WORLD CRUISE 2011 ON QUEEN MARY 2

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD!

Part I - Introduction

It all started with a dream. Determined to visit every country in this world, we embarked on a research worthy of a life-long endeavour. We have visited some countries and know that we revel in the excitement of exploring new places but we are hungry for more. So, despite our extensive travels and our age, we are not ready to stay put yet.

Then doubt came in; we’ve seen them all. We’ve been global adventurers all our life and we’ve found treasures from all over the world from the coolest places to the oddest experiences. We already spend our winter in Florida, where thanks to the longer growing season, we can have all the fruits we want to eat and all the vitamin D from the sunshine we need. Why go when we have our routine down pat, running like clockwork? But then we say cruising around the world in 103 days is different, an ultimate trip.

So out came the books, travel brochures and such for a good planning we must have to ensure success. Then came the plan which is translated into calling several travel agencies asking for information as to how much it would cost using different ways of going around the world and making a comparative analysis of all the pros and cons.

We did it before, traveling around the world that is, circumnavigating the world by flying west to reach the east but we did not want to do it this way this time. We had no choice before but fly for we were still hard at work on our professions and on bringing up our children, Rolyne and Roevel. This time we want an up-close encounter with the countries and the people who live there.

We cleared up the issue by reading books on the subject matter. At the same time, we kept on talking about it despite our busy schedule. We persevered in talking to people who have done it before or dreamed of doing it. We found it funny how hard at work we did the research because it all started with just a dream. Little did we know that with our plan to chronicle this trip in a book, the work really had just begun.

There were some concerns before we started living our dream. Will there be enough Wifi locations so we can access our emails and websites? How about our mails that we cannot receive which we need to process and the income tax? There is also our penchant for traveling light that gives us the freedom to roam the earth unencumbered. Travelling for 103 days straight is a lot of time to be away so the luggage would be crammed. As it turned out, we did not have to worry about any of these.

We sailed on Queen Mary 2 before and we knew its style so we started our search here. We remember seeing the picture of Queen Mary 2’s main lobby which is so inviting with nice furniture and a grand piano. The model of QM2 here is interesting and the historical background even more so.

We think it looks better than what we found in our research when Cunard had first provided a smoking room for men only at the Bothnia (launched on March 4, 1874). From the 1870s the smoking rooms were designed more like between a London Club and a country house.

Then there was the Laconia room which had one of the most opulent designs of all. They made that look like an English inn with a real old pewter fireplace. Just like in Queens’ public areas, art played a role. The Queen Elizabeth for example had wood carvings of Hunting, Shooting and Fishing.

This time though they have this lobby which is the epitome of quiet elegance and classic grandeur. We knew we would love sitting there while waiting our turn to be served either at the Tour Office or the Pursers’ Desk. From here you can look up and see a piece of the splendid Deck 3.

Excuse us for rambling on but it turned out to be more than we bargained for. It was quite an adventure full of surprises for we (all 550 world voyagers of us) avoided two earthquakes (one in Japan, the other at Christchurch, New Zealand), one mudslide, one tsunami, the pirates in Somalia and for us a severe tornado warning at Columbia, South Carolina, where the wind got so strong it felt like God was breathing on us. Read on and see how we fared.

A. Selection The final selection was made after studying all the pros and cons, the credo or the mission of the company concerned. We sailed on QM2 before and we know they’re good so we feel confident we are making the right choice. Here’s what sold us to have our world voyage with QM2:

White Star ServiceEveryday, each of our guest comesinto contact with one of us.Cunard’s tradition, elegance andLegendary culture are now for us to deliver.In doing this we will make a memorableAnd lasting impression.At that very moment we are CUNARD.

The service credos will beKnown, Owned and PracticedBy all CUNARD Teams

1. We smile: we are always on the spotlight.2. We use correct body language.3. We are immaculate in our appearance.4. We support and assist our colleagues.5. We respect each other as individuals.6. We are always positive with guests and colleagues.7. We are knowledgeable about our ships and service.8. We exceed our guests’ expectations.9. We maintain formality in our service style.10. We use proper telephone etiquette.11. We always speak English in guest areas.12. We never say “no”, we offer alternatives.

