa and the bed faced a plain blank wall and yet both behind the sofa and the bed hung a picture. The TV was on top of the fridge housing and annoyingly the phone was on top of the dressing table on the opposite wall to my bed. What were the chances of me having to get out of bed at some point to answer that!
So, following my two glasses of Veuve in Cafe Carinthia there was no time for lunch, not that we needed any after the big Premier Inn breakfast. Instead it was time to head to Connexions on deck 3 for a presentation. Oh yes, I may have forgotten to tell you I was onboard as part of a conference – and there was you thinking I was just on a jolly! The presentation was very interesting and the guest speaker was excellent. A delightful and confident young lady who is the Voyage Sales and Loyalty Manager onboard. Anyone who is travelling on Cunard should make a point of going to see the Voyage Sales Managers to book their next voyage, and if you don’t yet know which cruise you want to book, then consider a Future Cruise Downpayment – this will give you added benefits when you are ready to book via your travel agent.
Some two hours later we emerged from the darkened room with about 30 minutes to spare to unpack before we were called to Muster drill. There was some confusion it has to be said about where our actual muster station was. I had already seen that in bold print across our key card was Muster Station B. I had already checked out that Muster station B was Queens Room midship on deck Two. As we left the stateroom wise old Mr C informed me that we should be taking a left and going up the midship staircase. Being a firefighter he reads the notice on the back of the stateroom door, which is very sensible. But I argued that the forward staircase would be the easiest route so he followed. As we entered the stairwell a stairway guide informed me that I ‘could’ use this stairwell but then needed to proceed all the way aft until I reached Midship for Muster station C. Confused, the stairwell guide pointed out that our life jackets were embossed with a letter C for Muster station C. We were instructed to liaise with the muster station officer in charge and he confessed that the muster station advice printed on the key card was a new introduction and something they were trialling. So the error was noted and we were invited to stay in Muster station B. That was that confusion over. The drill itself was no longer or any different to I had ever known it to be. Instructions were clear and concise and after putting on our lifejackets we were dismissed.
So it was out into the fresh air and sunshine by the aft Lido Pool. It was glorious out here. Aurora and Caribbean Princess were sitting in the sunshine up in Western docks as we prepared to leave. The Pimms was flowing and the deck band, Changez, were in full swing. Given the choice of where I would prefer to see a band – shoreside or on the deck, I will vote for on the deck, not that it has ever been a tradition of Cunard to have a dockside band play us off. I could have stayed out on deck for much longer but we were on early meal sitting and the clock was ticking. It was 5.15pm when I returned to the stateroom and it needed to be a very fast turnaround to be out in time for dinner. No relaxing pre dinner drinks!
We were lower floor of Britannia Restaurant and meal time was 6.00pm which is way too early for me to dine on holiday – but this was work, not holiday so I’ll not moan. I think the idea behind pulling dinner forward by 30 minutes was so that guests don’t feel so rushed to allow time for the restaurant to be prepared for late meal sitting at 8.30pm and I certainly didn’t feel rushed.
Back to the stateroom for me to catch my breath while Mr C went to watch the start of the Engaland match in the Golden Lion Pub. I had chance to catch up with Lizy so we laid on the bed and had a good old natter. That was until a horse started to clip clop across the floor above. Well, we doubt it was an actual horse, it may have been a unicorn, but it did clip clop. We are not entirely sure how it managed to achieve the clip clopping sound as we were underneath the carpeted area on Queens Room. The matter was to be investigated lol.
