A Travellerspoint blog

United Kingdom

Slop onboard

all seasons in one day

One of the main events of any time at sea is the cuisine. Whether a container ship or a cruise ship, life almost inevitably ends up revolving around food. It is quite interesting. The QM2 was no exception. The number of options available means that your main daily decisions are often based around where you are going to eat. I have the program for Tuesday 1st to hand, and it lists 5 different locations which I could choose to go for breakfast, nine for lunch and seven for dinner, many of which had several options within them. Should none appeal, room service is a constant extra option, as are “between meal” snacks.

In general, I found Breakfast to be pretty good. Because a majority of people ate casually, the choice in the Kings Court was pretty good: everything from cereal and porridge through continental to full English. Having said that, on the one morning that I braved the 'proper' dinning room, though having some extra options and being fairly tasty, my choice of breakfast (smoked haddock and scrambled eggs – for which it took a long discussion to be allowed to have both together and not individually as on the menu) transpired to be so small – bear in mind that I was essentially ordering 2 breakfasts by this choice - and the fish full of bones, that on finishing I headed up to the buffet for a second breakfast to help me make it through to lunch. Lunch, similarly, had a number of options, from simple sandwiches through numerous cooked options – served or self service - to pub lunches (served, of course, in the pub). Afternoon snacks and late lunch were available, ditto traditional Afternoon tea (with or without champagne and service charge), although options were generally less than I had encountered elsewhere and the inevitable late night snack was rarely hugely appealing. In fact, although not small, in virtually every case I found the food or the available options (or both) to be inferior to other passenger ships I have travelled on, and in cases less appealing even than that which I have experienced on freight ships, which I found somewhat surprising.

It was at dinner that I really struggled. Upon booking, each guest is assigned to one of the three main restaurants: the suites split between two restaurants for (doubtless) fancy eating, and the rest of us in the Britannia; a large double level venue which was additionally spilt into an early and a late seating. The problem was that many of the guests were here for the “full experience”, and Cunard actively advertised that very experience. For many that included dressing up in full tuxedo et al, and I would guess a majority were also paying significantly more money than I was for their journey; this is at odds with how I normally travel, and although paying a not inconsiderable single supplement, I was very much travelling steerage.

Every night on-board, one of three dress codes applies and this is enforced in the Britannia restaurant. The problem is that I am not a hugely formal person, and thus was not up to the required standard and so denied access. In fact, even if I had brought all the clothes that I have ever owned along, I would only have barely qualified for the least formal of the three, the “casual” days (shirt, shoes and jacket) – the semi-formal and formal requirements being well out of my league. I knew this beforehand and thus it was not something I had worried about as I was assured that less formal options were always available. On HAL ships, I had pretty much lived off the less formal options, and still had superb food and choice throughout. But on the QM2, this becomes less friendly. With the main Britannia not open to me, I explored other options. The Todd English restaurant also enforced the dress code, and charged a supplement to dine there. Worse, the casual Kings Court area changed at night, so that 3 of the 4 sectors became reservation only, charged a supplement and though not as strict as elsewhere also enforced a dress code. With certain other options not serving dinner, it left me with room service (food ok, but when your room doesn't even have a window, not necessarily enticing) and the final Kings Court option. Here, at least, I could eat without having to be wearing fancy clothes, although even here t-shirts, jeans etc were banned. There was normally a decent turnover of people eating in this location, and at least a handful of regulars indicated that I was not the only person travelling without approved clothing. But sadly, on most evenings, I found the food here was remarkably poor and generally unappetising. It reminded me more of the bottom end of my days as a student in halls of residence than any type of restaurant, and certainly was below my expectations despite the fact that it was reasonably popular.

After a couple of days had proved to me that it wasn't a one off, I started eating more earlier in the day and not relying on large tasty dinners. But the fact that most other people on the ship were dressed up also made me feel unusually self-conscious and once I was actively removed from a communal area on the first night by exceptionally rude staff who obviously wanted to make a scene (my bag had not even arrived in my cabin by then, so even if I had had clothing to change into, it would have been impossible), in that instant I knew I was in for a long week and was not really welcome on board.

