Our last night in New York, back from the restaurant, we thought we would log onto the Cunard web page, to check if there were any alterations of the booking. I looked for our room, and spotted ‘Princess Grill’ on the side of the page. We were not ‘Princess Grill’ residents, Britannia Club was the most we could have afforded, was it possible we had been upgraded?!!
Like a winning lottery ticket, you keep rechecking, but it was true, we were now Princess Grill residents, with access to the Queens Lounge, and our own Princess Grill restaurant. All our baggage was wrongly labelled, and of course the case we had sent from the UK weeks ago would go to the wrong cabin. It was now about 11.30pm at night, so we had to ease the security desk clerk off the computer in the business centre, and print off new ones. Our check in was now earlier, at noon, so we had to change the taxi pick up time with the Front Desk. Didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, Rog had done his packing, I had not.
We woke up, finished packing, and had our last breakfast in the elegant dining room. I had wanted to take some fresh flowers and oasis foam on board for the room, so looked up local florists on the internet. Easy enough to find two, so we set off for the nearest. Couldn’t find it, the address seemed to be an expensive office building. Went in and asked them, ‘no, no florist round here’. I tried a policeman outside, he reckoned it was back the way we came above Burger King. Couldn’t find that either, but another security guard (lots around due to filming in the area) pointed it out, but also that Burger King had caught fire a couple of months ago. So it seemed, Burger King and the florist were shut due to the fire.
Okay, we will try the other one – followed the directions from the hotel clerk, only to find that had closed too. We were about to give up, and returned to the hotel. ‘You want a florist, there is one round the back’ he said! Local knowledge 1, internet a double zero!
The man selling us the flowers had been in the cruise trade, telling us tales of life as a cruise lift boy, hiding a suit in the store room so he could sneakily change and then go and mingle with the guests!
Our taxi arrived, and we had a much more sedate ride to the cruise terminal. The QM2’s red funnel was the first bit to pop into view, the size of the ship does produce a gasp when you first see her. Our bags are unloaded and whisked away. I hang onot the one with my laptop in even though it is heavy, I am not going to risk getting that smashed as happened on another cruise. When we see the luggage being shunted onto the ship with fork lift trucks , I am glad I made that decision!
The terminal wasn’t busy, and after being turned back once to fill in a Canada immigration form, we were soon photographed, issued with key cards, and heading up the ramp. At the top our cards were inspected, and we were allocated someone to show us to our room. What would the upgrade look like ? we arrived outside it,, and our personal room attendant introduced herself, she is called Melissa. We mention that we are expecting a bag to arrive separately from the UK, and it will probably go to another cabin. She promises to investigate, and checks how many bags we are expecting in total.
Initial view was of floor to ceiling windows onto the balcony. Our guide came in and showed us round, we have a walk in dressing room, that is a first! The bathroom is large for a ship, with full bath, and being about 10’ long, there is space between the built in basin and the loo, and again between that and the bath. Plenty of cupboards above and below the washbasin. The main cabin has a cabinet with minibar and storage, and above it an illuminated glasses cupboard. There are two further wardrobes with built in drawers, and containing the lifejackets in one of them. We have a two seater sofa, coffee table and lamp table, desk/dressing table with mirror and shelves above and drawers and cupboards below, small TV, and two single beds zipped together to make one large double with lamp tables either side.
We have champagne in an ice bucket with two glasses set out, a fruit order list, and a plate with home made chocolates in a chocolate cup with white chocolate spoon! There is also a bud vase, later filled with a fresh white orchid. I fill the cereal bowl I have brought with me with oasis, and arrange my almeria and roses in that.
I guess I will struggle to upload pictures, hence the long description! Outside on our balcony, we have two cushioned steamer chairs and a table.
First priority, lunch. We head for our new restaurant, the Princess Grill. We are greeted by the Maitre D who goes by the name of Attila, and he comes from Hungary – you couldn’t make it up! He takes me aside, and says we have been allocated to a table where all the rest are members of the same family, and he thinks we would be happier moving. Not wanting to gate-crash someone else’s table, we agree, and he consults his list. Finally ‘I have a nice table for you, come with me’ and he escorts us to a table for two, at the side half way down the restaurant. Waiters move in and introduce themselves, white linen napkins draped across our laps, we are ready!
The leather bound menus are produced and we make what we hope is a fairly healthy and light selection, not really going to start with a three course meal, though it is very tempting!
Lunch over, we bid goodbye to Attila, and head back to the cabin. To our immense relief, the case from the UK arrives with the rest of our cases, which have survived the fork lift truck’s attentions.
It is much more fun to explore the ship than unpack, and since there are so few of us on board so far, we can take pictures of empty theatre, restaurant etc. A visit to the Spa is a must, they are offering to top up massages with an extra 20 minutes if you book today, so I book one for tomorrow. We were shown round the Spa, they have a large whirlpool pool with temperature at 37* and underwater couch bars to lie on, and a small Jacuzzi pool with temperature at 40*. There is a sauna, steam room, various treatment rooms, and a relaxation area. If you have a treatment, you can use the facilities all day for that particular day. I booked a hot stones massage for the next day, that sounded good. Rog was having none of it, he still bears the scars of a last massage when his underwear got adjusted rather more than he was comfortable with!
There is now no putting it off, we have to unpack. It is decided I can have the walk in wardrobe, and Rog will have the other two, to avoid falling over each other getting changed.
