Archive for The Saga of the Mouse & Queen 2010

Home at last!!

Our amazing three-week, two-cruise journey is over. Our flight to Denver was right on time and we are home, sorting through mail and hugging our cat Ruby. We kept an eye on her during our trip with two wireless cameras that we could access and control on our iPads. Our Petsitter visited twice a day. Now we are back to reality and back to work.

We hope you have enjoyed our travel blog and the photos. Stay tuned for another adventure soon.

Cheers!

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Travel day joy!

Greetings!

We are now relaxing at beautiful LaGuardia with its many fine amenities (/sarcasm) awaiting our flight at 3:00 pm. This morning was the usual stress-free experience disembarking a huge ship. We got up at 5:45 am, just as the QM2 was docking in Brooklyn. We didn’t need an alarm, as our usually quiet and wonderful cabin 6005 (as opposed to the amazing vibrating cabin 4198) was shaken by the massive bow thrusters pushing us into the berth.

We got up, finished our preparations and proceeded to the King’s Court for breakfast. We had breakfast every day on the cruise at this massive buffet facility that is over half the length of deck 7 and has three different themed areas (the Carvery, an Asian buffet and an Italian buffet). However, we had not experienced this facility with virtually every other passenger there at the same time, jockeying for their last bits of eggs, bangers (sausages in British lingo), English bacon, grilled tomatoes and baked beans (I really don’t get that one) before leaving the ship. Some folks were leaving the QM2 to return home (like us), some were leaving for day trips into the city, and the rest were doing five-day hotel packages in NYC. The QM2 sails tonight for Boston, followed by a visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia, returning to New York on Tuesday to start another transatlantic voyage to Southampton.

We finally found a table in the King’s Court, ate quickly and went out on the promenade and were treated to spectacular views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Weather here is surprisingly cool, with partly cloudy skies.

Around 8:15 am, we were allowed to disembark, collect our baggage, proceed through customs and immigration, and head for the airport bus. Just as we were leaving the ship, we found out that there would be no porters to help us with our bags. A collective groan went through the crowd. “Welcome to America! Our fine unionized dock porters are all taking a well-deserved five-day Independence Day holiday and will not be there to help, despite the fact that one of the largest ships in the world is disgorging hundreds of elderly and/or disabled passengers. Have a nice day!”

So, gritting my teeth, I slowly pushed the wheelchair with two bags on board, dragging the third carry-on, while Steve handled the two large roller bags, while we walked the long distance from the terminal building to the bus. I must admit my language was not G-rated and I felt badly for many of the older passengers who struggled with their large bags. Shameful…

We finally boarded the bus, then sat and waited for more than thirty minutes before leaving for LaGuardia. Once we arrived here, we had to wait about 45 minutes to check our bags. My theory of radioactive dirty socks was validated, as two of our three checked bags exceeded the weight limit and we had to pay $100 per bag (we’re in economy plus on this flight so no free pass on overweight bags). However, on a bright note, one of the United agents that helped us was one the nicest guys we’ve met wearing a United Airlines uniform (seriously).

So now we’re passing time in a small pre-security area bar and restaurant; there are no amenities of note on the concourses. Even the Red Carpet Club is located in the main terminal. We will be very glad to get home and back on Weight Watchers!

A quick summation of the trip:

