Tuesday 29th December 2015
Queen Victoria arrived early in the morning and was sat across from Holiday Inn, actually basking in a bit of sunshine, by the time I woke up. I admit I did wake up later than I had hoped and threw myself into the shower later than planned. That’s pretty much where our morning took a bit of a wrong turn. Mr C couldn’t find his razor. I was adamant I had packed it, but he doesn’t support the George Clooney look to well, and I couldn’t find it anywhere so it was decided to play it safe and despatch him to Boots after breakfast. Breakfast was beyond chaotic. The sun was streaming in through the windows and threatening to blind us. They seemed to be very short staffed and the restaurant manager was running around like a lunatic. It reminded me a bit like a scene from Faulty Towers, but we have been staying there for many years so are used to her by now. After breakfast Mr C set off for Boots and I went to get changed, sort the cases out and tidy up. At that point I discovered that the dress I had intended to wear to embark was not to my liking so another outfit had to be sourced from the cases. That’s when I found the missing razor! Hey ho, trivial thing but I could have done without minor stresses.
We left the hotel at about 11.15am, drove straight to CPS drop off point at Ocean Terminal, checked the car in and made our way upstairs. Straight though priority check in where clip board woman double checked that we were in fact Grills, and then immediately invited to check in. I was liking this. We were then directed to the far end of the terminal and had about a 10 min wait until the security scanners opened. We were the first through those and on the ship within minutes.
Obligatory Bell Boy at the top of the gangway and then greeted by many stewards asking if we wanted assistance to the suite. We decided that we were all ok and could find our own way. A quick drop off of coats and hand luggage and we settled ourselves into the Grill Lounge with my customary Hibiscus Royale. Lucia gave us such a welcome. She was so pleased to see us, as were we to see her. It was good to be back. After couple of drinks we wandered through to lunch in Queens Grill. Table 3 and our waiters are Ashock and Jean, nice lads and they make up for the lack of window seat this time. Me and Kath are ok we have more or less 180 deg window view, the boys have a nice stained glass window to look at. We can also see the full length of the restaurant to the side of us, so Im warming to it. I had soup, fish and followed that with a nice slice of lemon meringue and a cappuccino complete with smiley face. All is well with my Cunard world.
By the time we got back to the suite the cases were there to be unpacked which I quickly did before having a well deserved rest. Its hard work this cruising malarkey.
The suite is lush and for us it is becoming our preferred way to travel. We have a lovely deep balcony, which surprised me with it being on the side of the ship, and have two sun loungers and two reclining chairs and a table. The suite itself is so comfortable and has everything we want and more. The bathroom and toilet area is entered via two doors, one in the bedroom and one in the lounge area. So, when I was unpacking I seemed to be going constantly around in one big circle. We seem to have more drawer and cupboard space than I know what to do with, but the walk in wardrobe seems a little compact and bijoux for me. I have more or less filled it and I’m only here for 5 nights. Maybe without big coats and jumpers it would seem less cluttered. We have a very comfy sofa and the bed is of course the Cunarder, just like I have at home. I have a massive window along my side of the bed and the balcony door leading outside is in the lounge area. The attention to detail with the Cunard crystal glasses etc all adds to the reasons why I like travelling Cunard Grills.
Our Butler came to introduce herself and we were both as surprised as each other to recognise each other. Elvie was our Butler last year when we had the suite at the aft of deck 4, and now we are deck 7 midship. She had remembered that Lizy was marrying a Cunard Officer and asked to see wedding pics and checked out all of the dresses. How do they remember us?
After a rest and a bit of a snooze I climbed into the whirlpool bath and soaked up the bubbles, and then got ready at leisure. We arrived at Grills Lounge just after 7.30pm and Lucia was straight over to see what she could get for us. I do love the friendly welcoming feel that Grills lounge gives us. Lucia has suggested a Gin Infusion for me and very nice it was too. Next, along came the hot canapes of chicken satay and grilled king prawns. And people ask me why I like Grills?!
