March – April 2023
September – November 2019
November – January 2019
January – February 2019
June – July 2019
March – April 2023
September – November 2019
November – January 2019
January – February 2019
June – July 2019
You may be wondering about my choices. You’re not alone.
Now known as “Most Unlikely Cruiser”, I still ask myself every day: is cruising on the QM2 really more sustainable than flying? When I looked up at the Cunard red funnel, I saw smoke. Sometimes it was white-ish (mainly in port) while most of the time (at sea) there was a tinge of brown or orange. The funnel was designed to shoot emissions up and over to one side, avoiding sunbaking walruses on the pool decks. However, that depends on the wind. Sooner or later emissions creep around and smell like big old diesel trucks driving by. A sign on my cabin sliding door requested the door be kept closed to protect the interior atmosphere. Remember, we were in a floating grand hotel. Of course there’s airco. Remember, that’s generated by diesel, or as we call it at sea, heavy oil. All the power on board is generated by fossil fuel. From air, light, water, to exercise bikes and mobile phones.
My previous trips on container ships are not a fair comparison. Obviously, a container ship is going that way anyway and one passenger makes little difference to the trip. If you read those posts, you’ll find that I tend to cast aspersions on waste problems in the cruise industry. Now, I am one of two-and a-half-thousand passengers on a ship built entirely for comfort and entertainment, together with fifteen hundred staff consuming food, opening stuff wrapped in plastic and glass, and using the toilet? How could I justify this?
Haven’t worked it out yet. Can you think of a mathematical formula? Let me know in the comments.
While we contemplate modern travel, check out this link to an interesting country comparison – how are your people doing on climate change?
Day 11 – at sea – woke too early. Tried to sleep more. Not possible. Made bleary way to gym. Ship’s clock said 05:20. Although time had slipped, the gym (strict opening hour 06:30) was already humming. My bike of choice offered not only solitaire, but also backgammon, to while away more time. Shower, brekkie, Italian, tapestry, art class …
Then another embarrassing attempt to find more than salad and baked potato for lunch. The noodles were worth exploring but the veg were stir-fried in the same wok as the meats, placed next to each other and served with the same spoons. The curries, marked ‘V’ for vegetarian, contained ghee.
After some faffing around, Richard, my kind Head Waiter, revealed there would be vegan pizza at dinner. Felt miserable, self-conscious, and low. He told me, again, I should really sign up for The Special Menu list. I’d previously refused because I hate to discuss what to me is normal food. We’re talking vegetables, grains, and seeds. Not ‘special’ weird food – just food!
How can I describe the swirl of humanity that hunts and gathers in the King’s Court luncheon arrangement? A central buffet of ship-baked bread (most are vegan) and biscuits (cow), cheeses (obviously cow), and assorted desserts (including plain fruit salad), is well attended. The smiling chefs wait with their tongs, ready to plonk stuff on your plate as requested. This central display is surrounded by queuing humans holding plates.
On one side of the room you find salads (individual veg/pickles and mixed – latter normally dressed with egg and/or cow), cold cuts, fishy sushi, smoked salmon and on the other side is hot food – you name it – it’s there – from roasts, stews and pies to fish and chips – all the varieties of edible animals in popular recipes, all scooped up by willing chefs and served onto your plate. Yes! Chips!
In the Chef’s Galley – my happy breakfast place – lunch devolved into hamburgers and hotdogs, pasta and pizza. All of which contained cow or pig, and attracted a drooling queue. Let’s say half of 2,500 ‘guests’ onboard might be seated in different restaurants/bars upstairs or down, while the Food Court probably feeds a thousand over the lunch hours.
Vegan update October 2023 – Carnival Cruise Lines introduce plant-based menu in all dining areas!
All types of human-powered and battery-operated conveyances putter through the aisles. Staff flit between tables taking drink orders while others dart around collecting used dishes to stack on their clattering trolleys steering dangerously close to wheelchairs and zimmer frames. Most drivers have partners, who race to ‘book’ by placing bags on a table handy to the aisle and then scarper off to gather the meals. More than once I heard a partner, indicating a handbag, ask a staff member to tell their husband this would be their table. The waiter would smile and nod, having no idea who the husband was.
The service is smooth and seems unending. Staff are supervised, and the superiors don’t wait long before leaping in to find out what is holding a servery up, perhaps chef had to refill the tomatoes, or cook more noodles, and two ‘guests’ might be waiting with their salad plates cooling. Some guests prefer to heap up their plates and take them away to their cabin. There is room service, of course, but limited choice.
After lunch I handed in paperwork for our future arrival into Mauritius. That task complete, I wandered up to the Wellness Centre (Mareel Spa and Salon) on Deck 7 – near the gym at the bow, to see if they could cheer me up. The ladies on the desk were hilarious, personable, and charming. They offered me their best idea, a special seaweed massage treatment for US $225. That did cheer me up immensely and I laughed all the way back to my cabin where I concentrated well on my writing project for the rest of the day!
Popped into the King’s Court for dinner and the promised vegan pizza. Shock reverberated around the staff. You mean, all vegan? Just vegetables? The result took ages and I suspect the dough was made from scratch with an odd assortment of veg (yes, including pineapple) scattered thereon. Yeah. Nah. That was the last time, but I did try it once, Jane! I really wished I could have cooked my own dinner.
DAY 12 – at sea – only 30 more days to go – managed to beat the bike’s backgammon game. Collected a paper cup of filtered water from the gym, water to clean teeth, and cup to dispose of used coffee grounds resulting from my sister’s generous gift of a plunger and decent coffee in my cabin, assuming the grey water system wouldn’t like the hard material.
A word here about the coffee on board. Yeah. Nah. In the course of a month I found two espresso coffee machines on board, one in Sir Samuel’s café (a tea-room environment with cute little cakes – nothing plant-based) and the other in the Carinthia Lounge (a pleasant comfortable bar featuring live music at night – a couple of plant based smoothies).
There may have been other machines out of my orbit. The coffee was okay but, unfortunately for me, the two baristas I encountered were not familiar with plant milk, so in both venues my oat lattes were one-try-only, I’m afraid. Just as well, for, of course, you must pay extra for this service. Back to basic cuppa-joe for my public appearances while my sister solved my private cabin arrangements. Rumour had it there were guests who brought their own espresso machines – remember – there’s no baggage limit on a ship, especially if you’re going back from whence you began. As well as full wardrobes, I know some people bought bikes – both pedal and motor – stored in a cabin.
Today the Captain’s noon address contained a lengthy explanation of the Great Circle Navigation System relating to measuring the distance between two points on a curve (ie the planet Earth). The system came about with steamers, as sailing ships cannot attempt a ‘straight’ line. Steamers needed the fuel conservation the shortest distance offered. Plus, we go back another hour. Good to be en guarde with the ship’s time, especially first thing in the gym.
After dinner I joined some of 680dotcom at the Symphony Show in the Royal Court Theatre, where the (great) band was backed up by a recording of a larger orchestra. There were singers. There are sightline problems with that theatre.