1) United first class to London – comfortable seats, lousy food and mediocre service.
2) London: Grosvenor House hotel was ok, steakhouse restaurant was spectacular. London Eye was fun. City looks pretty good!
3) Disney Magic: Many good and not-so-good points, as previously documented. Overall, it was a very memorable experience.
4) Oslo: So-so shore excursion to museums, gorgeous city and harbor and very friendly folks.
5) Copenhagen: Great shore excursion to Tivoli Gardens and on the canal boats (other than wheelchair hassles); another beautiful and interesting city.
6) Warnemunde: Excellent shore excursion to the abbey, on the steam train and visiting one of the Baltic sea resorts. A lovely day and quite relaxing.
7) St. Petersburg: Absolutely fascinating, absolutely frustrating. Ballet was great, city tour went around in circles and wasted lots of time at a souvenir shop, the Hermitage museum was fabulous. Lunch was ok. Somewhat turned off by the general unfriendliness of the citizens and the shabby Stalin-era apartments between the cruise dock and the main part of the city.
8) Helsinki: Our favorite port on the cruise. A beautiful city, gorgeous countryside, an excellent lunch, lots of interesting stops on the tour.
9) Stockholm: Good excursion around the city and at the Vasa museum. Not enough time. Amazing four-hour cruise through the islands on our way out.
10) Dover/Southampton: Interesting drive between cities. Pretty good hotel, but it had the usual bizarre English plumbing and no A/C. Excellent dinner at the White Star tavern.
11) QM2 transatlantic crossing: All in all, one of the big highlights of the trip. Service is very low-key, possibly bordering on unfriendly in a few cases, but the ship was magnificent and we were very grateful that the cabin problem was swiftly resolved. Food was adequate to excellent. We would do it again!

One other comment before ending this blog entry: Steve & I were probably responsible for dozens of new iPad purchases, especially by crew members who had money to burn. In fact, we would not be surprised to learn that several QM2 crew members descended on the Apple store on Fifth Avenue today, hoping to pick up an iPad. This gizmo was so wonderful during this trip!

We might post a photo or two later on and will end this journal with a “safe arrival” message from home.

Cheers!

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Back in the USA

This was a nice sight to see out of the dining room window of the Queen Mary 2 this morning.

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The Royal Court Theatre

Although we saw no shows while on the QM2, we did sneak in to take a picture of the Royal Court Theatre.

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Eight Bells

Eight bells mark noon on the ship. This time-honored tradition takes place every day on the QM2

YouTube Video

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The Grand Atrium on the QM2

When you board the Queen Mary 2, your first view is of the Grand Atrium. It’s five levels high, with some rooms that look out onto the atrium.

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The journey nears its end

Greetings! We are enjoying our last full day on the QM2 and the last full day of true vacation for this trip. The ship picks up the pilot off eastern Long Island at 3:45 am tomorrow and we proceed towards the docks in Brooklyn, passing by all sorts of great landmarks before the crack of dawn (we are probably not going to get any pictures). Tomorrow is a very “fun” travel day, starting with our departure from the ship at 8:15 am, followed by the lovely passage through US immigrations and customs, which can be more difficult and just as friendly as Russia. Then we board a bus and transfer to one of my favorite airports in the world (not!) – LaGuardia, where we have hours to kill before our United flight to Denver at 2:59 pm.

The last time we flew out of this charming airport was in March, 2008 after a short visit to New York to see some operas. We were walking towards our gate when we were accosted by some surly rent-a-cop (not TSA) who said that we could only bring one carry-on with us (I had a purse and a small roller bag). I argued with this person to no avail, saying that every other airport in the United States allows one carry-on bag and one handbag or briefcase and was told “Not at dis airport, Sis” and was given the choice of going back to the main terminal and checking the bag, which had medications and other valuables in it, or trying to stuff my purse into the carry-on (finally done with great difficulty). The clincher was when we got into the gate area and saw dozens of other passengers with multiple carry-ons who obviously escaped the scrutiny of Deputy Fife. Can’t wait!

Last night we had dinner in the Todd English specialty restaurant and it was excellent, with artisan breads to accompany our beef tenderloin with a lobster garnish. Steve had a goat cheese appetizer and I had garlic shrimp. We washed this down with an excellent South African Shiraz-Viognier blend.
For dessert I had a dark chocolate pudding (not an adequate description) and Steve had a cinnamon carrot cake. Yummy!

We didn’t get a chance to do the watercolor class yesterday; apparently it was something that was on-going throughout the voyage, which we didn’t know. Instead, we jammed ourselves into the Golden Lion Pub for lunch, watching the tail end of the Paraguay-Japan match, which ended in a shootout, and hanging around for the entire Spain-Portugal game, which was rather exciting (uh-oh, time for us to get home if “football” starts looking interesting). I just loved the fish & chips at the pub.

The seas got a bit bouncy during the night, but nothing really significant. Weather is still cloudy, windy and gloomy, but warming up.