Dinner this evening was just divine. The boys have already put in their order for Chateaubriand for tomorrow and the Head Waiter is going to do something special or our wedding Anniversary. The Parma ham and melon starter was delicious, then I had minestrone soup, followed by a fillet steak and rounded that off with desert and coffee, plus of course the petit fours. We were all shattered but managed a slow walk along to Commodore club where I sampled the 175 cocktail and we listened to the pianist. But it wasn’t long before we all admitted defeat and shock horror we were in bed at just gone 11.00pm. That has to be a first! Must try harder!
Tuesday 30th December 2015 – at Sea
Waking up was hard work. I blame the motion of the ocean and the Cunarder mattress. We really should have ordered some light breakfast to the suite, but I made a last minute decision to dash to breakfast. They were serving until 9.30am in Queens Grill and we scraped in at 9.15am. I had to smile when Ashock came and poured the milk on my cornflakes for me – that’s Grills service for you.
We spent the morning having a little wander, browsed the shops, sat and watched the fencing lesson, jeeze the fencing instructor was scary. I also bumped into the lovely James Cusick and had a good catch up with him. We retreated to Grills lounge and Lucia made me a nice latte. Coffee and teas are all complimentary in Grills you know! It’s the little things!!
It’s time for lunch. Our table and our waiters are always ready for us. Grill guests keep the same tale for breakfast dinner and lunch. I had tomato and basil soup, pulled pork baguette and fries followed by spotted dick. Back in the suite the sun was beaming onto the balcony, and was sheltered from the wind so I spent a very pleasant half hour out there enjoying a nice rum and coke and Mr C had a tot of brandy. A litre of spirits per person is yet another perk of Queens Grill. I was now in need of a lie down, so that’s exactly what we did until just gone 5.00pm and after a nice shower I spent my time pottering, painting my nails, getting my things ready for this evenings formal evening. In other words, just chilling!
Formal night tonight, which is also Black & White night so I opted for a white and Silver. Hibiscus Royale was our pre dinner drink of choice this evening and we wandered through to dinner at around 8.30pm Ashock and Jean were ready for us. The boys had already pre selected and ordered their chateaubriand for this evening but myself and Kath were spoilt for choice. I opted for melon followed by lamb because I knew what was coming in the form of deserts. The Head Waiter had organised a cake for our wedding Anniversary and the waiters had been busy organising baked Alaska and flambé cherries. The whole meal and dining experience was first class, faultless and is one of the main reasons we enjoy travelling Queens Grill. We had so much stuff flambé and cooked tableside it was like a never ending personal conveyor belt of food. All amazingly delicious. We rounded it off with cappuccino and petit fours and were almost the last to roll out of there.
The B&W ball in Queens Room was in full swing and a good time seemed to be being had by all. We ambled up to the Hemispheres but it was very busy, and it wasn’t our usual favoured band playing, so we opted instead for Commodore Club. We were pounced on immediately by one waiter who seems determined to have the monopoly on drinks orders in that place. My pet hate is waiters that don’t give you time to sit on the seat let alone choose a drink. I must have told him twice that we weren’t ready, but he was pushy. And then he had so many orders on the go it took him about 20 mins to deliver the drink. I had a Jimmy Hendriks though and it was so worth it. We watched the lights of Holland approach and listened to the cocktail pianist. But we were beat. We had another look in Hemispheres, which was rammed, so lift to deck 7 is what it was. Ahhhh bed!
Thursday 31st December 2015 – Amsterdam New Years Eve
I fell straight to sleep when my head hit the pillow last night, but then I seemed to be awake every 10 minutes as we approached locks and entered the river for our approach to Amsterdam. I watched us dock from the big window at the side of my bed, and then I fell asleep again. We still made breakfast in Queens Grill at 8.30am though. Looks like Ventura hasn’t made it into port today, because I have been outside and looked and can’t see her anywhere. It was choppy last night so I guess that’s something to do with it.
As much as I dislike Amsterdam we decided to have a walk into town because it was such a lovely day. I still detest the place and I nearly choked when we walked past some of the coffee shops. I just don’t get it! We seemed to walk along umpteen canals, it still didn’t make the place seem any better for me though. Crossing the road is a nightmare. Bus lanes, tram lanes, car lanes, bike lanes. It all made my head spin and I was glad to get back on board. I think the man taking a pee into the side of the canal summed the place up for me!