I went along to the Golden Lion Pub for an evening trivia – part of my Try-Everything-on-the-Activity-List-Challenge. One of Maureen and Andrew’s chums wanted me to take my facemask off and I met one of the first female deputy sheriffs ever employed in the USA. It was a pub that smelled of booze. I went back to my comfort zone. I live like a child. Early to bed, early to rise, and alcohol free. What’s wrong with that, then?
DAY 13 – at sea – Captain’s noon broadcast revealed we were now over a thousand miles from the coast of Australia. My routine, smooth and efficient. Won backgammon convincingly but, as I left my weights bench to look for a yoga mat, there was a thump, a bump, and a shout of alarm. I noticed a goodly swarm of interested folk bending over a fallen hero and, as there were many helpers, decided to leave. Not sure why everyone’s decided first thing in the morning is gym time. Sheeple? Like the Deck 7 promenaders who all go anti-clockwise – no matter what I do. I hope the woman who fell off the treadmill is okay. Six doctors are on board. I haven’t heard how many nurses. And a paramedic. She’ll be fine.
DAY 14 – at sea – 11:00 – halfway across the ocean between Oz and Africa. Flat sea and flat mood. Missed my games bike. Felt stymied and off course. Amazing how quickly a habit develops. My writing project took a hit from my mood but realised, a Gala night tomorrow might provide an excellent laundry diversion.
Best show I’ve seen so far, Big Russell Harrison, six foot seven inches tenor from NZ. Nice line of amusing patter and the audience was very ready to be amused.
DAY 15 – at sea – middle of the Indian Ocean. Much debate at 680dotcom about the different colours of the oceans. There’s a lot of vibrant indigo sea out of the window. Weather – especially cloud cover – can cause sea colours to vary, as can depth, mineral salts, algae etc. Another of our party maintains it’s the actual physical water itself in each place. Debate continues.
Rain gathered on the horizon but only a few spots landed on deck.
Tapestry coming along – I only stitch it at sea. I bought the (plant-based) ingredients from a cute craft shop in Totnes, UK in 2019. The design and first stitches on container ship CC Coral, the next took place on the NZ inter-island ferry and then the Ontario II, before QM2. Hopefully I could finish it on water.
Decided it’s better to eat dinner with 680dotcom and make a tiny effort in honour of the Gala. Thank goodness for the delightful swathes and scarf donated to the cause by good friends as leaving presents. I wore them with much gratitude and skipped the ballroom dancing. (I did pop in to watch Elaine at her glamorous best – and was extremely impressed!)
Day 16 – at sea – ocean pulsating, smooth and unctuous, as we sail into the tropics. Almost violet at the horizon and soft lilac grey where the clouds prevent the sun from striking the water. A trace of tiny dancing stars scatter like fairies as the sun sparks each peak.
Good bike day. Anne came to visit my gym domain this morning and discovered her bike could take her on magic video ride on a mountain road. It was her first time in the gym and I think she enjoyed it although later she mentioned her knees were complaining while in art class.
We were able to retrieve our passport before entry into Mauritius. How very odd it feels to think of visiting such a mythical place.
DAY 16 – only used the bike this morning – too many people in the gym. Long chat with man standing at the bow about his dog park in Perth where everyone walked anti-clockwise. I tried to remember walking with our little dog Tracey around our park in Yarraville, Melbourne. It was easier to let her decide what she wanted to do. I don’t think she had a preference. Really mixed it up today. Not. Gym, yoga, shower, brekkie, Italian, tapestry, art – crowded so did a bit before Zumba – which I really enjoyed. Body memories kicked in – blood circulated. Too many peeps for me to get on the actual dance floor. Tried it once!
Thought I’d try to join the sunbakers – tough-skinned crocodiles in the main. My end of row cabin meant I could pop into swimming costume (cozzie, swimmers, togs), flip flops (thongs, jandals, slops, plakkies), keycard in lanyard, to arrive at Deck 6 pool unnoticed. Flung open cabin door and, instead of empty hall and easy dash to door, found half a dozen serious, formal-white-dress-uniform waiters wrestling with extra-large tables for some smart event (weddings/parties can be arranged while at sea). I froze, half in and out of my room door, dripping wet from my pre-swimming rinse in my bathroom, as the waiters gradually realised I was there. They looked me up and down, taking in my fetching speedos and dripping hair, and let me go through, which I did super quick like an eel. Drama on Deck 6. Is that as terrible as it gets?
Anne told me, after the gym where she cycled along scenic roads for precisely ten minutes, she got into the lift and pressed 7 and nothing happened. She pressed 7 again and waited. Lifts on board ships are notoriously difficult as they are effectively tubes in a moving machine. Things can go wrong and very often an engineer can be seen with a big tool kit hovering nearby. However, it took Anne three goes to realise she was already on level 7. We’ve all done it. Both Anne and I normally walked the steps – her knees must have been bothering her after the biking.
I had no idea what my ‘Shore Experience’ tomorrow would be. Something about an island? I should have done some research. Not sure what happened to the informative talks – I must have gone to art class instead. According to the United Nations there are fifty-four countries in Africa – one of them is Mauritius. In contrast, there may have been four hundred different countries in Australia before white invasion.
Security lights snapped on around 03:00 for pilot. Listened to talking book until 05:00 when tugs lined up and yellow security tape barely visible on the dock.
I always remember my father telling me to watch the work involved in docking a ship. It’s a magic process as we leave sea and, with human help, become part of land. In Fremantle the ship’s crew dropped the heavy ropes into a little open boat and a wharfie drove them over to the three workers on the shore. Here in Port Louis, they threw the handline over to one guy with big biceps and he hauled up good amounts of bulky, wet rope by himself before tying it on to a shiny new ute. The driver drove the rope backwards along the dock, parked, and shouted at the security officers to move the yellow tape fences. Woefully misjudged, the length of the secure area was roughly a quarter of the length of the ship (345 meters). More shouting. Finally, the ship inched backwards, pulled by internal winches and masterful engineering and everyone was happy.
Not a newbie anymore, I always took a book to excursion meeting points and queues to sign out – robotic voice telling us ‘Good bye’, while the security staff tried to stay awake and smiling – to the gangplank walk. On the bus, Helen was our guide and Rajeesh our driver. I drew the curtains against the sun. It was only expected to be 29 degrees but at 08:00 it already felt hot. Still no idea what this excursion entailed (purchased the shore experience months ago) I had emergency food from the ship, bagel plus apple, kindly prepared by obliging chef in Galley, AND I had a few rupees at ready for postcards.
Very excited to be in Mauritius – only for a day trip but still – imagine! Epitome of man’s relationship to nature – land of the dodo – see it, pat it, kill it, and watch your pets destroy nests and the habitat. Dodo didn’t even taste nice. They were a type of pigeon. Took eighty years from sailors first discovery to extinction.
We drove to the other side of the island to a LAGOON, at Mahebourg Bay. Bleary eyed passengers clambered down the steps of the bus in wonder, looking about them, amazed at the environment – just stunning in gorgeous sunny weather.
A resort to our left overlooked a magnificent view to edge of reef and frilly surf while the small island ahead of us promised cool greenery. It was unthinkable that such a beautiful place had suffered a terrible oil spill in 2020 from a Japanese tanker. The environment was still under observation to make sure it would thrive after dramatic clean-up operations.
