Sunday, 7 April 2013
First destination was the cabin. Certainly pretty basic by today's standards and a little bit dated – remember QE2 was over 30 years old even then although she had had numerous refits – but the beds felt wonderful and the shower and bathroom looked modern and smart.
To say I was excited was an understatement. I wanted to get on and explore the rest of the ship, but first was the lifeboat drill. We donned our lifejackets and walked upstairs to our particular muster station – which just happened to be one of the bars. Sadly it was shut – a requirement when in port – so we sat listening to the announcements on the public address system advising us what to do in the event of the the ship sinking. Blimey I thought, I’ve not been on it an hour and it’s already doomed. Anyway, the announcing went on and on so Trev got out his cigarettes and lit up. Now, smoking was normally prohibited during this sort of thing, so there was a few disapproving glances in his direction. Suddenly a lady from behind us piped up, “Oh, thanks Christ” she shrieked, “I left mine downstairs, I couldn’t trouble you for one could I, I’m gasping?”. The lady’s name was Jenny, on board with her husband Errol and were cruising around to their home city of Melbourne. From that moment a great friendship was forged.
With the drill over we deposited our lifejackets back in the cabin and went out on deck. I was running from side to side and from one deck to another like a kid with a new toy, it was wonderful.
We were due to depart at 6:00pm and thousands had gathered at the quayside, such was the worldwide love of this ship. The Crystal Symphony was in dock too, looking smart, shiny and modern, but with all the character of a floating tower block. She was to leave just after us.
About 5:30pm the tugs appeared to ease the QE2 away from her berth and in to the harbour. She may have been the fastest cruise ship ever built but, even with the addition of bow thrusters following a major engine refit in 1986, she still needed a little help manoeuvring. The tugs steered her out then turned her into the main waterway and we were away, waving goodbye to the gathered crowds as the sun began to set over Auckland harbour. Just wonderful. It still sends a shiver down my spine thinking of it even now.
Next up was dinner, so the suits were unpacked and left to hang out while we showered. All that travelling seemed to have taken it’s toll as mine seemed to have shrank a little particularly around the waist of the trousers.
Now, there are several grades of cabin on the QE2, and the grade you select decides in which restaurant you will dine in. Having bought the cheapest grade of course, we was in the Mauretania restaurant, the biggest. The further up the scale you go – and the more you pay – the smaller and more intimate the restaurants become. The ‘Grill’ class restaurants, reserved only for those with the most lavish suites, have frequently won awards as the top places to dine. In the world. Mind you, it’s guests will have paid anything up to 25 times what we did. Ouch.
We’d selected a table for two, and were shown to a table in the smoking side – yes they still allowed it in those days, and a waiter came along, introduced himself and presented the menus. About five courses were on offer – something I’d never seen before, but I think we both just stuck to three.
Our first meal on board was a wonderful experience. The food was divine and the service was nothing like I’d ever experienced. With bellies full, and the trouser waistband even tighter we adjourned to the bar – a British themed pub where you could get an actual pint – ok it was gassy, but we were in to lager in those days anyway rather than real ale so it didn’t matter.
We returned to the cabin sometime after 11pm but only to get changed. I slipped into my leather jeans and the new black shirt procured in Taupo and we went back to bar for a quick pint before heading to the back of the ship and the ‘Yacht Club’ – for some more late tastings. It was ostensibly a night club with music and a dance floor, but given the average age, at least on this leg of the cruise, it was almost empty.
Breakfast the next morning, although delicious, was a bit of an effort thanks in no small part to the over enthusiastic ingestation the previous evening, but we did feel a bit better after it. The rest of the day was by necessity, pretty lazy. The motion of the ship took a little getting used to, even though the Tasman Sea was in a benevolent mood and giving us a calm crossing.