Back in our suite, I ordered myself a nice bowl of tomato soup, and a tuna melt toasted muffin, all delivered and laid out very professionally by Elvie our Butler. I washed that down with a glass or two of rum and cola, before checking out the inside of my eyelids on my Cunarder mattress.
My 5.00pm wake up call in the form of Evie and her canapes delivery. I have to confess, I don’t know why Cunard bother with the canapes because the certainly aren’t to my taste. They have been left every night, but each to their own. Other cruise lines have produced canapes worthy of delivery and eating. There was a Champagne Waterfall in the lobby this evening at 6.30pm. Champagne waterfalls are not for me, I’ve been there, seen it and done it. They have been very hard sell on promoting it to. You can hardly sit for 2 seconds before being asked if you would like a ticket to the event which includes a glass of the champagne from the waterfall. No thanks, not at $9 per glass. I would rather purchase a glass in a quiet lounge that has been poured correctly, not glugged over 30 glasses before it. I did nip out to get a photo of it before it was dismantled, but that was as far as my interest went. I bumped into James Cusick again and we exchanged New Year wishes and one or two private jokes. Back in the suite I got ready for the evening ahead at leisure.
Grill Lounge was busy as expected this evening, but Lucia had her eye on the seat situation and soon had us seated on a sofa with a drinks order and table of hot canapes and snack. We do like the canapes that Cunard serve pre dinner, a nice little touch, but they do encourage you to nibble and potentially spoil dinner.
Cunard make a real effort with decoration of the Queens Grill Dining room on New Years Eve, it was looking rather splendid. Tonight there was no a la carte choice of menu which I don’t recall them stopping last year, but hey we won’t starve. Highlight of our night this evening was someone elses downfall. Last year, we were seated by the most annoying, demanding table of guests who monopolised all of the waiters around, plus head waiter and maitre de. They would demand anything and everything that was not on the menu at the last minute but wanted it at the drop of a hat. As a result, ours and many others dining experience was marred by their behaviour. We were aware they were once again on board, but thankfully at the opposite end of the restaurant. They had a tendency to enter the restaurant as late as possible, often after ‘doors closed’ This evening they seem to have over stepped the mark and arrived a good 15 minutes after doors closed. Lets just say I hope they found the self service Lido buffet to their liking on New Years Eve. Well done the Maître De.
We left dinner to a very busy Grills Lounge. We had a table with a nice bottle of Verve and had hardly had time to sit before at 11.00pm UK time (which we were still on) the New Year was bought into Amsterdam with fireworks. It was a very clear night and lots of fab fireworks, but I have a cold brewing so was soon back inside and left the boys to it. Highlight of the evening for us is the New Year Celebrations in the Lobby. Didn’t think they could top last years experience but they did! Commodore Rynd didn’t ring out the old and ring in the new, with oldest and youngest crew members. Instead he just got down on his knees and bashed hell out of the gong! Balloons dropped, passengers and crew cheered, and Queen Victoria partied! What a way to see in 2016!! I’m sure that party continued for a long time after we departed. Another party was in full swing in Queens Room, and Hemispheres was fit to bursting. For us it was a nice comfy sit down in Commodore Club with a drink or two before bed.
Friday 1st January 2016 – New Years Day
Oh what a lazy day! It began with Elvie delivering enough breakfast to feed us and both of our neighbours. Mr C needs to learn how to fill in a breakfast order form. I dragged myself out of bed in stages to complete the marathon breakfast session, and then lazed a bit more. It was such a lovely sunny morning that we decided to go ashore yet again in Amsterdam. This time only for a stroll in the opposite direction of town down to the bridge and across to the other side of the bay. It proved a good choice for some excellent shots of the ship basking under the clear blue sky. This morning we had two more hazards to look out for. As well as the usual trams, buses bikes and cars etc, we now how joggers to dodge – far too energetic! Oh and the filth on the pavements. Amsterdam would never win a clean city award that’s for sure!
Back on board Elvie and her under butler had serviced the suite. He was in a very chirpy mood whistling Auld Lang’s Syne whilst hoovering the corridors. We decided to head for Grill lounge for a coffee and then into lunch. I love lunch in Grills restaurant. So much choice and nice light options too. After lunch there was only one place to go – my bed. And glorious it was too. So glorious I struggled to pull myself out of it. Even Elvie knew I was struggling and discreetly nipped in with the canapes and placed them on the Butler sink area so as not to disturb me.