Our destination was the Isle de Aigrettes – Island of the egrets – a coral island populated by ten biologists, some labourers and visited by enthusiastic tour guides. Their work, to protect living species – forget the dodo and the egrets – move on, rewild, and create habitat for the non-indigenous but useful Giant Tortoise, as well as birds: a species of kestrel and the pink pigeon. There are only nine endemic bird species left in Mauritius, found only on the small islands around the edges of the island. This little coralline limestone island was vulnerable in many ways – notably feral monkeys and rats swimming over to raid new eggs. We were loaded into a little boat and puttered off in a very relaxed manner to meander around the native plants and tour around their work.
We didn’t meet a biologist but the guide was informative and passionate. She demonstrated the effects of a gentle back massage on a Giant Tortoise. I had no idea the shell was so thin, attached directly to the spine, and therefore, the entire nervous system. We’ve all seen pictures of humans sitting on the backs of these extraordinary creatures. Please avoid doing so in the future.
I think our whole bus would have been happy to hang out in this idyllic lagoon all day. All the water sports were in evidence in these turquoise dream waters, but this tour was not just a scenic visit. Oh no, and soon we were back on the bus to learn more about Mauritius. We were taken to a beautiful church full of angels hanging out over us.
Back on the bus, Helen spouted facts, historical and statistical. The first discoveries were by the Moors in the sixteenth century. The Mascarene islands (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues) were apparently uninhabited, and colonised in turn by Dutch, French and English. Mauritius became independent in 1968. A fountain of facts sprayed forth, taking us on from the Isle to the Lavior – a giant, organised, open-air washing facility where women struggled to get French soldiers’ uniforms washed, neat and pressed in the 19th century. How wonderful to see women’s work upheld as something to be admired and considered in history. The ground spring water, although close to a river, has now dried.
But this tour was not over yet, oh no, no, no, not by a long shot. Helen tipped us out at a museum, an elegant old building already full of tourists. We must wander in the garden and admire birds, bats, and jungle plants. Loved the strangler vines climbing up trees.
A strange collection of prints, maps and furniture was brought into focus by a miniature Mauritian flag that was delivered back to the people by Nixon after it had been taken to the moon.
We were also treated to an exhibition of up and coming young artists.
And still there was more to see. Another stop, more ruins and another small explanatory museum. This time we listened to an enthusiastic archaeologist who hadn’t been informed that Helen had already stuffed us full of Mauritian history, so the unsuspecting expert began to feed us details from way back in time to give us the full story. Our group was SO over it and her audience began to drift away, in twos and threes and tens … Everyone was so weary and hungry they could barely speak. Cruise people must eat every two hours, or they go into a torpor and fall over.
Before defib was required we were taken to a gorgeous restaurant overlooking water and hills, and they knew there was a vegan coming and I was fed food! My fellow diner said, there’s something crunchy in it, what is it? I kept telling her it was the passionfruit. It’s very nice, but it’s crunchy. What could that be? It’s the passionfruit. I don’t know what makes it crunchy. It’s the passionfruit. The seeds, you know, passionfruit? She just shook her head, mystified. Maybe American passionfruit don’t have seeds?
I thought I’d ‘done’ Mauritius but, on returning to 680dotcom, we discovered that our team had enjoyed completely different experiences. Elaine and David had had their feet nibbled by podiatry piscis and seen many Gods at a sea-side temple. Anne and Ray had done another tour, on separate buses, seeing mountains and a botanical garden, but in opposite directions. Wandering free, Andrew bought postcards.
In the Royal Court Theatre we watched clarinet player Kenny Martyn fire up the resident band. He looked like Dudley Moore, with a show-biz jacket a couple of sizes too big. He recently got the rights to the Benny Goodman original charts. He told us about the thrill of unpacking them to find not ‘Trumpet One’ or ‘Guitar’ written at the top, but the original players’ names, Count Basie, Lester Young … His little history lesson found some real afficionados in the audience. When he drifted into Acker Bilk’s classic, I remembered seeing Mr Bilk in the Regent, Dunedin, NZ. My chum Michael wandered down the aisle to sit on the floor right in front of the stage and, looking down at him, an amused Bilk introduced his big hit as, ‘Stranger on the Floor’.
Overnight distance from Port Louis to Le Port, near Saint-Denis, 228 km. Apart from the hovering tugs there appeared to be a port supervisor guarding the proceedings from a sharp blue and white boat as the huge ship manoeuvred back and forward and positioned without external assistance.
Our parking spot really didn’t look possible but the pilot, the captain, and the four engines under the ship, together with two thrusters managed perfectly.
I noticed smoke pouring out of one of the smaller chimneys where I’d not seen any emissions before. I was beginning to feel a sense of urgency around my need to chat to an engineer. I’d thought I’d accidentally bump into one – after my time on the container ships where I was free to ask any old question whenever – the separation between officer and ‘guest’ was clear. I asked at the purser’s desk, and they told me my best chance would be at a cocktail party. Groan. All I had to do was wait for my invitation. But I don’t like cocktails.
Today’s Reunion bus guide was Matteu, trainee guide Pauline, driver Christian and we had a ship’s representative, Monica. Mercifully our bus ride (fact fountain) was only half an hour to St Leu. This island was uninhabited when it was taken by the French and is still under French control. Euros here. St Leu was a quaint coastal town (I suppose anywhere is coastal!) The town hall and exhibition building were directly from French Town style. A statue reminded of a famous and tragic slave revolt.
We were shown a church where an enthusiastic local woman shouted surprising comments at us in French. Pauline took her aside to engage her in soothing conversation so that Matteu could fulfil his obligations in facts, stories and entertainment. In this very church the priest, from France, saved his congregation from a cholera pandemic by building a small chapel further up the hill. With a great sense of drama, Matteu listed several miracles which recently led a family to pay for a fenced pathway to the chapel.
We were taken to a craft market where I bought some pretty postcards and found a healthy salad bar where I bought some ‘detox’ water with fresh ginger, mint and lemon in it. The staff were able to chat in English and were fascinated by the cruise ship. Yes, she was big. Other ‘guests’ found baguettes, macaroons and French chocolates. Ooooh la la!
Finally earlier tourists left our main event, and it was our turn to troop into Kelonia, the Turtle Sanctuary. Originally a farm, as it’s now illegal to sell turtle meat, like Madonna, Kelonia reinvented itself.
Now, the turtles swimming in the big tanks are rescues that could not survive in the wild, and the smaller tanks hold convalescent injured under repair with a view to release. There is also a system of egg collection that allows biologists to monitor endangered hatchlings back into the ocean with minimal disruption and maximum survival. Much of the displays are about the hazard of plastics in the ocean. Many of the dead turtles autopsied have stomachs full of plastic pieces. Heed the call to avoid plastic! Make the change today!
DAY 19 – back at sea – you know the routine by now.
More food commentary. Last night I enjoyed an excellent coconut panacotta with baby lychees. These little sweet bubbles pop in the mouth like miniature water balloons. I’ve never seen anything like them – like teeny tiny grapes but much nicer. They’re not miniature grapes – they came later.
