June 13, 2019 on the approach to Southampton, UK
10 knots / Temperature: 17°C / Seas: slight
Somewhere off the port side of Cunard
Line’sQueen Mary 2
are Fastnet and Old Head of Kinsale. They’re the first parts of Ireland that
ships come to on their eastbound course into Southampton from New York.
Today is the last day of my transatlantic crossing
aboard Queen Mary 2. Tomorrow, we will arrive into Southampton’s Ocean
Terminal bright and early in the morning. A handful of cruisers are continuing
on with the ship on a two-night extension to Hamburg; a few are doing a full
turn back to New York.
This is my fourth transatlantic aboard Queen Mary 2,
and I am happy to see that Cunard continues to add meaningfully to the
experience. The onboard lecturers this voyage have been stellar, and Cunard now
seems to add a couple well-known “Celebrity Lecturers” to each voyage.
I was delighted to see that drink menus have been
redesigned in the Chart Room and Commodore Club since my last crossing in 2017.
Unlike other cruise ships that seem to be content to have one drink menu spread
out over several locations, Cunard makes its menus aboard Queen Mary 2
specific to that location.
Cunard has also resisted the pull to cheapen its
product. Other lines are cutting out pillow chocolates; Cunard provides nightly
Godiva chocolates. Other lines are switching to plain china; Cunard uses
logo-branded Wedgewood china. Other lines have cut out the midnight buffet
snack; Cunard trotted out – among other things – bacon-wrapped hot dogs in the
King’s Court last night.
The sheer amount of live music onboard Queen Mary 2
is staggering. Someone said Cunard employs the greatest number of musicians on
a single ship. I don’t know if that’s true, but I think it must be. Very few
ships carry a jazz trio, a harpist, a classical duo, two pianists, and a
full-blown orchestra onboard.
Like a fine wine, Queen Mary 2 only seems to
get better with age.
That’s a credit to Cunard, which keeps the ship
sparkling. Sure, if you look for it, you’ll find evidence of wear-and-tear.
This is a working ship, after all, that spends its time primarily out at sea.
But the level of care put into Queen Mary 2 is
unique. She sparkles. You’d never guess she’s celebrating 15 years of service
There are a lot of ships and experiences that I like.
There really is no such thing as a bad cruise. But there are cruises that speak
more to some than others, and Queen Mary 2 and the transatlantic
crossing has always spoken deeply to me.
If you dislike dressing up, this isn’t the voyage for
you: every night is formal night to some degree; even “Smart Attire” nights
will require men to put on a collared shirt and jacket; with cocktail dresses
or “stylish separates” for the ladies.
The cool thing is that almost everyone dresses
up. Last night, for example, was the Roaring Twenties ball. I was part of the minority
that didn’t dress for that and just stayed in regular formal wear. Men put on
top hats, women wore fascinators. The band (remember that orchestra?) played
1920’s hits and old-school renditions of modern songs like Lady Gaga’s “Bad
Romance.” It was amazing.
I think that’s the takeaway with these crossings
aboard Queen Mary 2: there is always something amazing to see and do. If
you didn’t want to partake in the 1920’s-themed party, you had live music in
the Golden Lion Pub and trivia. Jazz music in the Chart Room. A pianist up in
the Commodore Club. An evening performance in the Carinthia Lounge. A
full-blown production show in the Royal Court Theatre.
The other fun variable is the weather, for you never
know what it will be like. On this Eastbound Crossing, we’ve had sun, rain,
fog, calm seas, moderate seas, warm temperatures, cold winds, high winds. In
fact, this crossing has been windier than most I can remember.
In the past, I’ve had all of the above, plus
thunderstorms, rainbows, and days so amazingly hot and still that you could
read on deck without a single page in your book fluttering.
You just never know what you’ll encounter, though it
is a safe bet to assume it will be, “a bit of everything.”
It’s an interesting exercise to look outside and
imagine the glory days of the transatlantic liners, when ships would meet and
pass each other with regularity. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth
would regularly “salute” each other at sea,
sailed since New York: 1,345 nautical miles
15 knots / Temperature: 13°C / Seas: slight
After a night of calm seas leaving New York, I awoke
to a beautiful, sunny morning aboard Cunard Line’sQueen Mary 2.