By the time we have done that , the ship has filled up. Life boar drill next, the alarm sounds, and Melissa appears to give us our life jackets from the wardrobe, and point us in the right direction. Down to Level 7, and sit and wait for everyone to arrive. We are shown how to put the lifejackets on, and have to demonstrate we can do this, then we are allowed to go back upstairs.
Dinner calls, time to change into our first ‘informal’ attire, which is cocktail dresses for the ladies, and at least a shirt and jacket for the men. Then back to Attila’s beaming smile, and our attentive waiters, who quickly arrive with warm bread rolls and leather clad menus. Iced water is continually topped up, and Rog chooses a bottle of Cote du Roussillon wine to go with the meal. Rog had Hoki fish, followed by banana crème brulee, I have already forgotten mine, but I know I enjoyed it! Coffee is accompanied by a small two tier tray of chocolates. We get these after every evening meal.
A stroll round the ship, and we are getting close to sailing time. The Captain comes on the tannoy and announces that QM2 is going to sail up the Hudson River, do a slo 360* turn, and salute Battery Park with a laser show. As our cabin is above the lasers, we have quite a sight as we approach the Statue of Liberty, slowly turn, and great picture opportunities of a, by now, floodlit New York against a dark night sky. The rain earlier has gone, and it is a fine, warm night. We have been told to look out for the QM2 passing under a low bridge on her way out, there is only 6’ clearance for the funnel, and it is a fairly terrifying sight, but she makes it! Returning to our room, the curtains have been drawn, bed turned down, more chocolates provided, and my nightie arranged in a fan shape.
A non- alcoholic cocktail each in the Queen’s Lounge, (Queens and Princess Grill guests only admitted, well we had to find out where it was!) and back to bed.
The bed was comfortable, and we slept well, although I was conscious of my still swollen legs, especially the left one, which really aches by the end of the day. We can hear Melissa outside, so suppose we really ought to consider getting up. Breakfast in the Princess Grill is a similar experience to lunch and dinner, the draping of starched white napkins, the silver platters, and a very wide menu choice of fruit, fruit juices, cereals, oatmeal, cooked breakfasts, pastries, toast etc. Coffee is replenished before you have even thought whether you might need some more!
This is a full day at sea. I had planned to make use of the spa facilities, but realise that I had better get checked out just in the unlikely case that I am harbouring a DVT after all the flying. Down to the very bowels of the ship, I suppose they always put the medical facilities there because the movement of the boat is less. I still think it is not a bad life being a Ships Doctor, only two two hour surgeries a day, and barring emergencies, you can enjoy all the privileges of an officer the rest of the time, but the lack of any natural light must get to you a bit.
We go down to the lowest level, and a male nurse with fancy epaulettes takes a history, feels my legs, measures them, takes my blood pressure and oxygen sats, and tells me to wait for the doctor. He is very nice, I explain about the rash, the fact that one leg is more swollen than the other, and the unsteadiness I have felt since Memphis. He runs through the options. I could have a CT scan, but he thinks it would be negative, and since both legs are swollen, albeit not to the same degree, his thinks a DVT is unlikely and doesn’t really merit one. He suggests Frusemide to try and drain the water retention. The unsteadiness he is unsure about, could be ear related, could be stroke related, but again unlikely, and if it doesn’t get any worse, then no need to do anything right now. He offers me sea sickness pills, but they make me feel like a zombie, so I decline those.
It is more or less time for lunch when we get back to our level, another three course meal is on offer, but I limit it to chicken soup and Pako the waiter makes me a special plain salad. Rog had hoki fish. We are good and refuse puddings!
The shops beckon, Rog is wondering if he can pick up a long sleeved shirt here, since he has only brought two, and the informal evenings suggest long sleeved shirt and tie. But not at these prices! Perhaps there will be a sale later on, or we can pick something up in Halifax the next day.
I then head off for my spa treatment, 100 minutes of bliss. In fact the hot stones and aromatherapy oils are so relaxing I fall asleep and awake with a start, frightening the life out of the poor masseuse! She has been working on my legs, and after I get up, invites me to have a look at my feet. The swelling has gone down considerably, good for her! She swears by the seaweed extract she has been using, and says she will drop some by this evening. I have a brief time to try out the big pool, which turns out to be deeper than I am, and I have to crawl along the edge to reach the underwater couch bars to lie on. That is fine, but every time the ship tilts, it created a tidal wave that rushes from side to side of the pool, and throws me off the bars! I try the Jacuzzi instead, which is lovely.
I make use of the shower there, all toiletries provided, and efficient hair dryers. Then back to the room to change for dinner . This is the 175th anniversary event, so Red, Black and Gold colours. It is gratifying that Attila approves of my choice (and Sarah next door is also wearing red) Roger has his red, black and gold bow tie, and gold cummerbund, very dapper!
Again a wonderful three course meal, fish this time so white wine for me. Coffee and two tier tray of petit four as before.
Then it is on to the theatre, where Gary Lovigni (anagram of violin?) is playing. I am not usually a fan of solo violinists, and cringe when one comes over to our table in a restaurant, but he was exceptionally good, and introduced each virtuoso piece with humour, I thought he was great entertainment.
Back to our cabin, where my Graceland teddy bear, and Roger’s mascot, the blue cat that Rory gave him, are happily chatting to each other in the middle of the bed with a couple of chocolates, Melissa’s turn down service! I hand the seaweed oil to Rog to massage my lower legs and feet with, I could get used to this too!