Since Carol left us in Fremantle we’re down one in 680dotcom and Maureen leads a social lifestyle and her presence is irregular. It’s much easier for me to eat at the high table because I no longer explain to Chester and Arnold my food foibles. These two excellent professionals are solicitous to a fault. They have escalators hidden behind the stainless steel revolving doors and they have to march the meals up from the depths of the kitchen to our mezzanine floor. The plates are covered with plastic belljars, stacked one on top of the other like a juggling act.
Generally, the vegan menu items are decorative and slight. An entree/appetiser might be a watermelon salad (perhaps with feta removed), a slim rectangle of watermelon decorated with two chopped cherry tomatoes and a light vinegrette. Or there might be cubes of melon with some attractive cucumber chunks. For main I might get some pieces of roast capsicum on a bed of wild rice and a dab of coloured sauce – was it pumpkin? If the dish is hot, it arrives on a hot plate, and any salad weeps its life away stuck to china.
My alternative is Kings Court (unless I want to pay more money and explain to a new set of staff) where I repeat lunch with salad and bread/rice/spud. I do have survival snacks in my cabin – rice cakes, dried fruit and nuts, and biscuits – and the waiters have found a chef who creates vegan chocolate blobs for me. I’ve got a store of those because Arnold makes me take extra!
Tonight the menu had no vegan main option so Chester improvised with steamed veg and soup. Try to understand what head waiter Richard has been trying to sell me for weeks. Surely life on a luxury liner must be better than this. Tick the list of ‘Special Vegan’ offerings – my homework – properly designed nutrious meals. I will be able to get a curry with pappadums the next day. 16 day repeat menu.
More discussion about gratuities – wanted to ask the staff but felt that would put them in a difficult situation. One of our number pays his steward Aus $20 a fortnight. That’s only $60 in total and a fraction of the automatic deduction from our credit card. Hmmm.
Watched a strange arty film, The Burnt Orange Heresy on the telly in my cabin with Jagger playing a right greedy bastard art dealer getting an old artist to spit out one last painting for the fortune. Donald Sutherland spooky as normal. Jagger’s last line is worth the whole film.
Making plans for Cape Town. Post office?
DAY 20 – busy at sea between Madagascar and South Africa – HALFWAY POINT of cruise.
Woke too early and read Donna Leon detective novel (Italian research) before gym and routine took over. Have slippy towel to do morning yoga in private. Wrote postcards with aim of posting in Capetown.
Have found no other climate activists on board.
It will be Easter. All the post offices will be shut.
I can’t party
We’re not in Melbourne anymore
DAY 4 – at sea – 3m swell in languid sea – cool
First challenge of day – laundromat. I hastened a few doors down the corridor from me, after the gym, to beat the early worms. Strangely, although the sign says open at 07:30, I found some washing already in progress. It is possible it had been left at lock-up at 21:30 and it’s equally possible I hadn’t checked the ship’s time. (We regularly lost hours as we travelled back through the latitudes.)
There’s nothing wrong with the laundromats per se. On deck 8, there were two machines, two dryers and one ironing board. On my deck 6, a small thin area held four washers and four driers against one wall and, here’s where it gets interesting, usually about three humans squashed in beside two ironing boards. Waiting. Watching. Arms folded across chests. Guarding. Judging.
There was palpable tension one day I visited when a young woman had been found guilty of emptying a finished machine into ‘dirty’, ‘greasy’ (not as far as I could tell) baskets. Bright and breezy, I liked to enter, check times on the machines, and engage the watchers with cheery chat, effectively clearing out ‘guests’ with my gusto, and then to engage remaining fellow ‘guests’ in fantasies about what we would like to see in improved laundrettes. Space, obviously. One passenger hoped for a kitchen table, where people could sit in comfort. There was a magazine rack in the gym – could that be replicated? Surely tea and coffee making facilities were possible? Why not take out a neighbouring cabin (oh, really, take out more potential income? What about one used as a wardrobe?)
One passenger surmised Cunard hoped folk would purchase the laundry service on offer from the staff (for extra money). I don’t want to repeat other rumours – other than to say it’s possible fellow ‘guests’ may not behave in a ‘guestly’ manner when their undies are threatened! Perhaps you might like to spill the tea in the comments? However, let us not dwell on dirty washing. Let’s go out on deck, breath in sea air, raise our eyes towards the horizon and think of the future. Where are we bound?
Every day the Captain gave us navigational updates in his noon broadcast. You could opt in if you were in your cabin, by tuning in to the correct tv channel, otherwise you could pop out on deck or into one of the public bars or spaces to listen to his dulcet English tones. He told us where we were, where we were heading, and the weather. He would add an intriguing piece of seafaring information, such as the origins of port and starboard, or the reasons a ship’s speed is measured in knots.
There were regular presentations in the Illuminations Cinema/Planetarium/Lecture Hall about upcoming destinations. After Melbourne, our next port of call was Kangaroo Island in South Australia. We were lucky to have a talk from Professor Dennis Foley (who did not look much like Professor Gary but maybe … ) He sped through a series of intriguing stories that only left me wanting more. Luckily each talk is replayed on the internal tv system so you can catch repeats at your leisure.
He told us the Aboriginal history of the island is unclear. The First Nation name is Karta Pintingga, ‘Island of the dead’. When white settlers, sealers and whalers, arrived two hundred plus years ago, they reported they never saw people there. Well, they would, wouldn’t they. But middens suggest there were people living on Karta Pintingga 16,000 years ago and later evidence suggests there might have been people there 2,000 years ago but no one knows why they left. There’s a dreaming story of a powerful man who mistreated his wives so badly they ran away. He was so powerful he was able to cause the waters to rise enough to split the island away from the mainland and turn the poor fleeing women to stone. You can still see them as islands named, ‘The Pages’, in 1802 by explorer Matthew Flinders.
Unfortunately, American and European sealers and whalers kidnapped indigenous women from the mainland. Apparently, many of the Kangaroo Island landmarks are named after those first women. Not Nobby’s Head, I’m guessing.
DAY 5 – sunny and gusty – we anchored off the island (KI) early
On ‘Shore Days’ the Kings Buffet opened early for toast and coffee type breakfasts. I was due to report for my Group 4 tour at 07:15. I ate as much as I could because Australia has strict Border Controls – especially regarding fruit flies – and I couldn’t take food off the ship.
I hurried up to wait in a Cruise Queue for the tender to the beach. The island itself looked green and flat and far away. The sea looked sparkly and big. When you see a picture of Queen Mary 2, the small orange ships tied up neatly between Deck 7 and Deck 8 are the tenders. Apparently they can hold over a hundred people each. Gulp. (NB they are not the lifeboats.) There is a 1.5m mark on the floor as the passengers approach the portal to the tender. Staff are assigned to make sure each ‘guest’ can easily step over this space as the gap between wharf and tender can be problematic for those with mobility issues. Safety is a serious business for ‘guests’ and staff. Bonus, if you can’t get to shore, great time to get your washing done.
There was a technical hitch even at that early stage but finally we were loaded onto the boats and began to putter away from our Mother ship, The Queen. Straightaway, we sideswiped the landing deck, and no one was laughing, especially not the crew or the observing officers. But we got under way, and I was up on the roof, hanging onto a guard rail and enjoying myself immensely in the rolling waters. The young skipper had to make a large circle around the beach to avoid the swells.