As I am still currently off alcohol, it was not a major issue but I was also disappointed to note that several bars open during the day were closed in evenings (including all outside venues), which meant options were limited to the deck 2 and 3 public areas, all within the dress-code areas. In effect, after dark, people not dressed up were limited to room service for their alcoholic needs. Thus by evenings I generally avoided large parts of the ships communal areas staying in the upper deck casual areas, in my cabin, wandering outside looking at stars (on the clear nights) or being buffeted by the wind and rain (more frequent), or occasionally watch the evening showing of the day's film. That way I could avoid the disapproving looks that some of the crew would give me for how I was dressed, and feel a bit more relaxed. I am sure for the majority of people everything was fine, but for me I just found that the experience was not as relaxing or as enjoyable as it really should be. And therein lies the crux.

It is an odd conundrum: For a non-flyer such as myself, probably the single most useful ship in the world is the QM2: A regular, scheduled passenger ship, which goes somewhere very tricky to get to by land. But it is also deliberately an extremely formal ship, and I am by nature, generally very un-formal. In addition, even though the QE2 it replaced was a third of the size in terms of tonnage, she had a number of single cabins designed for regular travellers, whereas the QM2 has none – hitting solo travellers instead with single supplement of 90%. Put together, it means that the QM2 is probably the least useful or “user-friendly” ship in the world for someone like me. I simply do not fit with it's desired demographic. It is quite odd, and I find it a bit frustrating and paradoxically, if I do end up based in North America for a while as currently envisioned, the presence of such a ship and a service may end up contributing more to me eventually flying than if no such passenger service existed at all.

In a perverse way, though, I was glad that at least one thing measured up to my past experiences on HAL ships. But consistency can be over rated at times, and sadly the coffee on the QM2 is as truly awful as I remember it being on the Westerdam.

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I have never had a sweet-tooth, but even i found some of the cake selections tempting. Sadly, some of the rest of the food did not live up to the cakes

Posted by Gelli 16:11 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged food ships transatlantic Comments (1)

Unplanned, but finally another boat

rain

THEY couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery, that much was becoming apparent. Sailing was scheduled for 16:30, but it was 16:45 and the metal warehouse (more officially called the “the city cruise terminal” in a vain attempt to try and make it not sound like a metal warehouse) where I was still queuing along with roughly 200 others had just suffered a power failure plunging us all into near darkness.

Some passengers had no baggage, having found the hole in the side of an un-signposted second warehouse on dock where bags could be dropped off, some had just hand-lugagge whilst others had all of their paraphernalia with them. At the baggage x-ray machines, the larger cases were too big to fit through which caused delays; ditto the fact that they confiscated leatherman type tools from a couple of guests. In both cases this was despite protestations from guests that they had not be told they could/should check their bags in before, and were unable to take such tools on board. I, certainly, was unaware of either, although had checked my bag in after stumbling across the baggage drop by accident when wandering around waiting. But after looking at my Swiss army knife and opening just the philips screwdriver, security allowed it through because the blade was within allowed limits, despite not looking at said blade. It just seemed odd, and in typical fashion, at dinner that evening, people were readily given steak knives with blades much longer than those that were confiscated.

By the time I eventually boarded with only a couple of dozen behind me in the queue, I had been standing for almost 3 hours solid in 3 different queues, without any chance of refreshment or use of a toilet and no information at all: We didn't even know that the ship hadn't sailed, although all assumed it. None of the queues had involved anything resembling immigration or passport checks, which presumably mean't that all of the non-EU passengers were leaving without receiving a passport stamp with potential problems on future visits to be encountered. For me, that was not too bad – nobody was ever going to stamp me out of England anyway, I had water to drink, didn't need the toilet and I avoided the boredom by reading a 2 day old newspaper that I happened to have. But at least two-thirds of the passengers were old enough to be my parent or grandparent – i heard several complaints/requests from people needing the toilet, whilst many struggled to walk without aid yet had to stand for 2 or more hours. It all smacked off poor planning.

Once eventually on board, despite the fact that I had yet to even reach my cabin I was admonished within 20 seconds for not having read my newsletter, not having my life jacket with me and not being in the correct place for the safety demonstration which was scheduled at 16:30. I was starting to get one of those sinking feelings, although not in the Costa Concordia sense...

With cabin found, life jacket retrieved and the safety demonstration eventually over, I headed on deck to survey the scene. Mental images of Cunard's Queen Mary 2, the only Ocean Liner - as opposed to cruise ship - in regular passenger service in the world and whose deck I was now standing - are of iconic views, such as the ship sailing under the Sydney harbour bridge, departing Cape Town with Table mountain visible in all it's glory, or gliding past the State of Liberty on arrival in New York. The view at Southampton, however, is a little more prosaic: opposite a cargo dock and oil storage depot, docked next to a couple of car parks, and overlooking the not exactly scenic, if unmistakable large blue and yellow metal structure which is IKEA.