We’re surrounded by nothing but miles of open ocean – and the possibilities for
my first full day onboard my favourite ship are endless.
I wrote the above paragraph in 2017, on my last
transatlantic crossing. It’s still applicable now, as I set out on my fourth
transatlantic crossing aboard the iconic Queen Mary 2. Sailing from New
York to Southampton aboard Voyage M916 this past Friday, this truly is my
favorite journey by sea aboard a ship that has fascinated me since I saw the
first artists’ impression of her back in 1998.
In the past, I’ve always done a Live Voyage Report
for my crossings on Queen Mary 2. This time, I’m pairing things down a
bit; being more concise. The reasons for this are simple: I’m such a creature
of habit that by the end, the voyage reports all start to blend together. That,
and the demands of posting live are vicious: you spend more time struggling
with the internet than experiencing the cruise!
Sure, other cruise lines offer transatlantic crossings.
They’re great fun, too. But Cunard offers what could be thought of as the
classic crossing: New York to Southampton. No ports. No distractions. Just open
Half the people I meet think this kind of voyage is
nuts. No ports!? What will we do?! Those folks, however, haven’t been
aboard Queen Mary 2. Boredom here is simply not an option.
The real gem aboard Queen Mary 2 are the Cunard
Insights lectures offered up on every crossing.
So far this voyage, I’ve managed to learn about my mortal
enemy, wasps, in a talk by Dr. Ben Aldiss. Fun fact: if you wear blue or
black, you’re going to get stung. If you flail about when one is around you (as
I problematically do), you’re going to get stung. If you’re eating beef or
drinking beer, well, you’re probably going to get stung: wasps love a good
I also learned about Christopher Marlow, poet and spy
during the Elizabethan age in England, in an engaging talk by Giles Ramsay,
who also touched n the fact that successive kings and queens continued to
monkey religions to the point that the peasants rose up in protest.
I also checked out Dr. Lawrence Kuznetz and his
fascinating lecture on Apollo 11. It was a timely lecture; this year marks the
50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.
Yesterday, guests aboard Queen Mary 2 heard Brian
Wood, recipient of the Military Cross for his performance in battle during
the 2003 conflict with Iraq, talk about his struggles with PTSD during his time
in war, at home, and during his testimony in the Al-Sweady Inquiry into
allegations of war crimes by British soldiers in Iraq. A hugely personal look
at the effects of war, PTSD and the impact that has on men who are told to
fight for their country, then summarily abandoned upon their return, his talk
was one of the most moving I’ve ever encountered.
All of this is in addition to fencing classes at
9:00am (which I have to get there much earlier for, apparently –
everyone wants to learn how to do it!); trivia competitions; arts and crafts
classes; bridge lessons; fitness classes; live music throughout the ship each
afternoon; planetarium shows in the first planetarium at sea; and other fun
diversions. And let’s not forget Cunard’s classic white-glove afternoon tea; a wonderful
spectacle of Britishness if there ever was one.
Also speaking on our voyage is Joanne Harris,
author of Chocolat and The Strawberry Thief; and Bob Smolik, talking about world affairs.
These lectures are just superb. They’re a great chance
to learn about a topic that you may not know much about, or one that you’re
keenly interested in.
This is the first year that Queen Elizabeth has been to British Columbia or Alaska, and the
first return of Cunard to the region in recent memory. From all indications, it
looks like Cunard is set to make a big splash on the West Coast; in many ways, Queen Elizabeth is the embodiment of the
perfect Alaska ship, one that blends open deck space with picture-perfect views
from nearly every public room.
Coming onboard on a beautiful Friday afternoon, I was
pleased to find the ship in spotless condition. After so many memorable
crossings aboard Cunard’s legendary flagship, Queen Mary 2, I found Queen
Elizabeth exudes a similar elegance while still managing to retain its own
Fans of classic-looking vessels will love Queen Elizabeth. Although she is based on
the Vista Class platform originally crafted for Holland America Line, Queen Elizabeth makes great use of this
slightly modified design, which manages to house a three-storey atrium; a
three-level main theatre; a two-storey Queens Lounge ballroom; and the bi-level
shopping arcade that houses gift shops on Deck 3 and a small casino and
expanded Golden Lion Pub on Deck 2.