We eventually landed at the wharf, piled onto our jolly tour bus, and headed off for a very long drive to see The Remarkable Rocks. The driver pointed to his two reserved front seats and asked if anyone wanted to move forward? Of course, I wanted to sit in the front.
As did, let’s call her Callie from California, a woman who warned, when she came to sit beside me, she had a chronic cough, and she did. She assured me she did not have Covid. She’d had this cough for years and she’d seen hundreds of doctors. Over time she’d discovered drinking carbonated drinks helped. The poor woman spent the entire trip drinking litres of the stuff. If she wasn’t coughing her lungs out, wracking her body into exhaustion, she was drinking, or eating chips, ice-cream, chewing gum … She was reasonably thin for the amount of cola and ginger beer she put away – an indication of the energy taken by her coughing. It wasn’t restful for either of us.
After a long and winding road, we saw them. Beautiful, twisted rocks carved out over thousands of years stood at the edge of the island. Remarkable. I wonder if Dame Barbara Hepworth ever visited? She probably would have gone even bigger if she had! Paying attention to Gary’s severe safety warnings, Group 4 wandered through these elemental sculptures and the air became redolent with some sweet succulent from this coastal world.
We were then driven by jolly Gary ‘boom-boom’ to Admiral Arch, another natural wonder, a gateway for seals to enjoy a series of flat bathing rocks. The sun glinted from sea and seal alike. The smooth beasts relaxed and flapped and splashed in ideal landscapes. One large fellow flung his head back as he lounged on an outcrop in the middle of one of these pools, looking as carved and solid as a feature fountain.
As we made our way to the camping ground for our lunch stop, Gary, in more serious mode, related some of the awful fire tales of 2020, with extreme wild-life disappearances and injuries, and extensive bush damage. Over half the island burned. Most of the Flinders Chase National Park, 96%, was affected. The fire burned for weeks. The evidence grim, obvious all around us, the abundant new growth in stark contrast to the ghostly remaining stick gums.
I wandered into the camping shop for a decent coffee as Gary handed out the lunch packs, for I suspected there would be nothing there for me. When he too came in for a cappuccino, I plucked up the courage to remind him how, at the start of our trip, he’d interrogated the bus about the gluten free ‘guest’ – acknowledged with a squeaky yes – and he’d nodded, said, ‘That’s all I need to know’ – and ducked off before there was any mention of the only vegan in the village? Yes, he remembered and once more I experienced that sinking feeling as I realised that telling the booking office when I initially bought my fare, the Maitre d’, Richard, my Head Waiter, Arnold and Chester, the excellent waiters at my table, and assorted chefs in the King’s Court was not enough. (There’s 157 chefs on board as well as all the other kitchen staff). I’d assumed that there’d be a ‘V’ on my name come up on a screen where-ever I was, especially when Cunard say all dietary requirements would be catered for. BUT. You just have to keep telling people. NB: Once I got back on board, I was able to visit the ‘Shore Experience’ Tour Office to put suitable notes on my future bookings. However, here and now at the Kangaroo Island Camping Shop, we were faced with an embarrassing situation.
Gary left me in the capable hands of the couple who ran the place – they’d charge any food to the ship. I tried to avoid being a burden, shrinking behind the shelves as the lovely woman marched around, reading labels – so sorry, deliveries would be coming tomorrow – while in self-conscious panic I grabbed a packet of seaweed flavoured rice-cakes, a tomato, and an avocado – easy once the food discussions stopped.
Gary did not have a trusty assistant to help him look after the needs of forty-four ‘guests’. He was driver and tour guide, first aider, comedian, and he had to do all the dishes. I’m not sure why Cunard can’t supply electronic ‘guest’ lists including any special notes for each bus but that would make it too easy, I suppose.
For the Americans (Yanks or Septic Tanks to us Aussies) and the British (Brits or Poms), there was a lone koala up a slender gum tree in the middle of the caravan park common area. Soft, fluffy, and backlit, it looked very pretty against the bright new growth of the tree. Koalas are contentious on Kangaroo Island, regarded as introduced pests before the disaster, the locals feel their greatly reduced numbers after the fires are now sustainable. The camping ground facilities had been totally rebuilt with insurance money resulting from the fires. Gary pointed out dark patches on the road where the fire had been hot enough to melt the metal. He also pointed out ample roadkill. Could they invest in some wildlife bridges or tunnels, especially as they’re currently digging up the place for piping from the new desalination plant?
After lunch we visited dreamy Vivonne Bay, a lagoon with gorgeous turquoise water softly lapping white sands, right next to the surf beach and, over in the distance, Nobby’s Head where we were headed next. Honestly, Nobby’s?
The logistics around forty-four tourists visiting Seal Bay Conservation Park were intense. The humans needed to stay obediently clustered together ten metres away from the animals. The sea lions were ivory white, hairy, stretched out equidistantly along the perfect soft sand beach, completely ignoring the snapping cameras. The humanity stood in full sun and watched a sea lion bodysurf to shore, slide out of the water, and then galumph up the beach. Some did that yoga head-flung-back digestion pose when they arrived, while another, smaller, plopped on top of a parent.
As the guide spoke to one half of the group, and Gary, driver/guide/biologist, to the other half, a woman reached out and tapped her (presumably) partner on the arm and said, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again.’ And instead of just saying, ‘Sorry, dear, of course not, what was I thinking,’ he came back at her in a belligerent tone. I backed away, thinking further than ten metres away from any animal is a fine idea. And, because I’d distanced myself from the scene, I can’t be sure if it was the same woman who then sank to the sand, gripping a man firmly enough to pull him off balance. I would make a poor witness. The lady stayed on the ground even as two men heaved on her arms to get her to stand. It became clear she was down and not because she’d fallen or twisted her ankle but for some more serious reason. Her head was visible through her hair parting and appeared red. Many of our Group 4 ‘guests’ had eschewed hats. Gary snapped into first aider mode and assistants were radio/walkie-talkied to help her up the boardwalk stairs to the shade of the information centre. I noticed the Defibrillator on the way back. With tours like ours, I bet it gets regular use. I don’t know how she was delivered back to the Mother ship, but I hope she recovered quickly.
Next stop was the Eucalyptus Distillery where we could watch an informative video about a plucky Australian family who pulled themselves up by the gum leaves and Gary could get another cappuccino while the ‘guests’ bought soap, oil, and other eucalyptus trinkets on sale.
By the time we’d seen our last surf beach, and arrived back at the wharf, the sea was undoubtedly rough. I waited back and watched two weighed-down tenders, one with eighty-four and the next with eighty-six, go up and down. And then there was us. I noticed the empty tenders rocked and rolled on the top of the choppy swell, any which way they were thrown, and yet the sea stayed blue and sparkly and cheerful, that deceptive sea. No-one was riding on the roof.
I came in with security staff and crew. Sitting up the front, with presumably more elbow room than the previous ‘guests’, managed to chat with one of the deck crew. He told me they eat well, he liked the fried chicken best, and the salary was good. His English was impeccable. He told me there’s a good industry program in the Philipines. I hope he gets to train as an officer.