That evening it was the Captains Cocktail Party – basically, new arrivals get to shake the drivers hand and bury their snouts in free fizz – which we did. It was hosted in the Queens Room – how appropriate – and it was as we stood by a bust of her Maj that we met up with Errol & Jenny again. We had a good old chin wag and took advantage of Cunard’s largesse with the fizz before heading off rather giddily to our respective dining rooms. We met up again after dinner, and having told them the story of Dipsy, retrieved him from the cabin whilst taking the opportunity to get changed again and took him back upstairs to say ‘eh-oh’. Dipsy sat on the bar whilst we regaled Errol & Jenny with tales of our journey so far as the barman looked on, slightly bemused. No wonder, I bet he hadn’t had a Teletubby sitting on his bar before. Or since.
At sometime during the early hours a daily programme is pushed under your door. It lists the days highlights, entertainment, cocktail of the day and so on. It also tells you the evenings dress code. The QE2 was always one of the more formal of the ships and ‘Informal’ meant a jacket and tie for men at the very least. Thankfully, no one took this too literally and had the common sense to put on some trousers too! ‘Formal’ meant a dark suit or tuxedo. The dress code was always ‘in force’ from 6pm. Anyway, on our 3rd day, there was a note below the days dress code: “Guests are reminded that the dress code is in force throughout the ENTIRE evening. Please no not embarrass other guests by dressing inappropriately”. It may NOT have been me parading about in my leather jeans causing a stir but it was one hell of of a coincidence. Being QE2 of course no-one said anything directly.
The rest of the day was pretty lazy again, the most strenuous activity being a lunchtime sojourn to the bar. We were getting used to the motion of the ship by now and it seemed perfectly normal to sway giddily from one side to the other when walking around. It always seem more pronounced later at night though. Funny that.
The QE2 was due in at Sydney very early the following morning so we thought it would be fun to stay up all night to get the first glimpse of North & South head as we approached. With dinner consumed, we ignored the mutterings in the daily programme and went back to get changed again before heading to the yacht club at the back for some more late tastings. It was quiet again and we sat away in some corner, while Trev ‘rested his eyes’. Clearly the leather was causing a stir of a different kind as the entertainments manager came over, starting chatting and invited my back to his cabin with the lure of some champagne. Obviously he knew a old soak when he saw one. I noted the slightest of smirks from Trev out of the corner of my eye as I politely declined.
It was about 3am I think when they shut the yacht club and we went for a wander around the ship. I left Trev to study his eyelids again and went to the viewing platform at the bow. It was pitch black and there was no-one else to be seen as the massive bow crashed in to the waves and the ship ploughed on relentlessly. It was magical.
With all the beverage outlets now closed, we returned to the cabin to order some coffee in the hope that the caffeine might perk us up a bit. It did, but only after nodding off for an hour or so. We went back on deck and joined the crowd at the front all waiting to catch the first glimpse of Sydney and her beautiful harbour.
It was pretty chilly at that hour as the light started to break and the rain was making itself known too, but soon North & South head became visible and ever so gradually the outline of the famous harbour bridge began to appear.
As we moved closer, now at a snails pace, all the old familiar sights began to appear through the gloom, Rose Bay and Watsons Bay to the left and Manly and Cremorne Point to the right. The fins of the Opera house were now clearly visible and even with the cloud and drizzle it all still looked wonderful. This was our fourth visit to Sydney and if you read my blog on our first trip Down Under you will know how much we love the place. I must confess to getting a little misty eyed as we approached Circular Quay, guided in by the tugs.
Another fairly lazy day followed. Packing and generally getting ready for our departure though we did take the opportunity to have a tour of the bridge. Our last dinner on the QE2 that night felt a bit like the last supper must have done. Fortunately we were able to catch up with Errol & Jenny again for breakfast the following morning, then said some very reluctant good byes as the P.A called yet again for all departing passengers to make their way to the gang plank.
As we descended the gangplank we reflected on our 3 days on board and agreed that it had been the most wonderful experience, quite unlike anything we’d ever done before. I turned and glanced at the ‘Welcome Home’ sign and thought again what a nice touch it was.
Look out for pt 7 when we travel the width of Australia, meet up with friends and bring an and to a wonderful tour.