As we wake, the view from the cabin balcony is of Halifax appearing alongside. I am delighted to see that my legs are quite a bit less swollen.
We were greeted by pipers on the quayside, Halifax is in Nova Scotia, ie New Scotland, and very proud of its Scottish past. It doesn’t initially look hugely attractive, massive cranes on the dockside, and some run down refinery plant. But the day is warm and sunny, we are very lucky to have a day like this for our one stop off point.
As we have to meet our driver at the time of 9.30, we decide not to go for the full waiter service breakfast, and head instead to the Kings Court buffet. This would be my downfall, there is so much on offer, it is hard to limit ourselves, but fresh fruit slices, coffee, orange juice and toast is what I had planned. I can see the bread, but no toaster. Spend ages fruitlessly looking for one, and give up. Rog can’t resist trying the bacon, and pulls a face, not as good as the bacon in the Princess Grill, apparently! But he does find a lady operating a toaster in one corner of the room.
Breakfast over, off out of the ship to meet Paul. A large white off roader has the sign FOAD in its window, so we introduce ourselves, and are ushered on board. There are two couples already in it, but I manage to get the front seat beside Paul, Rog is in the back with a couple who are also on the ship, it turns out they are in the process of moving to the UK for three years, to the Bristol area, and are using the cruise as part of their moving journey, one way to do it!
The third couple are staying at a hotel in Halifax, and will be leaving in a hire car from the Westin Hotel later on.
Paul McNeil puts on his microphone and we are off. He talks very fast, he is so enthusiastic about his town, and has so much to impart. I could not possibly remember it all, or all the names of the buildings he shows us. However he quickly picks up that Rog and I tend to compete for the best photos, and takes sides (mine!). Every time we come to a building or view of interest, he asks for my camera and takes a shot out of his window, telling me ‘that should win it for you’. Apparently he used to be a press cameraman at some point, so I think the contest is won before it starts!
Our first stop is at an armoury where ammunition was stored. It was also a major defence point, with huge canons pointing out to sea. It seems Halifax was so well defended, no country tried to attack it.
We hear about the Halifax Explosion, which happened five years after the Titanic disaster, when a munitions ship heavily loaded with all sorts of volatile and explosive materials hit another ship in the harbour, sparks flew and ignited the gunpowder, and the resulting explosion was the biggest non-nuclear explosion ever, about 3.5 megatons, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 7 and 8.
All buildings in the vicinity were levelled, thousands killed, and as it happened at 9.05 am, several schools were hit and the entire school population wiped out. The explosion was followed by a disastrous snowfall; four feet fell in 24 hours. Two stories stuck in the memory. One was of a 22 month old baby girl pulled from the rubble after 4 days, when someone heard a whimpering. It seems she had been protected from the blast by a nearby cast iron stove, and the remaining heat had kept her alive. She was nicknamed ‘Ashpan Annie’ because of that, and lived to be 98 years old, dying only a few years ago, we say her house. I obviously have a very good picture of it, if I could remember which one it was of my many photos!
The other story was about Frederick Stacey, a wireless operator, who was with other bystanders on the dock when the ships collided. He knew what was on the ships from the flag signalling system used to announce which ships were in the harbour, still used today, and yelled at everyone to run clear. He was on his way too, when he recalled that there was a train with 700 people on board due to arrive shortly from Boston. Ignoring pleas from his friends to take cover, he ran back into the wireless shed and started tapping out a Morse message to Boston to tell them to halt the train. At long last he got a received acknowledgement, and ran out, but too late, he was killed in the blast. But he saved 700 lives by giving up his own.
We also were shown where the submarine nets were anchored during the world wars, Halifax is 2000 feet deep, and natural harbour, and used for the supply ships to the UK in wartime. An obvious target for U-Boats, so the net prevented them getting in and protected the supply run. After the Halifax explosion, which in 1917 was during the WW1, the Haligonians are very proud of the fact that the supply runs started up again only two days later.
We were taken down to the water’s edge for views across the bay. Again my camera was used to get the best shots!
Our next stop was the cemetery with the graves of some of the 151 Titanic victims buried in Halifax. When the rescue ships reached the area of the sinking, they started pulling bodies out of the water. If they could be identified as first class passengers, they were pulled out, put into wooden boxes, and brought back for burial. It would have been too costly for the relatives to come out from the UK to possibly identify a body, so they were all buried in Halifax. Crew members, women and children were put into cloth bags and taken to Halifax for burial. The bodies of men with no identification on were put into bags with a lead weight and sent to the bottom of the ocean.
The headstones in this cemetery are arranged in a shape like the bow of a ship.
Paul had managed to time our visit to perfection, there were no other coach parties taking up all the room, which was quite an achievement with two cruise ships in port today. Wandering round the graves, he pointed out that of a Joe Dawson, who was a stoker on the Titanic. It seems when they were making the film, the name appealed to the Director, and he gave the name to Leonardo Da Caprio’s character, even though he played a steerage passenger.
Also alongside, was the grave of Frederick Stacey, the hero of the explosion, five years after Titanic went down.
According to Paul, the Captain of the Titanic was out to set a speed record, and going far too fast. The crew member with the key to the binoculars cupboard had gone off on some personal emergency, taking the key with him, so they had no binoculars to look out for icebergs. There is another ship built in exactly the same way as the Titanic, the Olympic, which sailed successfully for decades, Titanic lasted 5 days, and he finds it hard to understand why that is what is remembered about Halifax.