Made it in time for dinner to hear some of our passengers had not made it to shore at all, the tenders having ceased running by mid-day because of rough conditions. The crew wisely saved their strength to bring home all the ‘guests’ out on tours.
DAY SIX – Adelaide. Sister! Family! Civilisation! Proper coffee!
I woke early and, after visiting the gym, messaged my sister hows, wheres and whyfores of our family day. I had plenty of time to breakfast and get ready.
Caught the Cunard-supplied shuttle bus into town, met my sister and went about seeing relatives and catching up with more last-minute Things to Do. It was lovely and relaxing with minimal tourism.
Jane supplied me with a coffee plunger and decent coffee and looked at the QM2 daily bulletin I’d brought to show her. She challenged me to try to do all the activities on offer in one day. My eyes ran down the formidable list with a sinking feeling. From Zumba to choir, to learning bridge, cha cha and French conversation, water colours and informative talks – that’s just the morning – I blinked hard. It was impossible. But I did report the challenge to my table-mates and they LOVED it! Accepted! Much debate ensued. One person could not do everything. But could we each take on a task and share the challenge? Or could we try each thing across our weeks at sea?
It is lovely to have conversation slide easily around the big round table. No-one keen to impress or show off and there’s a nice line in teasing banter developing. We agreed we could continue this activity challenge debate at Afternoon Tea the next day.
DAY 7 – at sea – blustery conditions
I clung to Deck 7 handrails to get to the gym entrance at the bow. The wind caused many of the main doors to be closed and I had to duck under a warning barrier belt to get inside. Normally quiet first thing, the gym is quite a pleasant place to be unless everyone else wants to be there.
Today I sat outside the laundrette waiting for it to be unlocked. I managed to start a load before heading off to the Britannia for a bowl of porridge. When I returned, Callie from California had moved my stuff to a ‘greasy’ basket! Then a helpful mansplainer came to tell me how to use the drier. I took advice from a steward who told me shore days were best to use the laundrettes, and failing that, afternoons – now you know.
My activity level needed lifting, so I attended the informative talk by Professor Dennis Foley about Busselton, another tender port, but apparently more sheltered waters. The Aboriginal name for Busselton is Undalup, after the warrior and leader, Undal. It is in Wadandi Boodja, the country of the Wadandi, saltwater people, who have been there for at least 40,000 years. The suffix, ‘– up’, means place: place of Undal-up, Yallingup, where we’d be visiting a cave, is place of holes, Meelup is place of eyes.
Later in the day, I met my tablemates for the important Queen Mary 2 afternoon tea. Together with the Gala Nights, this ceremony rates highly on the reasons passengers book time and time again to cruise with Cunard. We sat up nicely in the ballroom, with a skilled pianist colouring the atmosphere, and suddenly there was a burst of applause. Tradition demands the waiters are greeted with thunderous clapping as they process into the room with the hot teapots. It happens every sea day. I didn’t ask if the sandwiches and cakes had any vegan options. Nice cuppa, though.
During this social event, our table formed a Committee. We nicknamed ourselves 680dotcom (because our table number was 680 if you must know) and I was named head of HR. We enjoyed a long debate about the additional fees for gratuities which are added to our bill. In Australian money it’s about $11 a day and adds up quickly. One of our 680dotcom thought the money was a ruse and went straight to the corporation (Carnival). Later I asked one of the pursers who told me the total is shared out equally with the crew and staff at the end of the cruise section. Another reason I wouldn’t get much change out of my total of Aust $20,000. Some people request the fee be removed, preferring to give their stewards and waiters tips personally. At the end of my six weeks, I did provide my favourites a small sum inside a priceless hand-painted card (made in art class!) but I kept paying the fee. What would you do?
DAY 8 – at sea – tried to set my routine
Gym, shower, breakfast, Italian practice, tapestry, lunch, reading, typing, dinner …
Began to notice … not much wildlife. Lots of sky. Lots of sea. No birds. Although, one of my table-mates reported seeing a distant whale and another had seen a gang of dolphins and two flying fish.
DAY 9 – Busselton – anchored very far away
The Captain announced the winds would rise after 15:00, in fact, I told my neighbour to remember that as we bounced on our way to the long Busselton Jetty. It was once the longest jetty in the world. We didn’t hang around there but piled into tour buses.
We drove to Cape Naturaliste, the point where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian with a swirl of currents and shipwrecks. There was not one wreck after they built the lighthouse. We then proceeded to Ngilgi Cave: still, twisty and curvy. Lit with natural colours, thankfully. Don’t you hate caves lit with lime green and pink spots? This isn’t one of those. Enjoyable apart from the other people. I’ve got enough inanity of my own running through my head without having to listen to more!
On our own Free Time, back in town, made my way to seek food. Not one mention on Happy Cow but found a café with salad and chips. The waiter told me to go and sit near the couch. Just as I arrived to the chair next to the couch, a man put his paper and keys on the table. I asked if I could share the table? I thought there was plenty of room and he muttered something so I sat down and began to get comfy. Wrong. He gave me a serve. Swearing unhappy. Wouldn’t listen to me at all. I’m apologising, getting up, backing away, but no, he leaves the café entirely. So I look around and think, okay, he’s gone, coast’s clear, that’s where the waiter told me to be … so I sit down. And he’s back, barking at me like a wounded terrier! I’m the reason everything is gone to shit in this country, it’s people like me who ruin it for everyone else. I can only stare at him, my fork halfway to my open mouth. Lots of troubles in his house. Ate all the salad and chips.
Back to long jetty. I looked at the enormous line of people baking in the full sun along the long jetty at 15:00, wandered away for a cold ginger ale in a pub – forgot the Captain’s warning – and the wind rose. Got back at 17:00 and we all got a splashed in the half an hour ride back to the Mother ship. Lucky it was a warm day.
One of 680dotcom had been on the Back of House tour (US$120 – limited numbers) and, over dinner, he gave us a detailed report, speaking clearly from excellent notes. Apart from a tour of the kitchens (which would happen again – see upcoming installment) he also visited the medical centre, and the waste department where recycling is separated and crushed (more soon), the staff quarters and the actual bridge plus a photo op and champagne. Another of our party was about to leave us in Perth the next day so we had speeches and I’d made a card in art class! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and went off to see the show. It was split between the Royal Court Ensemble – sort of energetic Kenny Everett dancers and some enthusiastic young singers – plus cheerful headliner, Belinda Adams – fun in a frock – with some old time crowd-pleasing melodies. Best show I’d seen so far.
DAY 10 – Actual docking alongside Fremantle (Freo to the locals)
Instead of sightseeing, it was a personal, magic day of three meetings, one after the other, in three different locations from Freo to Perth and back again, catching up with three inspirational women, each with very different lives. Thank you for a brilliant send off!
One of our 680dotcom, Andrew, reminded me that the Captain interrupted our dinner to make a little speech. He referred to to the significance of leaving that port almost exactly three years to the day after the abrupt cancellation of the QM2’s 2020 cruise due to Covid. Andrew and his wife were among the passengers turned away. This the first time the QM2 had retraced the intended 2020 route. For reasons Andrew couldn’t really understand, he felt a curious compulsion to complete it. Unfinished business. So, for Andrew, the departure that night was very moving – and made more so by all the people along the shoreline waving their mobile phone lights in the growing dark. Andrew was surprised to encounter many other passengers who were in the same situation and felt the same way.