We will post some pictures of the ship hopefully later this afternoon after we pack.

Cheers!

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Passed the graveyard of the Titanic

Greetings! We are really enjoying our QM2 voyage, which is now more than half over. We can understand why folks who have a lot of time (and resources) like doing this instead of flying. We have met quite a few folks from Britain (and the US) who haven’t been on an airplane in a long time, but they have seen many parts of the world by ship.

The weather today is cold, rainy and foggy, but conditions are very comfortable inside.

Earlier this morning we passed close by and due north of the location where the Titanic went down on April 14, 1912. The officer on duty announced our passage near the final resting place for one of the worst tragedies in maritime history; the officer asked everyone on board to have a moment of silence for the 1500+ lives who were lost that frigid night. Anyone who watched the Robert Ballard documentaries or the James Cameron soap opera “Titanic” knows that the Titanic split in two before hitting the bottom, more than two miles down, with the bow separated from the aft section by quite a distance and debris strewn across the ocean floor. By the way, while “Titanic” had tremendous special effects, I believe “A Night to Remember” is probably a better movie (based on the Walter Lord book). “Titanic” is spoiled in some ways by the ridiculous romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

We have not seen any icebergs, by the way :-). They are pushing their luck on board, however, occasionally playing that blasted Celine Dion song from “Titanic” on some of the public room music selections and even offering cock-a-leekie soup with dinner last night (also served on Titanic on the last night – there’s a thought that makes one uncomfortable). We both decided to try the soup and it was actually quite tasty.

Our plans today include a planetarium show at 1:00 pm (they do have a fully functioning planetarium), plus a possible watercolor class. We’ll also try to get more photos of the ship. We have dinner tonight in the Todd English specialty restaurant and it is also our final formal night.

Getting to the home stretch now. We’ll post a couple more updates over the next two days.

Cheers!

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A foggy day on the Queen

We are continuing our great circle passage to New York aboard the QM2. The great circle is the fastest route between Southampton and New York. The weather today is gloomy, with fog and rain. We haven’t been outside since Friday evening!

Our new cabin is heavenly, with no vibration or band noise; the staff quickly moved all of our stuff, including what was on the hangers, so we are quite happy with their response. We slept really well, except when we were awakened at 4:00 am when the PA system announced a “code alpha” in one of the staterooms down the hallway. I looked up the code this morning and on most cruise ships, code alpha means a major medical emergency. This person and their family are in our thoughts and prayers today.

The vibration in our first cabin on deck four aft was quite remarkable, especially in the bathroom. Steve downloaded an app for his iPhone that had a vibration analysis program that uses the accelerometers in the phone. We had significant amplitude (not sure of the frequency) in the Z-axis. Research on the Internet revealed other complaints about vibration in the aft cabins on the QM2, especially when the ship travels at top speed (27-29 Knots). This ship uses four Mermaid azipod propulsion units and two gas turbines. The azipods have had some issues on this and other ships using the technology (I believe they are manufactured by Rolls Royce). This system does make the ship very stable, but can be prone to vibration. Well, we know what cabins to avoid in the future!

We did the formal thing again last night. Steve will have a picture posted soon of our remarkable transformation to something verging on elegant. Yes, it IS rather shocking! Our table companions are very nice and we are joining one of the couples later today for a wine tasting.

The food was very good at dinner last (best so far). We both had the sirloin steak. The portions are very reasonably sized, so we are not waddling around too much. Steve and I are trying the specialty restaurant, Todd English, tomorrow night, on our final formal night.

The British passengers are all walking around looking glum today (except for the Scots) after England was trounced by Germany in the World Cup yesterday. With the elimination of the US by Ghana, “football” can now fade from the collective memories of most Americans and we can once again concentrate on real sports.

We’ll have a few more posts before our journey ends. Thanks for your comments again (Chuck – I talked a little bit about the vibration issue above).

Cheers!

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In the Golden Lion Pub onboard the QM2

Boddington’s? Bleah. Bass and Guinness FTW. May have to get a Black and Tan today. The fish and chips with mushy peas at the Golden Lion are quite good.

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