The shipbuilding industry here has won a huge new contract from a foreign power, which is bringing in new jobs and housing, making it a boom town, as once all the ships have been built, then they will need to come back for regular maintenance. How different to the UK shipbuilding industry, which has almost disappeared.
After Titanic, we were driven to the botanical park, where we had a pleasant stroll in the sunshine, making the most of the photo opportunities.
Paul picked us up on the other side, and took us to get in position for the Noon Gun, fired from the citadel. He positioned us in an ideal place to see the gun being prepared, the stick going down the barrel pushing in the charge, and then the nose of the cannon itself poking over the headland towards us. He gave us a 30 second warning to cover our ears, you would not want to be taking photos at the moment the gun went off, believe me the noise was literally ground shaking!
You can just see the barrel of the gun peeping out from behind the hill.
He whispered ‘as soon as it goes off, get to the right of these bollards for the best view of the changing of the guard’. We did so, and were absolutely in the right place for photos of the kilted guard with their fixed bayonets.
Fisherman’s Cove is a very pretty fishing village not visited by the tour buses. First he showed us the lobsters off the boat that morning, and described how they were caught.
He also showed us how to handle them, and how to tickle them to send them to sleep! He had arranged lunch for us in an upstairs room, and we swapped travel stories over wonderfully fresh fish and chips or lobster rolls.
There was then a photo opportunity with the fishing boats at the end of the village, and back to the port, via another tour of interesting houses.
Our plan had been to visit an ATM to pay Paul, and then find some long sleeved shirts for Roger, who had only packed two….. Plan scuppered, the terminal ATM refused all cards. Fortunately we could just about stump up the money between us, as with six on the tour, the price had come down. Where to find shirts? Paul very kindly said he would drop us back in town, wait for us to buy some, and drive us back, all for free. A very kind man, but at up to $200 for a shirt, there was no way we would pay that sort of money. We settled for a tour of the terminal shops, picked up some souvenirs, and went back on board.
The pipers played us out, and we performed a 360 degree salute to the port as we left. We were late for dinner that night, the weather was perfect, and this would be our last view of land for five days. There is no getting off now!
The show in the theatre was the ships entertainers singing and dancing. I wasn’t blown away, I think Rog enjoyed the skimpy costumes of the girls, they could sing okay, perhaps I was just tired.
The teddy and cat were now snuggled up together reading a book when we got back to the cabin!
This was our breakfast in bed day, and it arrived on the dot, piping hot pancakes and maple syrup, fresh fruit, orange juice, oatmeal and prunes for Rog, and white toast wrapped in a napkin. However we had forgotten to put a tick in the ‘butter’ box, and they had taken us at our word and not provided any, dry toast is a bit difficult to eat!
Up and dressed, I went off to a brief demonstration of teeth whitening, whilst Rog had a wander round the ship. We met up in the theatre for a lecture by Robin Oakley, political correspondent, about his life wining and dining MPs to get stories out of them, with a few historical anecdotes about politicians and the effects of drink thrown in. He was very entertaining, although from his figure, you could see the effect that all those expensive lunches had had on his waistline!
We went to look at the photo gallery, there were some nice ones taken of us, but at $34 for one, we didn’t buy. I am not sure, but I think Rog might had taken a sneaky copy though, I was deliberately looking the other way!
At lunch, our waiter said he had missed us at breakfast, we told him about our lazy start to the day. It is so nice to be warmly greeted by name each time you enter the restaurant, instead of having to queue up at a buffet, where I know I would take far too much on my plate. I had a simple, very small shrimp salad for lunch, Rog had a prawn starter and a veggie risotto. The waiter was concerned I wasn’t eating enough, but I succumbed to sharing the rum and raisin, maple syrup and walnut, and lemon sorbet ice creams with toffee sauce that Rog offered for pudding.
The afternoon was spent exploring, we found the dogs on the top deck, out of their kennels for exercise, and pleased to see any new faces. Apparently they are spoiled rotten by the chefs, have their own blue QM2 jackets on to go out for walks, and probably put on as much weight as their owners. We also visited the back of the Bridge, and watched the officers steer the ship. There was a useful plan explaining what all the instruments were, but no photos or video allowed. Well I suppose you wouldn’t want to distract them! We did actually see one crew member peering through binoculars, perhaps for icebergs, at least ours weren’t locked away!
Rog was feeling the need for some exercise, so we completed three brisk laps of the ship, just over a mile. He then fancied a cup of tea, not sure where to go, then we discovered that the Queens Lounge provided full afternoon tea for Princess and Queens Grill guests, white gloved waiters, tiny sandwiches, scones and mini cakes, what a truly terrible discovery!
After eating more than we should have and completely negating the benefits of the walk, it was back to the cabin to collect our evening attire for pressing in the laundrette. Fortunately everyone else had already gone to dinner or a pre-dinner drink, and the place was empty, as this one only had one ironing board. It is a formal night tonight, aqua long satin evening dress for me, and Rog puts on his white DJ, and green cummerbund. His second dress shirt seems to have survived the packing well, and a quick smooth over is all it needs. Suitably showered and dressed, off to the Princess Grill to see what Attila thinks, he is very complimentary, but then he has to be, unless I turned up in jeans, in which case he would send me away!
Rog had rack of lamb, and I had the salmon and mushroom duxelle Wellington , both very good, although I was astonished to find a hair inside my bread roll!