All the above were followed in an exquisite manner, no matter how the staff felt for when demanding passengers made them feel bad, they still delivered. In fact we only had one not so pleasant experience in all 103 days. We did the math and that’s a rating of 97.09%.

Not bad, but the only thing is that the one staff responsible for our bad experience will probably be the one to get a promotion as he seemed good at promoting himself and taking credit for what others do. Besides, we’ve fallen in love with QM2, so much so, we don’t want anyone making it less than excellent. But anyway, that’s life, isn’t it?

At this point we also selected the shore excursions as we did not want them to be sold out especially we were going to write a book on our world cruise. We knew they cost extra but we believe it is the best way to see each destination on the limited time we had in each port.

B. Format of the Presentation

Since most shipping companies do not keep the memory of a specific voyage alive, we decided to write this in the journal style of presentation. Most companies spend a lot of time advertising a journey before its start; they seem to forget to document its day-to-day event. This is not something we want to happen to our world cruise.

So here’s the deal. In the form of a journal, we have information on what happened enroute. The Daily Activities are presented in detail as Part II. Part III is all about Life on the Ocean Wave covering such issues as all about the food, drinking, entertainment, children, lecture enrichment program, safety, medical matters, and shopping on board. In this regard, the Daily Program helped a lot as each day a useful list of the day’s activities is delivered to our stateroom.

Part IV features some of the people we met including some of the members of the Queen Mary Staff who helped make our world voyage a dream come true while Part V is on Charity. Part VI has specific information on the QM2 statistics. The different ports of call are dealt with in Part II as we arrived at each destination, instead of the “Ports of Call: Land Ahoy” that we originally planned to do.

Accommodation

But first before we start on this narrative, let us tell you the types of accommodations on board Queen Mary 2. Although there are four separate types (Queens Grill, Princess Grill, Britannia Club and Britannia), Queen Mary 2 really operates on a two-class system. Whatever you have though is comfortable, well maybe not as comfortable as home.

You see all types have a 20-inch or larger TV set which we never used while we were on board and all beds have European fluffy duvets which, along with the king-sized bed made us feel we were sleeping at home. This was perfect for us for we would be able to sleep in which research says can make us prettier. No, we don’t want to look prettier, just healthier.

Each accommodation comes with a mini fridge, hand-held hair dryer and a safe which we used a lot. In addition, each en-suite bathroom has a shower enclosure, wash basin and toilet.

There is also digital video on demand and movies in English, French and German are available. So are the music and audio books. Canyon Spa Ranch supplies all bathrooms with toiletries. There are also wheel-chair accessible cabins and facilities for blind passengers that include tactile room signs and Braille signs. There are also 36 cabins for the deaf and hearing-impaired passengers.

Allow us to tell you the largest accommodation in the cruise industry through combinations that will be the equivalent of a large house. Here at QM2, combining the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth with the Queen Victoria and Queen Anne will net you one huge suite of 5016 square feet.

Before you say “Ah“ in awe. Here is one combination that will make that previous combination pale in comparison. Combining duplex apartments in the lower level with the nearby penthouses will create an unparalleled accommodation of 8288 square feet.

That said, let’s move on and get on the actual cruise, shall we?

A. The Capetown Adventure - 23 Days January 13 - February 5

This world voyage started in New York on January 13 where the Royal Rendezvous of the three queens occurred (Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth). There was a spectacular fireworks celebration to mark this unforgettable event. Then we went on a south westerly course towards Florida and the Bahama Islands on the 14th and reached Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the 15th

There the embarkation process was less than perfect when the baggage man whisked away our luggage and the man in charge of boarding gave us a hard time but the lady at the counter made us feel better about it especially with the temperature at 25 degrees C.

We knew QM2 arrived late from New York but Andy should at least have announced how he was going to organize the check in process. Anyway, we got to the cabin before having a snack but then the Catholic mass was announced through the Public Address System and we had to leave in a hurry.

Fort Lauderdale, known as the Venice of America due to the complex canal system, is where to find dazzling beaches, all seven miles of them. As well, there’s shopping galore here where you will get enough bargains to last you a lifetime.

This city is sometimes called Fort Liquordale because of the many bars and night clubs, strip clubs but this has faded somewhat when the spring breakers moved elsewhere. It is also considered the western corner of the Bermuda Triangle.