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It had started more promisingly. The rain had held off enough that I had made it from home to the dock without getting soaked. I had stumbled across the baggage drop area when wandering back into town to buy a few supplies for trip. In shades of a previous possessed MP3 player (which i am sure has come up in previous posts more than once, but reference to which i can't find just now), I had somehow managed to turn off my Ipod just after it had flicked at random to a track of which I had never previously known of it's existence, let alone that it was on my ipod, but which was strangely apt: Pink Floyd's Southampton Dock.

I had expected that boarding would take time and involve queuing, so was not overly concerned by the fact the sailing time had been and gone. At worst, I figured that if the ship left without me, I would at be at the front of the queue when it returned! And besides, as I had only booked barely 3 days previously, I was expecting to be amongst the very last people boarding.

---

It had been a long few months and the inevitable discovery that I was not as young as I once was had come early in the new year. The second half of 2011 had been extremely tough and busy in many respects, whilst the candle had not so much been burning from both ends as blow-torched. Though I didn't realise it at the time, physically, mentally and emotionally I was ******, and when I tried to resume life and work after a short Christmas break my body decided that it somehow owed allegiance to Bob Crow and had promptly gone on strike.

All plans and a move to a new country for work immediately went on long-term hold. The first couple of months were pretty grim, and I was essentially incapable of anything. Happily numerous assorted tests and scans had confirmed nothing seriously wrong, at least in a physical sense, and once I had eventually stopped vomiting the concentrate was on other symptoms. Thus I was treated for a viral attack of the nervous system, chronic migraine and a virus of the nervous system allied with a probable combination of some or all of stress, exhaustion, depression and fatigue. My head was given time to make a slow re-boot – twice after the first time ended in the human equivalent of the blue windows screen of death - and I was ordered to accept a long slow convalescence and recovery.

After about 3 months, though still very much up-and-down I was definitely improving, and my daily cocktail of medicine had been reduced to a still ridiculous, but frankly more manageable 13 tablets a day. General opinion was that there was nothing else to be done for me except that I needed time to relax and hopefully slowly recover. At that point, my full calender of medical appointments in assorted establishments were replaced with simply occasional routine check-ups and tinkering of tablets.. I had started pondering where I could go to recover, ideally to be out in the country a bit, get some air and exercise but also somewhere I could easily collapse and hide in more worse moments. With no obvious alternative, I resigned myself to extending my period stuck at the family home in Berkshire: good in some respects especially when I was really struggling, but quite restricting and soul destroying now I was in recovery. And then somebody had said something: why do you need to convalesce there? Why not come here and stay instead? Here was not somewhere that had crossed my mind. Here was far away. And thus the unlikely idea had slowly formed, before being extinguished about a week previously on logistical grounds.

Then, on Monday morning I was suddenly phoned out of the blue and asked if I was still interested in a cabin. One had suddenly become available. There wasn't really time to think much and the timing was not ideal, but the price was good and though I knew it was potentially a really stupid thing to do, something strange came over me and I thought “what the heck, why not?”. Twenty minutes later I had said yes, supplied my details and handed over my credit card number. On Tuesday, the payment was confirmed and I received my cabin etc details. Wednesday I had some checks to confirm that medically, I should be fine to travel and was given their blessing. Unexpectedly, It was suddenly real; happening. And I had lots of things that needed to be done and not much time to do them in, and my head was starting to hurt in a different way.

All of which is a roundabout way of explaining why, less than 48 hours after that green light, I had travelled down to Southampton and was now stood on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 watching Ikea slowly fade into the distance, on the seasons first Westbound sailing to New York.

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And, as some of you will be pleased to know - and others utterly confused - even Clive (though he is useless at blogging) was along for the journey.

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Posted by Gelli 02:52 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged boats transatlantic Comments (0)

***insert tumbleweed here***

rain

Time passed.

Months. Almost into years (plural), though not quite.

Then, completely out the blue, something happened. It was not expected.

So i may as well pick this up again and regale you all with tales of a new travel tale, which is entirely unrelated to all previous entries on this blog and in complete stubborn refusal to conform, does not involve any going South at all.

Posted by Gelli 15:49 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

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