I was unable to resist the temptation of the walnut cake for pudding, Rog had a selection from the cheese board, which he has been eyeing up ever since we got on board, since you have to walk past it on the way in to dinner!
On my left at dinner we have Colin and Mary, who are expecting their first grandchild in September, have owned Dandie Dinmonts, and run a family business. On our right, Gary and Sarah, Gary has a gardening business as a second career after running a business, and Sarah is head of HR for a luxury car concessions firm, working for BMW, and gets a new one every three months, no wonder she has problems remembering the registration numbers! It is Sarah’s 50th birthday on Saturday 18th, Gary had been trying to spoil her with red roses in the room, and a champagne breakfast, but each time he arranges something, the surprise is spoilt by the ship, eg by ringing the room and asking her when she would like her special breakfast delivered, despite it saying on the form Gary filled in!
Sarah asks us if we would like to join them in the Verve Cliquot bar tomorrow for a glass of champagne to celebrate her birthday, we would be delighted, but I wonder if there is anywhere on the ship that sells a birthday card?!
We go off to the show, this time Hillary O’Neill, whom I had not heard of, but she is very funny, good impressionist and singer too. The poor soul had had a wardrobe malfunction just before coming on, the zip on her bejewelled top had failed, but she bravely built it into her act, although obviously a bit uncomfortable, as she was unable to take her jacket off, she lifted it up to show us the gaping zip at the back, holding together by a wing and a prayer at just the top, fortunately it did hold out!
We returned to the cabin, the cat and teddy were having a cuddle against the pillows, they looked very comfortable.
We were late up today, and only just made it to breakfast , much to our waiter’s amusement. I opted to try the brioche and the banana bread, only asked for one of each, but was presented with two – I couldn’t meet that challenge.
During breakfast it was announced there would be a crew drill. It was alarming enough yesterday to hear broadcast ‘man over board’, especially if you had missed the previous announcement ‘this is an exercise’. Today there was a supposed fire in the lowest laundry, complete with non-toxic smoke, and various emergency announcements, including the curious ‘Crew In Port Manning Exercise’ Curious as to what this was, apparently they have to cover for an emergency arising on the ship when most of the crew have gone ashore. Even though we knew it was an exercise, it was a little alarming to see the crew striding around with their life jackets on. I am glad ours was not one of the cabins chosen for an evacuation drill, that would be truly worrying if you had not heard the previous announcements!
In the morning we attend a talk by a really hawkish retired general from the US Army. I don’t know which was more frightening, his call for total force to quell terrorist, or the standing ovation he got from some of his fellow citizens on board. The British exercised their usual reserve and just muttered into their coffees afterwards….
Wandering through the photo gallery, we bumped into the birthday girl and her husband, the champagne breakfast had arrived on time, but she could not face drinking at that hour of the morning. She had enjoyed the rest though! We thought we had better find a birthday card for her, and tracked on down in the library after asking one of the crew. He said that when a crew member has a birthday on board and they have forgotten to buy a card, they all just sign a tea towel, which seemed a lovely thing to do.
For lunch we chose brochettes of shrimp, scallop, salmon, tuna, haddock, and bell pepers, on a bed of jasmine rice, with Béarnaise sauce, which was almost healthy. Rog followed with strawberry ice cream and frozen chocolate yoghurt with kiwi sauce, I am leaving room for tea! WE got chatting to the Americans two tables away, who had pre-ordered a special dish of paella from Attila, who got the chef to make it up for them. They are in their 70s I suspect, but got married last year, and seem exactly like honeymooners, very sweet.
The afternoon went quickly, Rog went for four laps round deck 7, and I wrote up the blog. I took the evening clothes down to the ironing room to get the creases out of them, then it was off to the Veuve Cllquot bar to meet Sarah and Gary, who treated us to champagne, strawberries and crisps, in honour of Sarah’s birthday. They had invited another couple, Lesley and Michael, and the six of us were happily chatting until we realised we were about to miss dinner altogether! A hasty exodus to the restaurant, and apologies all round.
Sarah and Gary had ordered Duck Montmorency, I don’t think they anticipated
- This was a large, whole duck, just between the two of them, and
- That the waiter would pour a third of a bottle of Grand Marnier over it before setting it alight.
It didn’t burn for long, and hence the alcohol was all there when they came to eat it, after a fair quantity of champagne, and wine with the meal. Rog has ordered the same for us for tomorrow (you have to give 24 hours’ notice) so will have to see how we get on tomorrow evening!
We had parsnip soup and I followed that with the rack of lamb, which was delicious, and Rog the veal chop, which was huge, but he was not going to be defeated, and finished it!
Pudding was a chestnut parfait for Rog, and a walnut cake for me. Roger’s was so delicious, I had to restrain myself from eating all his.
We all continued to chat, and at the end of the meal, Sarah’s birthday cake came out, a beautiful chocolate cake like a square sacher torte, with strawberries and shards of white chocolate for decoration. All power to her, she did manage a fairly large piece of that as well, the rest being packed up and sent to their room.
By this time the restaurant was empty, and the waiters were setting out marmalade and jam for the morning, so we bade them, and Gary and Sarah, goodnight, and headed off to bed. We had missed the show, but since it was a female former star of Phantom of the Opera, whose rather piercing voice we had heard earlier, we were not too disappointed, though we heard afterwards that she was excellent, must have been distorted sound.