By the second day, we were organized and could walk 1.1 miles, the equivalent of three laps around the walking trail outside the Kings’ Court Restaurants. This walk became a routine activity practically every day of the 103-day world voyage. This is a good thing for the buzz is that one gains one pound a day on cruises and you know what that would make us look like at the end of the world cruise - an elephant in the making.

We passed the Grand Bahama Island and the Eleuthera Island overnight. Later we went on a southeasterly course leaving the Bahama Islands, by January 16. Around this time, we passed the beautiful by nature Turks and Caicos Islands and made our way towards the Virgin Passage between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

We met with the professional photographers on board who did a good job taking digital pictures during embarkation and all throughout the cruise. They covered all the main events including the World Voyage Gala Dinner and Captain’s Cocktail parties. The only time we missed them was when we were climbing the Great Wall of China.

It was our first formal night and Roger wore his black tuxedo and we danced the night away. We went to see the show on the stunning voice of Annette Wardell. It was a lovely evening the second night for we met Peter and Jackie when they joined our table. Later, we crossed the Puerto Rico Trench where the depths of the water was in excess of 8000 meters.

By January 17, we crossed the deep waters of Puerto Rico and got to the much shallower waters of the Virgin Banks and then entered the Caribbean Sea leaving the Atlantic Ocean. We followed the south easterly course, leaving the Leeward Islands, the time having advanced by one hour.

They have an interesting mix of line dances but the waltz teacher was very good. He taught us the basic step. We also went to the Purser’s Office to ask about a lot of questions for which we got some answers. We didn’t need passports to go to Barbados, time is military so 5am is 0500 but we said the automatic wake-up calls were not working and they said to call 22200 which Roger did for all the time we were going to be on board.

The Purser’s Office is the nerve center of the ship with commendable staff willing and able to help with information and solve issues encountered by the guests. They did a great job but some were hard to please which we witnessed irate guests really riled up. We could not understand why some got mad when the staff was so willing to help.

To send postcards, we can just give them to the Purser’s Counter ready to be mailed. It was so convenient to have this mail service on board unlike the time when we toured all over Europe and had to look for Tobacco Shops just to mail a postcard. And we had to do this for our children would worry if we didn’t. We also had to apply for the $125 per person Dubai Visa before signing up for the excursion. We filled in our application forms but had to look for the extra photos Wendy, our capable travel agent in Clearwater, Florida, gave us.

BarbadosLate in the evening we passed between the islands of Martinique and Santa Lucia and headed back into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus we found ourselves, one hour ahead from home, in Barbados on January 18. Barbados is a Caribbean island with attractions consisting of diving and sensational snorkelling, the Andromeda Gardens’ rare tropical ferns and other flora and the Harrison’s Cave where there are huge stalagmites and stalactites.

Barbados is a medium-sized island just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide in the south eastern corner of the Caribbean. It is semi tropical with an average temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The constant trade winds blowing from across the Atlantic cool Barbados and the wind direction makes it easy for sail boats from Europe to come to its shore but difficult to reach from the other Caribbean islands.

This explains why Barbados was not subject to conflicts between the colonial powers and remained English until its independence. Barbados comes from the Portuguese word, Los Barbudos, meaning the bearded ones but others say it may refer to the bearded fig trees growing there.

In preparation for the Barbados tour, we read the material on Barbados that Queen Mary 2 provided for us. It starts with a quotation from a quotation in Joseph Conrad book, ‘The Heart of Darkness‘. We have not read this book but we think it refers to Barbados.

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it.” Conrad is a Polish-born English novelist.

The Portuguese name Barbados could also refer to the indigenous people who welcomed 16th century Portuguese explorers who were hoping to find gold and other riches and were disappointed to find only a tropical paradise. The name Barbados stuck when Captain Henry Powell took possession for the British Crown in 1625. It is one of Britain’s first American colonies who remained part of the British kingdom until after WWII.

The first settlers brought tobacco and cotton but did not thrive so sugar cane was introduced. The profits from this were huge that helped build plantation houses and the Barbados Parliament, the third oldest of its kind in the British Commonwealth. Among others, it dealt with the need to fortify the place from Spanish, French and Dutch invaders and pirates, some of whom were Barbados residents.