The latter is particularly interesting. It better
replicates the feel of an English local than its counterpart on Queen Mary 2 (which is no less clubby)
with its dark exposed ceiling beams and walls of glass. It’s a bit like the
Wheelhouse Bar on Princess Cruises’ Grand Class (Cunard and Princess share some
interior design teams), but modified for a distinctly Cunard look and feel.
Complimentary pub lunch has always been a favorite
pastime of mine on Cunard, and the line now takes things one step further by
offering a complimentary Pub Dinner. Dinner offers a different menu than
lunchtime, with selections such as:
“Yorkie” Filled with Cheddar and Cumberland Shallot Chutney
Mac and Cheese
Spiced Dorset Lamb Shank
Fried Hens Egg with Forest Mushrooms on Toasted Country Bread
In Alaska, the Golden Lion Pub also offers a selection
of beers brewed by the Alaska Brewing
Company. They’re decently priced, too: $6.10 for a pint, or $7.50 for a
flight. But you’ll have to visit the Golden Lion to get one.
Other special Alaskan-themed drinks are available in
the Commodore Club or Café Carinthia. Alaska Signature Cocktails are $10.50
each, or $15.00 for a tasting flight. Hot specialty drinks (Alaskan-themed, of
course) can be found in the Garden Lounge.
Elizabeth are the touches that Cunard aficionados have come to know and
love. Things like walls wrapped in striking faux wood veneer. Paintings of
famous Cunard vessels that adorn the stairwell landings. Thoughtful touches,
like a two-level library and a proper bookstore. Stores selling cool logo swag
that you’d actually want to own.
There is just something so special about waking up at the Kauai Marriott Resort and looking out your sliding glass doors to see a cruise ship docked in the Nawiliwili Harbor. We had the pleasure of seeing three different ships in the week we stayed at the hotel: Holland America Line‘s Noordam, Princess Cruises‘ Grand Princess and Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Pride of America. The latter makes weekly trips to the islands of Hawaii, Oahu, Maui and Kauai, spending an overnight in Maui and Kauai. The Noordam and the Grand Princess were making only one of a few cruises to and from Hawaii while repositioning on their way to Alaska and their four-month-long season there.
The nice benefit of the Pride of America staying in Nawiliwili overnight is the chance it gives the passengers to enjoy more time ashore enjoying the sights such as Waimea Canyon or the famed Fern Grotto. Special tours of locations used for the filming of movies such as Six Days, Seven Nights and Jurassic Park are also available for the enjoyment of movie buffs. Just taking a leisurely drive around the part of the island that has paved roads will lead to many sights of beautiful and lush, green scenery on this the Garden Isle, which gets over 600 inches of rainfall in a year.
On the backside of Kauai is the Napali Coast, one of the most spectacular sights in all of the islands but which can only be seen by air, boat or cruise ship. As cruise ships leave Kauai, they travel out along the Napali Coast giving their passengers a view of God’s handiwork at usually the perfect time of day, sunset or just before. We have been fortunate enough to have sailed into Kauai at Lihue twice, once on Princess’ Island Princess on a 15-day roundtrip from Los Angeles to four of the islands and the second time on Pride of America.
It was during our cruise on the Island that we first discovered the Kauai Marriott Resort with its breathtaking grounds and unique swimming pool. It is finding the hidden gems like this hotel that make cruising so much fun! Since our discovery in 2007, we have stayed there seven times, usually for a birthday or anniversary. It is a place so worth our many return visits.
In addition to the lovely grounds, there is a restaurant we have also grown to thoroughly love: Duke’s, named after the famed Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku. The eatery actually consists of two separate dining venues, one more casual downstairs for lunch and less extensive meals and the upper part where they serve steaks and fresh, local seafood dinners alongside an added salad bar. While the food is delicious, it is the view that makes this spot the place to dine. The views of the harbor and beach make this dining experience one to remember.