I woke at 5.00 am, I don’t know why, but when I peeped behind the curtains, the sun was just rising over the sea, which was a lovely sight. By the time Rog woke up, it had disappeared, so he couldn’t claim ‘sunshine every day’, at least not yet.
As today we have ordered a huge duck for dinner, we managed to make breakfast a modest meal. On the way in I asked Attila if he had any rhubarb on board, as Rog had a partiality for rhubarb crumble. ‘Leave it with me, I will phone the chef now’, he said.
On the programme is a cookery demonstration, so we attempt to find the Illusions theatre, and get there eventually, we are still managing to get lost round this large ship.
The demo was by the Head Chef, and a Chef from the Todd English (pay extra) restaurant. The Head Chef (from Yorkshire) took great delight in winding up his friend (French) by pinching the best saucepans and pulling weight as they cooked two separate menus. He did langoustines with a mild but special curry sauce and carrot risotto and pea puree, the Frenchman went for a half lobster with steak, an upper class ‘surf and turf’, both looking exceedingly attractive. For dessert, the Yorkshireman prepared a chocolate fondant. Sadly the audience were not invited to test anything!
I had to leave the demo a bit early for my teeth whitening appointment. In great trepidation, because the last time I tried to have it done I panicked and ripped the mould out, I registered and was shown to a chair in the Beauty Salon upstairs from the Spa.
Fortunately there was no one else around, so if I made a fool of myself, I wouldn’t have an audience. Louise attempted to match my teeth to one on her chart, but said they were too grey, rather than yellow, which was not an encouraging start! However she assured me it would make a difference. The soft mould with gel in was put into my mouth, sun visor put on, and the ultraviolet light switched on. I could lean my head back on the wall, and although not exactly happy, I did manage to stick it out, doing a mental count until it would be over. I was surprised when Louise said ‘five minutes more’ as I was thinking it was more like ten, my counting must have been a bit slow. I determined to hang on, but it was still a huge relief when she switched off the light, and I could take the mould out.
A thorough rinse, and the mirror was produced. I could really see a difference, especially on the bottom ones, but whether I will be brave enough to keep up with the follow up programme at home, we will see!
Rog meantime had gone to the morning service, which was actually taken by the Captain. If he has time, I will get him to fill in a bit about it. Rog (that’s me!) has a mo, as coverage of the Open has just finished. So has the cricket!! The service comprised 4 hymns, a reading, 3 collects, prayers, general confession and all sounded rather Anglican. The captain does lack a bit of charisma and probably would not make a great priest, but he did his best and the service provided me with a time for reflection and prayer amidst all the fun and indulgences of the cruise.
We met up in the cabin, and I went down to the shops and succumbed to three bracelets in the costume jewellery sale. Back for lunch, where I enquired from Attila about the progress of the rhubarb crumble. ‘All in hand’ he assured me, ‘Chef is preparing it for you tonight’. Oh goodness, that quick, so now we have a huge duck, followed by rhubarb crumble!
A light lunch is definitely in order. Rog had a new fish, a ‘roughy’, a bit like haddock, with a creole sauce. I asked the waiter if he could make me an apple, walnut and cheese salad, and he came up with a lovely one specially for me. That shouldn’t affect the teeth, I have to stay off tea, coffee, red wine, or anything likely to stain, for 24 hours, so no red wine with the duck!
A further trip to the shops resulting in me buying a couple of dress rings, and Rog sneakily purchasing some beautiful earrings for me, which he presented to me over tea in the Queens Lounge. We bumped into Michael and Lesley from last night’ champagne party, they have invited us to cocktails in the Queens Lounge with them tomorrow, and hope to include Gary and Sarah.
The lecture, back in the illuminations Theatre, but we managed to go via the Connexions complex before finding it again, was by Nigel West, a journalist who had known Ian Fleming, about the background behind the James Bond books. It turned out that Ian Fleming was not a nice piece of work, thrown out of Eton and Sandhurst for dallying with ‘ladies of the night’, and whose chat up procedure was to take a girl home and leave her alone for an hour with his pornography and a bottle of gin! He ended up in the secret service, and was assigned roles more by luck than judgement.
Casino Royale was based on a previous book ‘The Life Line’which was actually written about him, by a lady called Phyllis Bottom (there’s unlucky!), who was married to the head of the finishing school he went to in Kitzbuhl. (A head marrying a bottom, that’s love for you!)She called her spy, Mark Chalmers. It was a clever ploy, Fleming pinched her book, and she could not protest because she might not have asked him for his agreement before writing it! I guess I had always thought Dr No was the first book, because it was the first film, such is not the case.
Ian Fleming did not make it to old age, he died in 1964, Nigel said due to two heart attacks brought on by the stress of being sued for plagiarism over another of his books. I wish I could remember the name of that one, but as my husband fell asleep during the talk, he can’t help me out!
We unwisely went to the Queens lounge for a cup of tea, and of course when the tray of mini sandwiches came round, we were done for. And we only had one little cake each……
After tea I head for the Queens Grill Deck
Tonight is a formal night, so on with the best bib and tucker, question being, will I get into that dress after all the food? Fortunately it does zip up, and the one occasion I felt ready to have my photo taken, there is not a photographer to be seen!
Here are some photos of us, however, the last one taken by Rog and the Photographers seemed to be having a day off!