And later, we watched the coast of Australia disappear. Cheerio, Oz.
There was a full moon on Wednesday 8th of March when I moved into the Alto-Eco Hotel on Bourke Street, across from Spenser Street Station, sorry, Southern Cross Station, in Melbourne, Australia. The Southern Cross, a pattern of stars, is not a sight often seen when living in the city. The street lights, the haze of traffic and being in the great indoors prevent seeing even the brightest stars, and very often, even the light of the silvery moon. And of course, that Southern constellation would not be possible to see in the Northern Hemisphere at all. But you can see the train station any time you like, if you’re in Melbourne. Which I was. And I had to get to Sydney to board my ship.
The next day, Thursday 9th March, was my first official day of travel. As usual, two questions, ‘Why do I have so much luggage?’ And, ‘Why is the train so full?’ Two big blokes, packs, bags, and me, all squished into our Daysitter cabin.
Survived, and arrived for a few days to visit wonderful friends and think another common question, ‘How can Sydney be so beautiful?
As I made my way by train across Sydney Harbour Bridge, I caught a glimpse of the Queen Mary 2 floating in the middle of bright blue waters. Immediately recognisable, a pyramid cake topped with the Cunard red funnel, her white stack of decks curved up elegantly, and the dark navy keel smoothly concave down to the red plimsoll line. She was waiting to dock at the Ocean terminal, proudly showing off to Sydney’s ocean-loving populace, half-way through the Centenary World Cruise 2023.
On 12th March, I would be joining her company of nearly two and a half thousand ‘guests’ on a Centennial World Voyage. When I arrived at the wharf, weighed down with two packs and a rolling suitcase, I was transfixed by the great height of the ship. It’s not possible to see the beginning and end of her length while standing, human-size, at dock height. She was daunting. Scary. Beautiful. What the heck was I doing? Commuting to the UK, of course.
Turned out I was one of the later arrivals and marched through what could have been queues, but knowing no different, and having no staff left to welcome me, I remained ignorant. I handed over the suitcase to underlings and climbed the escalator. We’d been sternly informed we must present a photo of a negative RAT taken within 24 hours, showing the time and date.
This duly accomplished, the security staff informed me they’d had to institute this system due to some folk bringing their actual test, naked and unbound, spittle there for all to see and breathe. Poor security staff. After passport control, (yes, leaving on the NZ, traveling on the UK), more staff waved me onboard the second Queen Mary. I had no idea where I was.
My first impression of the Grand Lobby was that it was just like an Australian RSL (Returned and Services Leagues Club). Big, glitzy, curving staircase, showy floral edifice lit by cheesy pink and lime green spots. I had a cabin number, two backpacks and I asked the wrong staff member where to find my room. He must have been new himself, for he shrugged and directed me to the purser’s office. Like hotel reception, here was my first taste of cruise queues, and I listened to the pokies and the self-playing piano in the centre of the glittering cavern while I stood patiently. It wasn’t long before I became dispirited and turned to chat to my companions. The lady I spoke to swayed a little as she told me she couldn’t remember where her last stop was. She knew she’d started in Southampton but she couldn’t remember where she’d gone after that. She would have got out if she could have but she hated flying so much she just couldn’t. She thought she could but she couldn’t, so she had to stay on for another six weeks. She hated it. I found out she was one of over a thousand people already at home in the floating hotel, some having started in New York, some in Southampton. Other folk in the line could remember they’d been in Brisbane before Sydney, and Darwin before that, and they asked if I was newly arrived. As I had my luggage with me, I assumed they were fairly alert, and asked if they could tell me how to find my room.
Well, they said, you should have asked sooner if that’s all you want! You’re on level two now, the lifts are over there, and just go up to Deck 6 and follow the signs on the walls. Just like a hotel. Easily done.
My cabin was at the end of the corridor, with a sheltered balcony. That means if you sit down you can’t see over the railing but if there’s a wind blasting you can get a breath of fresh air. The room had everything I needed: bathroom, bed, desk, tea and coffee making facilities. Right now, harbour views, close to the Bridge, and I was near a swimming pool!
A card on the bed requested my presence at the Britannia Restaurant on level 3 at 6pm. A brief flurry of unpacking, quick donning of my professional English teacher-on-duty costume, before joining a stream of smartly-dressed humans heading towards staircase B.
When my computer found out I’d booked a sea voyage, I was rewarded by some handy YouTube videos giving me advise on solo cruising. I did take one piece of advice – when travelling alone – book the biggest possible table so that you’ll be able to chat to different people rather than be stuck with just one. Imagine. For six weeks. Be like being married. Phew. Possible disaster averted.
When you enter the giant glittering cavern that is the Britannia Restaurant, you are welcomed by a battalion of perfectly presented waiters in smooth black suits. After a short screen search by the Head Waiter, ever polite and smiling, one waiter peels off the disciplined line and sees you personally to your table, in my case, very far away, up on the mezzanine, beside large windows and by the circular door going to the kitchens. I was greeted by a circle of smiling faces. Once seated by yet another smiling waiter, napkin flapped out over my lap, I discovered all but one of my tablemates was retired, and all were habitual travellers. Two had had previous World Cruises booked but were stymied by the pandemic. Now they were relieved to be here, and the bantering began.
Sydney harbour glinted in the sunshine as the first of my awkward dietary requirement discussions ensued. Suffice to say, most food on board involves some kind of cow secretion and Special Diets are complicated.
I don’t want to go into it. Food was eaten.
After dinner, it was time to leave. The sun went down, the Harbour lit up, folk crowded beside the rails with glasses full, binoculars within grasp to glimpse friends and relatives on shore, calls on phones and shouts as Sydney Harbour presented the Opera House and Bridge in full glamour. Families waved their mobile phone torches on shore and were answered by nans and grandads on board.
Tugs hovered around the Queen Mary 2 manoeuvring around ferries and smaller boats and out towards the Heads. Mild weather kept people chatting by the railings even as we came into open sea and deep night. I looked back toward South Head: Watsons Bay, Vaucluse, Dover Heights and Bondi, suburbs I once knew, slipping into darkness, and the lights signifying the coast of NSW eventually disappeared. We were at sea.
Woke early, no land in sight, and began the ritual march around Deck 7 – the Promenade Deck. Noticed, as I was smiling and nodding at fellow ‘guests’, that I was going in the opposite direction. Bah. I was travelling clockwise. Takes three turns to do a kilometre. Not going to tell you about miles. Get over it.
Went to Meditation and which evolved into a basic Stretch class, included in cost of fare, presented by Gym Guy. Not quite what I’d expected – would be the last. Asked him if it were possible to borrow a yoga mat for my room? No. Only enough for gym and classes. The next class, Yoga, would cost extra money which I figured was too much. I’d already decided I’d paid enough for this commute from Oz to UK. So, how much?
Together with insurance packages and shore experiences, my total fare from Sydney to Southampton (6 weeks in a floating hotel) wouldn’t give me much change from Australian $20,000 (about £10,000). You can get cheaper fares but I wanted the balcony for six weeks. You probably have a car. I don’t. I bought a cruise. Or rather, a commute. I was going to the UK and as you know, I don’t like to fly.