After collecting Mr C for the Golden Lion it was decided that we should go for a quiet drink in Cafe Carinthia, we were recognised by the waiter from our last voyage and recalled that I was partial to a Cosmopolitan, so that is what I had. We then moved on to meet lizy for drinks. By now it was feeling like it was almost midnight, but there were still people in the dining room, so it couldn’t be. I think from there we went straight to The Yacht Club, but I confess things were becoming a little hazy by this stage. I love the Yacht Club on Queen Elizabeth and Hemispheres on Queen Victoria. They must be some of the liveliest night spots onboard any ship. Dancing to a live band and DJ until the early hours has always been the norm when I have been on Cunard. And dance we did, well Mr C couldnt as he was injured but there was a lot of dancing, and the occasional drink in between. It was still going strong when we left the room at 3.00am. We couldnt go to bed without investigating Scooby snax but can you believe that we were too late. There was rather a large gentleman asleep in his curry, which was rather amusing at that time of night. He was looked after though and night security were called to assist him on his way. I had a hot chocolate and Mr C had a bit of a cobbled together curry thanks to the chef who had spotted he hadn’t been fed for 9 hours! That is actually sort of correct. We sat down to dinner at 6.00pm and it was now 3.00am in the morning – thats a long time for Mr C to be without food. Personally I can cope.
I finally hit my pillow at about 3.25am, knowing full well that I had arranged to go ashore at 9.00am and needed to fit in breakfast before that!
Wednesday 20th June 2012 Zeebrugge for Bruges
Did I really get any sleep? Im used to lack of sleep, but not with a belly of refreshments. Oh my head! Why? Why – because it seemed like a good idea at the time I guess. I was in breakfast in Britannia Restaurant for just gone 8.00am. I was ok once I realised that I could have a toasted bagel and have it with a plate of smoked salmon and soft cheese to make myself a very nice and yummy salmon bagel. Yum, washed down with cranberry juice and tea and I was on the road to feeling human again. Mr C had to stay on the ship and rest today due to a recent knee operation so, as lizy had a couple of hours off we headed into Bruges. First we had to get the shuttle from the dock in Zebrugges to Blankenburg, and from there we headed for the train station for the next train to Bruges. We hadn’t timed it too well as we had about a 30 minute wait for the next train at 20 past the hour. Lizy was very puzzled as to why I felt the need to travel first class. As the platform started to fill with crowds waiting to go to Bruges she started to understand. Less people travel first class so there is more chance of a seat and travelling in comfort. The cost for the two of us, first class return was a little over 17 euro, which I think is approximately 5 euro more that second class. In my opinion well worth it especially when the train is busy on the return. The train into Bruges takes about 15 to 20 minutes so we were soon there. We were very short on time so we set off on a very brisk walk across the park, over a couple of bridges and through the town. It was another glorious sunny warm day and I had dressed for the cold as I am used to being there during December. There was a market in the main square and all the restaurants and bars had the extended seating areas which were packed with people enjoying the sunshine. We did a tiny bit of retail therapy before heading to my favourite choclatier Dumon. Lizy was spoilt for choice as we entered the tiny shop full of hand made chocolates and sweets. The owner is always pleased to see us, but I guess she remembers us as we always leave laden with her wares. We actually got off lightly today with the bill only totalling just under 70 euro! The chocolates were heavy so its a good job Lizy was available to carry them. We were on a very tight schedule so we had to be back on the next train at 36 minutes past the hour. It was a very brisk walk back to the train station and I confess to being a little out of breath as we found a seat on the platform. The train was 5 minutes late, just our luck. But we were soon back in Blankenburg and the shuttle bus was waiting just across the road. So we did make it back to the ship with plenty of time to spare on our very tight schedule. Somebody had to go to work but I had the luxury of being able to slip on a sun dress and go for lunch on deck with Mr C. I couldnt face the buffet area. Anyone who knows me will know that I am not a fan of any self serve restaurant on any ship, and I wasn’t wasting sunshine time on being indoors. Instead we headed for the Lido Grill out on the aft deck. Mr C had a cheese burger and I had a chicken burger. I also had a very refreshing cocktail of some description. I was happy to sit in the sun but we decided on having a little stroll around the top decks and up to the croquet and paddle tennis area on the Games deck. But that took time, I kept bumping into people I knew, or that knew me and kept stopping for a chat. By the time we got back to the stateroom it was time to shower and change for the night ahead. No time for resting on here!