The waiters are smiling as they welcome us, they k
now the challenge we are facing! First a light starter. Rog goes for the chicken consommé with vermicelli, and I opt for the strawberry and peach chilled soup. However when it arrives, it is a very vivid shade of pink indeed, and thinking of my newly whitened teeth, I look hopefully at Roger’s rather paler consommé, and he agrees to swap. The look of confusion on the waiters face when he arrives to offer more bread is a picture, but he is far too well trained to say anything.
Next the Duck Montmorency arrives. A large, fat, whole roasted duck is presented to us, before it is whisked away to be carved at a nearby table. Fortunately we avoid the Grand Marnier half bottle and resulting conflagration that goes with the Duck a l’Orange, and it is served with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and a spherical potato croquette. I don’t do too badly, but cannot possibly clear the plate.
Now to really test our stomachs, out comes the rhubarb crumble. A six inch size flat dish arrives for each of us, with a very flavoursome pudding in it. Rog manages to finish his, but Gary next door has been eyeing mine. The poor chap cut himself two hours ago, and his upper lip is still bleeding, much to Sarah’s despair. He looks as though he has advance consumption, with the bloodstained hanky constantly at his mouth wiping away the worst of it. So I let him have the other half, forgetting to warn him that it is more than mega hot!
I can’t have coffee, but Rog enjoys his, then off to the show, tonight it is Joe West. He is a talented chap, plays three instruments – clarinet, flute and sax, tap dances and sings. Probably unwise to start with Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger on the Shore’, as he couldn’t manage the Master’s technique, but he did a wide range of songs, with dances woven in, including Annie’s Song on the flute, and Sammy Davis Junior’s ‘Mr Bo Jangles’. Sometime after the show has started, a tall man in tuxedo makes if plain he would like to sit in the seat next to me, so I remove my handbag, he sits down and promptly falls asleep, even with all that noise going on!
When we get back to the cabin, the programme for tomorrow is there, another talk by Robin Oakley, will try and go to that.
Our last full day without having to worry about disembarkation.
I woke up early again, and the sea was showing a worrying lot of white horses, with at least 10’ waves. Officially today it is classed as ‘rough’, but this amazing ship just sails through it. Occasionally you can feel a very slight, very slow tilt from side of side of just a few degrees, but nothing more.
We have finally cracked it, order tea in bed from the overnight breakfast order, then get up and go and have proper breakfast in the Queen’s Grill.
Attila comes up and tells us he has taken the chef to task for burning Rog’s rhubarb crumble yesterday, poor chef!
Today Seby, our waiter from Goa, takes us aside and says ‘don’t go to the Britannia Restaurant Galley tour, we are doing our own tomorrow’. That is a relief, as when we go down to Level 3, the queue stretches all the way from the restaurant to the theatre, half the length of the ship!
Seby also tells us that there is a chocolate display and buffet at 10.30 tonight, he says ‘Go, if only to take photos’. Also that there is fresh lobster on the menu tonight. It is lovely the pride the crew take in their roles and the ship. Seby was also talking about the stabilisers on the ship, apparently they are superb on the QM2, but if we were on the Queen Victoria in these seas, the ship would be wallowing all over the place.
A tour of the local shops doesn’t make us fall to temptation, apart from a red bow tie for Rog for this evening.
Robin Oakley’s talk this time is about the Special Relationship between Britain and the USA, and how it has waxed and waned depending on the personalities involved. He is very entertaining. I think there may be one more talk tomorrow. Clocks went on one hour for the fourth time at midday.
Lunch needed to be small. I had tiny chopped melon starter, but rather spoiled the effect with two bread rolls and mint choc chip ice-cream. Rog had grilled trout with tomato salsa and saute potatoes. His pudding was a modest blackcurrant sorbet. A quick coffee (I can have that now) and off to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s production of Pride and Prejudice
This was a very cleverly done show, all within the hour. This was achieved by the cast reading scraps of paper to each other to bring us up to date with the bits they could not show. There was no wet shirt Colin Firth moment, but Mr Darcy wasn’t bad looking!
A trip to the faster internet area followed for Rog to check his bank account, very necessary with all the temptations on a cruise! Then afternoon tea beckoned, and despite all the resolve just to limit this to liquid refreshment, it was back to the sandwiches and mini cakes when they came round!
Rog then went for a brisk five laps round Deck 7, while I took a book up to the Grill Outside Deck. The sun came out briefly, but when it went in again, it was too cold to stay out.
I was trying to get some washing done, running out of clean things to wear, and tried to find a free washing machine in one of the launderettes. At last I find one and dash back to the cabin to get the bag of washing (yes, I know a sensible person would have taken it with them on the hunt!)
By the time I get back (distance is almost the length of the ship) someone has put in just one pair of swimming trunks into the machine I had had my eye on, on a full length wash. I was almost speechless that someone could be so selfish, given that there is always a queue to use these machines, but not quite speechless enough, and complained to the lady also waiting, she too was up in arms. I had no option but to wait, the lady departed, and another man came up to queue behind me. The machine kept looking as though it was about to stop, and then starting up in the other direction.
Met in Queens Grill lounge for drinks with Michael and Lesley, Gary and Sarah, and the American couple who sit on the other side of Gary and Sarah at dinner for drinks, late to dinner.
Dinner Waldorf salad, lobster, backed Alaska, asparagus and cream cheese terrine, lobster and Alaska for Rog. Have photos taken
Don masks and head to masked ball. Enjoy the big-band sound and watching ‘proper dancers’ strutting their stuff whilst we sip nicely iced soft drinks.’Not a lot going on, so decide to visit the chocolate buffet, just to take pictures Ice sculptures, chocolate ship.