The Careenage comes from the time when the tall masted schooners lining the quay were careened (purposely keeled over) in order to scrape the barnacles from their hulls and seams can be caulked or painted. The Careenage was an important hub of activity for trading vessels between islands but now it is mainly used by pleasure crafts and fishing boats. The harbour police dress just like Nelson’s fleets men did.

The very centre of the social life and commerce is the National Heroes Square. It was once known as Trafalgar Square. Here some indulge in people watching and at the same time admire the neo-Gothic buildings around.

The True Blue Synagogue used to be a private home but it is now a working synagogue for the Jewish residents who first arrived in 1628. They were only granted permission to worship in 1654, three years before it was allowed in England.

St. Michael’s Cathedral was built in 1651 and George Washington is believed to have worshipped there during his only trip abroad, The Governors leased a mansion to be the official residence from the Pilgrim Family where the graves in the burial ground are unmarked due to the Quaker proviso that only God should know one’s final resting place.

Gun Hill Signal Station was one of the most important sites because it is up on the hill in the southern part of the island, It served as a military command post and convalescent station and has a magnificent view of the St. George Parish.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Barbados dollar; Shop: Monday to Friday 8:30 am to 5 pm Saturday 8:30 - 4 pm Info: Tourism Office at Heroes Square or www.barbados.org PO: Pierside center Transport: Taxis can be found outside the secure port. Buses link to all parts of the island for a flat ‘per ride’ fare; Beaches: Rockley, Worthing, Hastings, Crane and Bathsheba

Arrival Information: The ship docked at the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal which is 2km/1 mile northeast of Bridgetown. We visited the Barbados Tourism Authority in the terminal for a selection of brochures, maps and helpful information about the island.

On the Barbados Heritage, Farley Hill National Park’s ruined great house still overlooks a well tended garden. The spacious grounds offer fantastic views of the eastern shore. The atmospheric remains of an old windmill are nearby.

The Flower Forest is more than a simple garden with more than fifty acres of flowers and plants. It is a unique environmentally correct park created in cooperation with nature. People are encouraged to touch the plants. It is going to be an open air museum of living things.

The underground Harrison’s Caves are extensive so much so that the visitors are taken there by electric railway. That is how huge the area is. The caves are well presented with so many stalagmites and stalactites. No wonder some people think of this place as more than an island because for them it’s a journey.

Francia Plantation House is internationally recognized for excellence in both design and architecture. A number of styles are incorporated just like other colonial homes except that it has stayed a single family home with original furnishings and furniture that has been in the same family for generations.

It was a busy day on January 18 because we were in port so we had an early breakfast after which we got ready to disembark so we could soak in the atmosphere. On our one-mile walk to Barbados downtown just to see where the charm and fascination began, we saw the Pelican offices sign so we went into a store to inquire and the nice man there walked us to the Small Businesses Office.

We then returned to the terminal in a roundabout way, took the shuttle bus to Queen Mary 2 and had lunch on Deck 7. After lunch, we only had time to leave for our Barbados Coast-to-Coast Tour so we went down to Deck 1, which we were told was only accessible at Stairway C.

We were just about the first ones to get into the shuttle bus and went to Terminal Gate 4 where we were instructed to meet our tour bus and guide. There we were told that we were early so we were able to buy some souvenirs.

The tour went uneventful for the first time but perhaps it was because I was asleep but Roger woke me up when we arrived at Highland Center which is supposed to be right in the middle of the island. There they gave us a choice of either rum and juice and of course, we opted for juice.

As we left the place, the tour guide gave us the recipe for rum which is 1 sour either lemon or juice, 2 sweets, 3 straws which is the rum itself, and 4 sprinkle of nutmeg. We were told that Mount Gay rum is the oldest rum in the world and the popular preference of sailors.

The rum is named after Sir John Gay Alleyne, (the effective manager that benefited the owner‘s estate) when he died in 1801. It is one of the key ingredients in Stirling Punch, a drink named for America‘s Cup winner Harold Stirling Vanderbilt.