Cocktail Party in the Yacht Club at 5.00pm. I know thats really really early but it had to be done. It did seem a little early with the sun beaming through the skylights and people wandering about outside in their swimwear. We had a whole hour of pre dinner cocktails before the rest of the team headed for early meal sitting in Britannia Restaurant. This evening we were dining in the Verandah Restaurant as a guest of the lovely Lizy, so that wasn’t until later and we had time to chill. We decided to go to the Commodore Club for a nice Martini cocktail. We sat at the bar and just chilled for a while taking in the scenery as we sailed. At 7.30pm we headed for the next cocktail party of the evening in the Queens Room. Commodore and his officers were hosting a drinks reception to Welcome us onboard, not just us you understand. He was very charming and complimented me on my tan and asked if I had been relaxing on deck to gain such a nice tan! Ha, I wish!! We chatted to several officers and enjoyed a drink or two and a canapé, but all too soon it was time for dinner in the Verandah.
Wow, there was another bar in here! Why have I never known about this? I need to investigate further next time I am onboard. We had never dined in the Verandah before despite many of my clients recommending that I do so. But I can now highly recommend it myself. The food, service and ambience were exquisite and well worth the additional supplement. There isn’t a standard cover charge, and each item is individually priced. Personally I would prefer a one off cover charge for no other reason than I didn’t like seeing the prices on the actual menu – not something I am used to on a cruise ship. I could have and perhaps should have gone off to bed on leaving the meal, but you know how it is a nightcap can sometimes feel like a good idea. And where did we head for said nightcap? The Yacht Club!! Yep another recipe for a very late night. Did I dance? I may have been dragged up once or twice, but most of the time I was on a barstool observing and chattering. We did of course make it to the buffet for Scooby snax and he got his curry. I think I may have indulged in a sandwich but it was very late.
Thursday 21st June 2012 – somewhere that wasn’t Guernsey
I cant actually recall at what point the Commodore advised us we wouldn’t be going to Guernsey, it may have been earlier today or it might have been the day before. What I do know is that as far as I knew we were now docked in Le Havre. Mr C had taken the decision to order room service for 7.45am and sure enough it arrived spot on time. How he sat and ate it is beyond me. I couldnt even stomach the smell of his full English breakfast. He handed me some buttered toast but I found that to be a little too noisy. I was missing the ability to be able to open my balcony doors and take in some fresh air. I needed to be up, showered and out of the stateroom ready for a conference in Conexions. Tea and cookies were on offer so that was a good start, but there were also two big white glaring screens with various forms of pye charts and facts and figures. Why cant conferences be open air, or why cant I join the sensible ranks of people who go to bed early and come in fresh and prepared for such meetings. Mr C was despatched for a bottle of water, then I started to raid bags for sweeties. I had a sore throat, but that didn’t stop me chipping in and contributing to said conference every once in a while. I was beginning to think that the conference was never going to end, the walls were getting closer and I need air. Amen, eventually I heard those magic words “Thank you for attending” Phew, where’s the door?! I needed air and I found it on prom deck.
Despite it being a little late we decided on lunch in the Golden Lion, I confess I was only going to partake in a drink for medicinal purposes, but once I smelt the fish and chips it seemed rude not to indulge. As we sat chatting I kept thinking that Le Havre looked different to what it had done in January when we were last here, but I just presumed we were at a different berth.
Oh dear, time was ticking. I had packing to do, emails to respond to, I needed to shower and be out and ready for 5.00pm Cocktails. I was busy getting ready and Mr C opened up the curtains and announced that we were pulling away from the berth. So thinking we were leaving I asked him leave the curtains open. As I stepped out of the shower I realised that was not the best suggestion I had made as two dock workers were stood directly in front of our window and we were alongside again. It turns out that the wind was too strong and the Commodore had had to temporarily suspend embarkation and disembarkation whilst the ship and gangways were secured and made safe.