Also, the interior of Duke’s is beautiful as well, with its flowing waterfalls dropping into koi ponds surrounded by lush, tropical plants and flowers. The sound is so soothing and really gets you in the island mood. Duke’s tends to be quite a bit busier than usual on Thursday nights when the Pride of America docks overnight. The cruise ship guests get a chance to eat ashore if they choose, and as the restaurant is within walking distance of the ship, it has become a true favorite. (Thursday evening was the night we chose to eat at Duke’s to celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary, and we were very surprised to see the place almost full by 5:30.)
I would bet that other passengers will return to enjoy their favorite island for a longer stay than the day or two offered on the cruise ships. This truly is the biggest benefit of cruising the Hawaiian islands in that you are able to get a sampling of each and then decide for yourself which you want to return to for a longer stay. Honeymooners and first-time cruisers to the islands agree, as do we. Hawaii is always a favorite destination of ours as we live on the west coast of California, and Hawaii is only a short five-hour flight away. So, aloha for now!
As far as I’m concerned, this eight-day voyage from Antigua to Barbados aboard Sea
Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud represents
the perfect combination of time spent in port, and time spent underway.
Aboard Sea Cloud,
that means setting sail at every possible opportunity – which is just what
happened this morning at 0900. No matter how many times I see this ritual
performed, it never fails to impress. Crewmembers scurry up the falls attached
to the masts and begin unfurling the sails. Lines are coiled carefully on the
deck, waiting for the commands to be given. Everything is done by hand, save
for the electric winches mounted to the decks. Lines are coiled around these,
which help take some of the manual labor out of making them taut.
Before our arrival in Gustavia, St. Barths this afternoon, guests onboard Sea Cloud were treated to a morning of
interesting and relaxing diversions. Breakfast buffet was served once again in
the Restaurant, followed by a bridge tour conducted first in German, then in
English half-an-hour later. A lecture on the History of the Caribbean was given
in both languages, and a lunch buffet was served at 1230.
Of course, this is a ‘make-your-own-fun’ kind of
cruise. For me, that meant reading, writing and conversing with my fellow
guests – none of which gets old or even remotely boring. Of course, Sea Cloud isn’t for everyone. For those
who want a quiet, reflective cruise experience in the Caribbean, however, it is
the icing on the cake.
This afternoon we dropped anchor off Gustavia and
joined a cavalcade of private luxury yachts, each more glamorous than the last.
Two other sail-cruise ships also joined us at anchor today: Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf and Star
Clipper’s Star Flyer. Both
feature sails; both are very different from Sea
Cloud. Although modern, Star Flyer
does come close to equaling Sea Cloud in
terms of grace, but she can’t replicate the history packed within this hull.
This is my first time to Gustavia. I have to admit, it
may not be my kind of place. Sophisticated and very French, it is also
extraordinarily expensive. The town harbour is packed with mega-yachts, and the
average shopping experience is limited mainly to high-end brands like Bvlgari,
Cartier, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. Entering one clothing store on the opposite
end of the harbour, I found a ceramic mug with an anchor and the word,
“Gustavia” that went for €79. A street map of Gustavia was €13. At another
store, ballcaps pushed €40.
A beer at a local pub went for almost €8, but the
grocery store down the street had Red Stripes from Jamaica for €1.50 a bottle.
Add to that the fact that it was really hot outside
and I was missing my home-away-from-home, and it doesn’t take much to suppose
that I went back to the Sea Cloud and
felt immediately better.
I looked around on the beach, where scantily-clad
bathers were drinking like it was end-of-days. There were people drinking in
the water, drinking on the sand, drinking at the bars that lined the shores of
White Beach. In fact, there wasn’t a single establishment on the beach that didn’t involve drinking.
This afternoon, Sea
Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud arrived
at Jost Van Dyke, BVI and anchored
off White Beach. A cluster of chartered and rented catamarans was beyond our
anchorage, and just astern of us was Crystal
Cruises’ ungainly little Crystal Esprit. Nice enough on the
inside, it is a boxy little vessel that couldn’t have contrasted more with the
sleek lines of the beautiful Sea Cloud.
The heat today seemed to be more intense than
yesterday. The breeze at anchorage was nearly nothing and the sun beat down on
me. Still, I decided that I should go ashore to White Beach, and so boarded one
of the ship’s zodiacs for the quick ride and wet landing ashore.