Pre dinner drinks in Grill lounge was busy this evening, but as always they do make room. The canapes were lovely this evening, salmon cakes, king prawns and twice baked mini jacket spuds. The lads were very excited about their evening meal because chef was preparing them a chicken curry. I had lemon sole and I have to say it was delicious. The waiters and the Head Waiter have been superb again this voyage, nothing too much trouble, no drama, jus discreet excellent first class service. Oooh and lemon bread rolls are a new favourite of mine.
This evenings entertainment seemed to be all over the shop tonight. Synergy were in Queens Room, we were slightly tempted but when we went to investigate it just confirmed that they are nowhere near as good as the usual band plus it was freezing in there. There was ballroom and sequence dancing in Hemispheres so for the first time ever this voyage we could have probably got a seat, but we opted instead for Commodore club which was rammed. Gin Infusion is one of my favourite drinks this voyage, so I consumed a couple of those which were shaken tableside just how I like it.
Saturday 2nd January 2016 – Bruges
I did not sleep at all well. I have been mentally packing. I’ve watched the lights of the Belgium coast come into view, and I’ve pottered about in the dark so as not to disturb the sleeping Mr C. Today is very confusing. Commodore has advised that we are staying on UK time. I could understand this for Amsterdam so that we could celebrate both New Years and enjoy the fireworks prior to the onboard partys, but today I feel it can only confuse matters. The tours office have already had to re issue the times for tours because for instance tickets state meet at 8.45am, but this is actually 7.45am (ships time) so an early start for many. If he had changed the times it would have been less confusing and we would all have had an extra hour this evening. I wonder how many will be caught out by the ‘back onboard’ time today.
After breakfast we collected out coats and headed to the dockside for the shuttle bus into Blankenburge, to get the train to Bruges. Here we go with the confusion again. A big sign in the shuttle bus states ‘last shuttle bus 4.00pm’ then handwritten underneath that ‘3.00pm ships time’ Disaster waiting to happen in my opinion. Me and Mr C have our system for the journey into Bruges. It starts with try and time the coach to coincide with having enough time to get a train ticket and be on the next train. We try and sit on seats that give us quick access off the coach. Mr C is like a rabbit out of a trap as soon as they coach door opens in Blankenburge and walks quickly to the train station to get train tickets before the rest of the coach catch up and form a queue. Meanwhile I stroll gently across the green by the church and across the road to the train station. Is it me, or is that sheltered urinal thing, next to the church, just weird? Its very open air and in a church garden, next to a main road, is just odd, and not nice to walk past. Surely there are public loos in the town. Maybe it’s a Belgium thing that I am not aware of. But anyway, we are on the train in plenty of time. 15 mins later we are approaching Bruges station.
We are on a mission today. First to find The Olde Chocolate House for a cup of hot chocolate, then to Dumon for our annual chocolate supplies, and then straight back to the ship. I have come on this cruise to relax, not to be walking about in ports. It’s another lovely sunny but chilly day. We head to where I think The Olde Chocolate House is and it isn’t there, but a quick look at Google maps reveals we are not too far away. So why did I want to come here? I’ve had lots of hot chocolates in Bruges before where you spoon the chocolate into the milk. Well, this place goes one step further and serves the milk in huge bowl like cups and comes with all sorts of niceties. The waffles looked amazing, but my Queens Grill breakfast seems like it was only 5 minutes ago so I just couldn’t manage one. Surprisingly, neither could Mr C. The hot chocolate was delicious and well worth the visit. Only 10 euro for two big cups of milk, two pots of chocolate beads, two biscuits and two bars of chocolate. The upstairs of the shop is where they serve the hot chocolate and it is very quaint. A visit is highly recommended. Next mission was Dumon to get our chocolates. Oh what a welcome. We have been going here for years and the owner and her mum almost know to expect us at this time of year. We kept Mum Dumon busy for a good 15 minutes boxing up our orders, and 80 euros later we were out of there. No messing about in Bruges for us, we had a train to catch so we were straight across the square and en route to the train station. The train was in when we arrived, we just had to remember to get on the right end this time so as not to end up in Knock again. 