I scraped into Yacht Club cocktails shortly after 5.00pm – ooh choice of rose champagne this evening and hot canapés.
At 6.00pm we had a date under the clock for a big group photo, so we all obliged and were arranged nice and neatly. By now we were ten minutes late for dinner, but I needed food like a hole in the head. I chose not to have a starter, and opted for the Chicken Tikka so that I could just pick at it politely. I didn’t even make a dent in it. Nothing wrong with the food it was simply too early for me to eat. During dinner the Commodore came on the tannoy to advise that he was about to set sail, but warned it was going to get pretty rough. All the usual information about outside decks would be closed, walk around the ship holding handrails etc, but his closing comment left me pretty speechless “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best” Nothing like instilling confidence.
After dinner I attempted to do some packing but it was a pretty lame attempt. So we headed for Cafe Carinthia to chill out with a quiet drink. First we had to linger and wait for all the late meal sitting guests to go into dinner, but when they had gone it was lovely and peaceful, so I slumped into a lovely soft sofa and watched the sea jumping around outside. It is feeling very very late by now but in reality it isn’t. Somehow our next stop became the Golden Lion Pub and we stayed there for what seemed like hours. At one point the rest of the room seemed to close down and go into darkness and I was expecting last orders at any minute, but all of a sudden it sprung back into life and a full blown cockney singalong sprang into action. I guess it was after the Beetles Tribute band had finished in Queens Room. Beetles got excellent reviews by the way, but I had seen them in January and it did seem a long way to the Queens Room almost next door.
Just when I thought it was all over and i thought I was on my way to my bed, I found myself being encouraged upto the Yacht Club for old times sake. Oh, the staff up there must have been hoping we weren’t going to bother this evening. My barstool was there and I managed one for the road. But I really did need my bed. Three nights on Queen Elizabeth had nearly broken me. For once Mr C had to attend to the final bits of packing, everything had beat me.
Now just incase you are wondering, we never were actually in Le Havre today! I have since learnt, after returning home, that we were actually berthed in Cherbourg. Well I never! I really must pay better attention to those onboard announcements, but unless there are seven short blasts included I always just hope someone else is listening. Its a good job everyone else knew where we were.
Friday 22nd June 2012 Southampton Mayflower Terminal
Three two one and we’re back in the room. It had only just started and now it was all over. Southampton was looking pretty miserable outside, as it often does when you look across to that incinerator. Breakfast in Britannia Restaurant and we joined the queue which had formed outside. The couple behind us were not amused to reach the front of the queue only to find it was not the queue for the gangway. Well if they had said!
After breakfast we collected our things from the stateroom and headed for the Commodore Club which was the priority disembarkation lounge for platinum guests or above, as well as suite guests. Fresh juice, coffee and newspapers were available and we were invited to disembark at leisure. Once in the car I observed until Mr C was safely on the A34 and then I checked out the ind=side of my eyelids. I opened them briefly as we joined the M40 and the next time I saw daylight was when we pulled up outside M&S at the retail park just down the road from home. Obviously I wasnt driving!
Cunard continues to be one of my favourite and preferred cruise lines for my own personal choice of holiday, and yes, Queen Elizabeth is my favourite in the fleet. I love traditional cruiseing and Cunard certainly deliver that. I was lucky enough to be at Queen Elizabeths naming ceremony so I guess she will always be special to me. Having sampled a tiny bit of sunshine on this short voyage I have to make the effort and do a real summer cruise on her. I love the open deck space that she offers. I like the choice of bars and ambience that they all have. The staterooms are all very well equipped, and the added benefit of being able to travel Grills gives even further options of open dining, more choice of menu with food prepared in smaller galleys, an exclusive deck area and of course a great choice of suite accommodation. I will return!
Photos from the Voyage can be viewed HERE