Mount Gay received the exceptional score of 95 at the Beverage Tasting Institute’s 2008 Competition and a gold rating at the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Interestingly, Daniel Craig of Casino Royal ordered for his first drink not martini but Mount Gay Rum with soda. Perhaps it is because the author Ian Fleming was a well known rum drinker.

We saw mango, star fruit, papayas and banana trees of which they said they have plenty but still have to import them. Perhaps the monkeys love them so much? We went to Belleplaine, a village in the parish of Saint Andrew in Barbados. We also saw farming cows and the excellent surf waves where the tour guide said they have international surfing.

She also said Barbados has good weather between 80-85 degrees. The wet season is from the middle of the year to November but just like everywhere else in the world, fate played a game for it rained during our tour. They have only one bad hurricane every one hundred years and the last one was in 1953. We could not authenticate this date as our research showed it was 1753.

Then we went to Bathsheba in the rugged east coast of Barbados where visitors come to breathe the air, soak in the energizing Bathsheba Pools to feel alive once more. The poinsettia trees we saw was quite a revelation for we didn’t know they grew on trees.

There was a nice-looking house which the tour guide said was not hers to give but she was giving it to us anyway. Then on Edge Street Cathedral we visited St. John Parish Church but there was a funeral in progress. We crashed in anyway, prayed and made our three wishes.

The tour guide also explained their taxation system which is some kind of escalation from 25% to 45%. Those who earn only $20,000 will get all their taxes returned. They also have value added tax which used to be 15% but now it’s 17.5%. They don’t really mind because their health care system takes care of everybody, free hospitalizations, doctors and drugs including for the diabetics.

Those with insurance can go to private hospitals for which they pay only 15% and the insurance pays for the rest. Their educational system is exceptionally good which covers all expenses till the kids are 18 and yet she said it is the same thing for university education.

We ran into traffic downtown where the bus crawled in snail’s pace. She said the 100,000 vehicles on the island makes the morning traffic to the city and the afternoon traffic away from the city slow-going We were worried we won’t make the all aboard 5:30 pm and the 6:00 pm sailing but we did.

The sailing time is posted in the gangway at each port of call. It is usually half an hour before sailing. This is our responsibility to make sure we are aboard. If we miss it is our duty to go to the next port of call to rejoin the ship. We saw some different traffic signs like instead of yield they have “give way“. We also saw the emancipation statue for 1834.

Among the thing the places we saw on this tour are the Prime Minister’s Residence on Elai Court. the governor general’s residence where the royals who come in ships like we do stay, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which Queen Elizabeth opened herself. The tour guide also pointed out a company that will be willing to take you in, dead or alive.

It was 86 degrees and partly cloudy, so we were glad to be back to Queen Mary 2 and watched her clear the port breakwaters and after disembarking the local pilot, we set a south-easterly course back into the Atlantic Ocean, bound for Salvador. As you can read in the Entertainment Section, we got busy enjoying ourselves at the different venues.

We were at sea on January 19, which means never having to rush. At 12:30 we went to the dance class for the cha cha cha but with Roger’s knees hurting we didn’t do much. Lunch though was at the Golden Lion Pub where I had Fish and Chips with mushy peas while Roger had Steak and Mushroom Pie with potato and vegetables. The other choice is Bangers and Mash, whatever that is, with Yorkshire Pudding and onion gravy.

Throughout the day, we experienced the adverse effects of the North Equatorial current which was running against us at up to 1.5 knots at peak times along the North East coast of South America. We maintained the South Easterly coast overnight.

It was formal night again but after dinner, we went to the show with Paul Emmanuel singing our favourite song You Gave Your Hands to Me. He had also a tribute to Nat King Cole. We cruised the Atlantic Ocean from January 19 - 22 and crossed the Equator in the middle of it so on January 20, we tried to apply to be one of the 25 pollywogs who would participate in the crossing the equator ceremony.

But anyway we were cross with James when that happened when he could have easily announced that he was already taking down names, but we understood that we should have been more vigilant. Anyway, during the day we passed the River Amazon and that somehow made up for it.

We went to the Viennese Waltz lesson and we just had to exercise our muscles. We sent two postcards for Mary and Connie. After the formal dinner at 6, we went to the show Hit Me with a Hot Note which was a high-energy presentation.