15 mins later we were back in Blankenburge. There is a lot of building work at the train station. The main old ticket building is long gone and something else is being built in its place. There is a huge multistorey car park to the side, so my cut through to the bus stop is long gone. I had to be as fast on my toes as Mr C now to get ahead of the crowd for the shuttle bus queue. No shuttle bus was in and the queue was already quite lengthy, but within minutes it was huge behind us. We made it onto the next bus that came in and we were back in our lovely lush suite just before lunch time. People ask us how we manage to be back from Bruges in a morning, answer is we know what we want and where we are going. We have done all the touristy bits and on a short cruise like this our time on board is precious to us. We were greeted in the suite by not such a welcoming sight – the cases had been placed on the bed by Elvie our Butler ready for us to pack. Only one thing for it! I managed to get packed and sorted before heading to White Gloved afternoon tea in the Grill Lounge. Ooph those little sandwiches, freshly filled rolls, cakes, pastries and scones just kept coming! I do love afternoon tea. If we had been on a nice sunshine cruise they would be serving it out in deck, but not today! Time for my afternoon nap. All be it a short one. I woke up to hear Commodore Rynd announcing we were about to let go our lines and head towards Southampton. I can only guess everyone worked out the time differences and got back on board in plenty of time. I didn’t bother myself with getting out of bed to wave goodbye to Belgium. I spent a bit of time thinking about getting up, and having a nice whirlpool bath. I poured myself a nice rum and coke and that eased the pain a little. We have decided to self disembark in the morning, so that makes the finalisation of packing a little less crucial. We went for a little walk about before heading to the Grill Lounge for our final pre dinner drinks. The Christmas decorations have gone and it all looks very bare, but neat and tidy. I’m going to miss our sofa in Grills Lounge. I’m going to miss Lucia too. Let’s face it, I’m going to miss everything Queen Victoria related. We were last to leave the lounge for dinner, we don’t like to rush things. Lucia came over to say her goodbyes because she knows we don’t tend to go back in after dinner. Another fabulous meal. We have liked everything about our table, despite earlier reservations about it being not right by a window. We have a lovely table of 7 to one side of us. A family travelling together who have obviously had a good time. The elderly Dad amuses us because he constantly apologies for his family, and in turn the family apologise for the Father. It makes us smile. Our Waiters Ashock and Jean have been wonderful, the wine waiter – well I could have kicked him a few times, but that’s another story. Once again we are almost the last to leave. We are no bother, we just like to take our time. The effort involved in getting to the Commodore Club tonight was just too much to bear. We took the lift to deck three and sat on the first seats we saw at the Midships Lounge. It turned out to be a great spot for a bit of people watching as they flowed from Britannia Restaurant to Queens Room and the theatre. I had my first cosmopolitan of the cruise. The cocktail menu is just so vast I have been spoilt for choice. It was a relatively early night. We all had an early start in the morning with self disembarkation and Mr C had a long drive. Sad but true, when we wake up in the morning we will be back in Southampton.
Sunday 3rd January 2016
Yes, there it is cold dark Southampton. It is right outside the balcony. Grills opens for breakfast at 6.30am this morning so we were in there, well I thought we were there to eat but Mr C said it was too early! I had my breakie and I enjoyed it. He was being stubborn with a coffee. Self Disembarkation was due to commence at 7.15am. We left breakfast, collected the cases and bags from the suite, and headed down to deck two where we were asked to meet in Queens Room. We got out of the lift to be greeted by a queue of people waiting to barge in with cases. It was too late by the time I realised they were all self disembarkation passengers and were clearly heading down a deck or two. Not one person offered to tell us that self disembark had commenced on deck A, where ever that may be. The queue was snaking well back into Queens Room so we carried the cases down two decks to deck A and we were off the ship within minutes. It wasn’t a nice morning. It was cold, dark and raining. We were at Mayflower terminal so had to cross the road to the CPS car park. Our car was in row D. Mr C threw the stuff in the back of the car and we were off. I don’t recall much after that. I literally woke up at the M6 roundabout a stones throw from our house. We were home after a two hour fifteen minute journey, by 9.15am. If we hadn’t self-disembarked I doubt we would have left Southampton yet. First job, get that Christmas tree down and packed away!