The benefit of sailing aboard a small ship like Sea Cloud; no waiting. I simply walked
out onto the promenade deck, scanned my card off the ship, and proceeded down
the gangway and into the waiting zodiac raft. Easy.
Jost Van Dyke wasn’t really my scene, but it didn’t
help that I had used up all my U.S. cash, which is needed to purchase almost
anything on the island. I’d converted a lot of money to Eastern Caribbean
Dollars, which turned out to be pretty well useless here.
But most of the entertainment on White Beach is
limited to a) suntanning and b) drinking heavily. It is home of the Soggy
Dollar Bar, which reportedly invented the Painkiller. The recipe is a
closely-guarded secret. I like a good drink – I would have killed for a cold
beer at that point – but I’m not a big sun person. And with little available
shade and no access to libations, I quickly grew tired of Jost Van Dyke.
White Beach actually reminded me a bit of walking into
a Margaritaville, but on the beach. Except that everyone here was going to
clamber back aboard their rented Lagoons and Fountain Pajots and drunkenly sail
away later. That part really makes a man think. Some of these folks couldn’t
have driven a golf cart afterwards, but a 60-foot catamaran is no issue. Like I
say, it makes you think.
Liberty Station in Point Loma is the perfect place to spend a day for those passengers starting or ending a cruise in San Diego, California or for those with a day in port. Its proximity to the cruise port is a mere 7-10 minutes away by rideshare or cab. It is a true hidden gem among many more well known tourist attractions in a visitor-friendly city.
Liberty Station was formerly the location of the Naval Training Center that was first opened in 1923. The center continued to expand through WWII, tripling in size to become a valuable military resource in defending our nation. The grounds officially closed in 1997, and the city of San Diego gained ownership in 2000. From that time on plans were made to convert the site into a center for commerce, history and the arts.
With its Spanish Colonial-style buildings, Liberty Station is a place to enjoy a multitude of options. The center is divided into sections with each section encompassing its owns specialties. The retail and commercial district houses restaurants such as Panera Bread, Five Guys and Cold Stone Creamery, just to name a few. The retail stores are an eclectic mix of shops and studios showcasing local artists and their creations. We found Comickaze Comics, Books and More, in particular, to be a fun place to connect with the comic book characters and movie legends, both from the past and the present. Being fans of The Muppets, we found two coffee mugs with several fun characters on each that we purchased for our son and daughter-in-law.
We enjoyed a great meal at the Corvette Diner located on the northern outskirts of the center. This eatery – complete with an actual Corvette car inside – offers a large variety of American-style comfort food. The portions are quite large but are reasonably priced. After lunch, we wandered through the Liberty Public Market section with its many food booths offering Greek cuisine to beer to sweets. Once our lunch had settled a bit, we decided we had room for ice cream. I personally feel there is always room for ice cream, and so we stopped at Cold Stone for sundaes. They were very tasty!
We enjoyed eating them outside in a patio area next to a large expanse of grass situated between the buildings on either side of it. These types of grassy areas abound within Liberty Station and allowed us to relax and enjoy a beautiful, sunny San Diego day! We are big fans of watching planes take off, and since Liberty Station is directly adjacent to the north of San Diego International Airport and directly under its flight path, we were able to watch – transfixed as one plane after another soared effortlessly over our heads.
Other park and open spaces further comprise Liberty Station. These areas include a golf course and 46 acres of waterfront parkland consisting of walking and jogging trails along a scenic boat channel. Many special events take place in these open lawn spaces. When we were there, they had a lantern-decorating festival with a large area cordoned off for the attendees to enter and partake of not only decorating a large, paper lantern, but also dine on food available at several booth venues. These events will usually charge an admission fee.
We took the time to enjoy a staycation while at Liberty Station and spent the night at the Courtyard by Marriott, located in the hotel district just a short walk away from Liberty Station’s center. There are several more hotels in the area with a couple of more currently being built.
As stated on the Liberty Station website, “Liberty Station provides a portal to the past, an experience for the present, and a promise for the future.” I would have to agree, and quite honestly, Liberty Station is a place a visitor can study the history of the center, exercise, dine, shop or just relax while enjoying a day in a gorgeous city. Come by and visit this beautiful location! You’ll be glad you did!