Back to the Queens Grill Lounge for further non-alcoholic drinks before bed, bumping into what has become our ‘usual crowd’, who probably went straight to the bar after dinner. Gary has a trenchant wit, and quickly observes that he’s glad he has the good-looking one sitting next to him, i.e. Roz, whilst Rog sits opposite! At least he volunteers to take a photo whilst we still have our masks on. Lesley and Michael are about to head for the ball. His mark is too small, black and frilly and has flashing coloured lights. At the age of 70, and having had a couple of strokes in the past, he has retained a lot of zest, good humour and youthful enjoyment of life.
Nearly into home waters now, we are woken with our early morning tea knock on the door, the time changes must be catching up with us. The sea has calmed to a ‘moderate’ state, no movement felt at all.
Breakfast over, there is a call to the cabin, I have missed my gel manicure appointment! Apologise and hastily rebook for 2.15 pm.
Then it is down to the Queens Grill Lounge, where the chefs are keen to show us the Grills galley. There are a lot of people on the tour, and we can’t actually hear when the Head Chef introduces them all and what they do, but the kitchen is spotless, and I do pick up that among the specialities, there are a ‘pancake chef’ and an ‘egg chef’. We are also told that they can never say ‘no’ to a special request from a guest, and all about the huge storage and freezing facilities they have. Now I wish I had asked for a gooseberry fool! On the way out we are given canapés and mango and banana smoothies with lychee pearls in them, rather similar to caviar in texture, and a complicated process to produce, I didn’t quite catch all of it, but it involved rapidly dropping small drops into oil to create the round shape, and then washing the oil off.
Next in the programme is the third talk from Robin Oakley, this time a series of anecdotes on spin doctors, and how Alastair Campbell made Tony Blair get up, move down the plane and redo a rather poor answer he had previously given to Robin.
Back to the shops for any last bargains, then in theory time for lunch, but in practice we weren’t hungry, so we did some packing until it was time for my gel manicure. In the spa, I was in the same room where I had my teeth done, but this was far more relaxing, so much so that my head started to nod, and I had to tell myself firmly to stay awake, it must be the spa atmosphere!
Now with respectable nails for once, that should last a bit, I went back to the cabin. The sun had come out, so we made our way to the outside deck. It was too lot for Rog after a while, but I loved the sunshine after the grey days we had been having; in fact so much so, that I decided to find my swimming costume. Back to the cabin, it had been packed of course, and I was flinging things out trying to find it! Success, at the bottom of the case, always the way, and I went back to get into the deck Jacuzzi. This was set up high, so that once in it, it was like being in your own infinity pool, with just the ocean viewable over the top. I was joined by a man who wasn’t looking forward to his return journey to Clitheroe in Lancs, at least we only have to get to Hertfordshire.
We had arranged to meet Gary and Susan, Colin and Mary, Michael and Lesley, and another couple, Dick and Julie, in the Queens Grill Lounge for pre-dinner drinks, causing havoc to the carefully arranged tables for four. Drinks there come with free crisps, nuts and canapés, and as usual we were latish in for dinner. Poor Seby, our waiter, as his whole group arrives at once and he has to rush round with the bread and taking orders.
At the end of the meal, Roger’s birthday cake arrives. Actually it is a superb double layer of a rich chocolate mousse, sandwiched and covered with ganache, and with his name on. Duly sung to, and candle blown out, it is taken away to be cut and shared our amongst the group of us.
This was our Maitre D’ actually doing some cooking on the last night, he fancied having a go at a crepe suzette!
Michael and Lesley arrive, (slumming it?) they are Queens Grill passengers and eat separately, but have promised to show us their cabin, so we troupe up to see what a Queens Grill room looks like.
After admiring the extra space, and the view from their balcony, further drinks are produced. I dread to think how long we would have been there were it not for the fact that we had to have our cases packed and outside our staterooms by midnight. Behaving like bashful Cinderellas at the ball, we all made a dash back so as not to miss the deadline, saying fond farewells, and agreeing to share contact details and keep in touch.
We were woken by the Ship’s hooter, as she sailed majestically into Southampton soon after 5.00 am. Drawing the curtains and peering bleary eyed across our balcony, the dockside approached far too rapidly, and we were hit by a huge pang of regret that our wonderful trip was now over.
Up and dressed, I tried to update the blog and send emails with contact details on, but to no avail, the internet was cut off the moment we docked, despite my having two hours prepaid access left on my tab.
Best to head for breakfast then, and this time I actually had a cooked breakfast, to set me up for the day, much to be surprise of our waiter, who liked to think he knew our wishes by now, bless him, arriving with orange juice and coffee before we had even got the menu.
Gary and Sarah had made it down, so promising to keep in touch, we parted and went to clear out our cabin and leave our beautiful ship.
Daughter and granddaughter were held up by traffic, but arrived soon after 10.00 am, and we were on our way home, car overloaded, and poor Hazel unable to see out of the back window. She had thoughtfully filled up our fridge, and the garden was looking neat and tidy thanks to the gardener. We found a thin and sad Siamese cat cowering in her box, but she soon came out, and it was obvious she was pleased to see us back, though there were a few complaints in her communication too!
The Bible is back in the UK where it started, safely in its box, it will shortly go on its own tour of the family. Now just the horrible unpacking, and the stack of post to open.