Can you afford the time? I could. I had a project to work on at my desk, I had no pressing engagements and, really, it was equivalent to walking the Camino de Santiago – all I had to do was fall into line with the Deck 7 pilgrims going widdershins. Never, I tell you, never. (Well, once or twice if the sun was on the wrong side … ) I’m a clockwise gal.
Breakfast entailed an introduction to the Kings Court Buffet System. This is a confusing beige world of chefs under pressure preparing and serving a wide array of consumables. I’m guessing it was self-serve before Covid. My embarrassing Special Diet requirements finally led me to a separate Chef’s Galley where all the plant-based, gluten-free, FODMAP weirdos could have some sense of belonging. It was also relatively quiet. My happy place.
It is possible to enjoy breakfast in your own cabin or in your assigned restaurant, in my case the Britannia, where you are seated with new people and, again, must have the awkward Special Dietary conversation. I learned it was much easier to see smiling chef William Angel for a dose of porridge and some basic Filipino lessons.
The wait staff are everywhere, (and from everywhere: Filipino, South African, Ghanian, Zambean, Italian, Serbian … ) smiling, obeisant, bowing to Sir or Madam whatever the request, whatever the accent.
Breakfast accomplished; my next major quest was the search for a power adaptor. Of course, my Australian electrics did not fit the British standard plug. The ship shops are primarily duty free, selling booze and shiny glamour handbags or jewellery boutiques although there is a small ‘Everyday’ section where you can buy tee-shirts, key rings and crisps. Not power adaptors. The bookshop is next to the library on Deck 8, but they sold out of adaptors months ago.
The library is charming, wooden, glass-fronted shelves – deep comfy seats to sink into – right at the front of the ship with large windows. QM2 has an extensive splash zone at the prow – she’s designed for big Atlantic waters necessitating space and fencing when she breaks through heavy waves so the ‘guests’ don’t get washed away, but that does mean you can’t get much closer than aprox 70 metres to the bow.
Back to the purser’s officer to make further enquiries about the adaptor. Such helpful people, these pursers. She reached out, took my phone and cable, and told me to come back later. I would have to buy one when we reached our first port. The next day. (Charging the phone didn’t cost me any extra money.)
Given my morning routine on the container ships, I marched up to find ‘Guests’ are not permitted on the bridge unless you pay extra for a rare tour, but you are allowed to watch the mysterious workers glide through their navigations and raise their bins to the horizon through a Bridge Observation Window. Informative posters name the equipment while celebratory plaques and awards hang around the area. Take no photos. No questions. No knocking on the glass. No distractions. A bit like the gorilla enclosure, really.
Next stop was the Observation Deck – a semi-enclosed veranda wrapped around the Adriatic Room at the front of Deck 11. The Adriatic Room is the special club of the Round the World Voyagers – those who had already been on board for two months – natives of NY or UK –they’d already visited Lisbon, Greece, the Suez Canal, Egypt, Thailand and Darwin. Some of the travellers could remember and loved every minute of the shore experiences and ship life. So Swaying Woman was the exception.
The Observation Deck was closed due to high winds as we proceeded south down the coast of New South Wales (stupid name – nothing like Wales – time to change that one). Didn’t seem that blustery to me but I suppose there was a bit of a roll. Back down to the cabin, popped on the togs and went out to join the sun worshippers on Deck 6. But the sun had gone. Hopped in the bubble bath (jacuzzi). The only other fellow in there seemed to have been there for hours. The air was mild, and the water was warm, and the blue horizon was steady. The pale turquoise water in the pool was not. It sloshed one way and then the other and then gurgled out through the pipes in a friendly manner. Beach towels are supplied and often replenished by deck crew.
It was not only my phone that lost power by this point. After a quick shower I took to my bed for a rest. Lethargy overcame me. I missed lunch. I woke to the alarm I’d set for dinner. I felt good. On the way to the restaurant, I noticed a young couple dressed like movie stars, he in black tie and she in sparkly angel with full make-up. Uh oh! It was the Black and White Gala night! I turned and ran back to my cabin and sat panting on the bed. Yes, there was the invitation I’d ignored, thinking a 6pm dinner wouldn’t be part of the hoo haah gala – frocks, orchestra, ballroom dancing, elegance … ‘Guests’ apparently love the Gala nights – seems there’s one a week. I believe there are folk who book an inside cabin just for their wardrobe and changing room. The hairdressers and make-up artists do a roaring trade, as do the photographers. I went in search of my alternative eating zone – but it was no longer there – that’s only for breakfast – the Kings Court buffet offered me a baked spud and salad. They’d already run out of fruit salad. Or maybe they would replenish later. I made do.
There was much to learn on the QM2.
Day three was a Most Exciting Day as it was our first Port. Melbourne. Now you may ask why I could not have begun my voyage from Melbourne. I know I did. However, that is Cunard’s way and it may also be the way of the Australian Border Force for all I know. There will be Gala Nights and there will only be certain ports to begin and end your section of travel. As far as I know, this World Centenary Cruise went Southampton to Sydney, Sydney to Fremantle and Fremantle to CapeTown, Capetown to Southampton. I could land in Melbourne, but I could not go through passport control. There you go. I got to be on a crowded train for hours! Yaaay!
I woke at 03:30 – engines slowed – bright security lights to port – I could only see the pilot’s boat if I leaned out over the railing in an uncomfortable manner. I assumed the pilot climbed up a ladder. There are ports where the pilot gets dropped from a helicopter – Melbourne isn’t one of them. Couldn’t sleep again so went for a mysterious middle of the night wander in a ghost ship.
Little bit scary but fun as I inspected the beautiful prints on Deck 11, the paintings along corridors and in stairwells can be fantastic. Cunard has a reputation for their art collection. I explored the sporting area on Deck 13 and found that seeing stars was problematic due to the artificial lighting. You can imagine why the ship would need lighting around any railing area, I suppose.
I found a screen showing where we were in the Deck 12 Pool Room (of course, I found out later, every screen on board has that channel, all the channels, why even the tv in my own cabin that I’d covered up with a scarf!) I made it back to bed for an hour before my alarm woke me at 06:30 to watch the docking.
Very satisfying sunrise and gentle approach into Melbourne, not the most glamorous of ports, is it?
I was really anticipating seeing my beloved son, Felix, in Melbourne, but worried about the phone charge running out again before we could speak. I was late getting off the ship as I didn’t realise we had to queue to scan our voyage cards before leaving. See? The cruise queues. We meet again.
My dreams of casual coffee were dashed as I marched urgently along the Port Melbourne bike path as the 109 trams were incapacitated. Two hours late I met Felix, drank coffee, and charged the phone. And we made plans which included buying a phone adapter!
Melbourne passed in a haze of ticking off Things To Do, fare-welling son, and then back on board for more cruise queues.
This is how to meet people on a cruise. Stand in lines. I discovered quite a few other Melbourne locals who had returned home to finish their cleaning/organising tasks! And the relief at a decent cup of coffee! More on that next time …
And so we left Melbourne. The voyage has begun.
I don’t know how he managed to find container ships after the pandemic – his persistence is extraordinary!