Queen Mary 2 - Fjords & Waterfalls
While on QM2's Jubilee cruise, my friend Rob and I booked another while in Le Havre.  The Future Cruise Sales had a huge queue and closed at 5pm, so it would be quicker to call Southampton!  We originally went for the new grade ED 6034, which was the old C1 window.  Rob was happy with that until we were leaving and saw the balconies!  It was only £18 difference so I phoned on the 11th June 2012, the day after returning, and upgraded to BD 6066.  On the 16th July, Carnival UK announced they were introducing their new 'Vantage Fares' from the 23rd for cruises after April 2013.  These cruises were reduced in price and you were meant to get the benefit of that in the form of an upgrade or onboard credit but it didn't tell you if the actual balance was less for those already booked.  Personally, I would prefer the reduced fare since the credit is your own money and they keep what you don't spend.

The day dawned.  Since Rob wouldn't be down to watch her arrive, I couldn't be bothered to go.  He arrived an hour late, at 10.30am, meaning by the time we would get there for early embarkation, we had no time to do anything else apart from get a few quick pics from the observation gallery.  Unlike December, when you were given a card with a letter on for priority then called after suites, it didn't happen that way which was odd.  No cards and Platinum and Diamond were called at the same time as suites.  We were on that ship just before noon.  First thing we did was check we'd been given our onboard credit, which would be $445 each, but they said it wasn't on the system yet.  Then we filled in a tour sheet for Geiranger.  Cunard now want you to cough up online, even though you can't pay the balance that way.  I wasn't going to do that when we had the credit it could come out of.  We found our cabin and dumped the stuff before heading to the Golden Lion for lunch.  In the past, Rob ordered just chips and got a nice plateful - or two.  This time, they delivered the same amount you get with the fish and they looked overcooked.  I had the chicken tikka masala, like December, but it wasn't as nice as it had been or as much of it.  I'd been telling him about the meagre portions in the Wheelhouse on the new Royal Princess and it seemed Cunard was taking a leaf out of their book.  Back to the cabin and we watched them winch up the lifeboat, which gave us an interesting view while our steward, Alex, also introduced himself.

Muster was at 4pm, meaning we wouldn't be sailing at 4.30pm so hoped the other ships wouldn't pass before we got up there.  Crown Princess particularly may have, since she was a 4pm departure and could still be well on her way even with turning around.  In the letter holder outside the room were a couple of bits of paper, one advertising tours, so we just dumped them in the room and headed to the Winter Garden.  They had started to arrange seats in rows, rather than you just plonk yourself down, but there still weren't enough for everyone.  We ditched the stuff afterwards and headed to the observation deck.  Crown Princess was just moving - phew!  During the pre-departure speech, Commodore Rynd said we wouldn't be going to Geiranger but Ålesund instead.  I appeared to be the only person overjoyed at the news, though would have preferred Flåm as the alternative.  Makes you wonder why they told us now and were still selling tours.  Well sailaway was great as it was from my favourite terminal and we went astern - woooo!  Indy was also on the move while Ventura doing muster.  Indy looked much closer from our perspective than she really was while Red Eagle tucked in behind, remaining there until Cowes, resulting in running half an hour late.  Also the car carrier, Autostar, slipped out between Indy & Crown, creating a procession as the followed us down Southampton Water.  Once we'd passed Calshot, we went back to the cabin as we'd gone from 32c at Dock Head and gloriously hot to 18c at the Brambles with wind!  Now we looked at the stuff left before muster and it turned out to be the letter telling us we weren't going to Geiranger:

Dear Guest,

I would like to take this opportunity of welcoming you aboard QUEEN MARY 2 for our voyage to Norway.  I am writing to inform you of a last minute change to our itinerary this week.

Due to concerns over our ability to secure a safe anchoring position at Geiranger we have taken the decision to substitute our call at Geiranger with a call to Ålesund.  Ålesund is the nearest alternative port and is best known for its architecture, surrounding fjords and the high peaks of the Sunnmore Alps.

For those people who have booked tours in Geiranger we have made arrangements for you to be refunded via your method of payment.  Regrettably we are unable to secure a tour programme for Ålesund at this late stage but I know that you will have an enjoyable day exploring this wonderful city, a full port guide for Ålesund will be available in the next few days.

I would sincerely like to apologise for this last minute change, but the safety and security of the ship both at sea and whilst in port is of utmost importance to us and for this reason this change is essential.

I look forward to meeting many of you around the ship and wish you a most enjoyable voyage which will allow us to show you some of the best scenery that Norway has to offer.

Welcome on board.

Commodore Christopher Rynd

Master

And the leaflet with it was advertising tours, including Geiranger! Why didn't the arse talk to the elbow at Carnival UK before we boarded?  The reason to us was extremely vague, especially with calls there continuing as normal.  It reminded me of the email I received before the cruise in November 2012 saying we would be going to Guernsey instead of Le Havre for "operational reasons" then after a "further navigational review" we were back to Le Havre.  This was known three months ahead though, not last minute, and it didn't stop them using our 'sea day' to anchor far enough away from Jersey to keep everything open and us stuck onboard.  Whatever the REAL reason was, they had plenty of time to tell us about a new port instead of waiting until we had all boarded.  We continued watching those ships behind us and had a great time as the harbour master boat went to a yacht not once but twice to tell them to shift.  High time bigger vessels just splatted them if they don't stay out of the shipping lane because many are just menaces on the water.  You buy a boat to show off to your mates, you take your chances of going home dead.

We decided to pop to Kings Court and this was the first time on Cunard I'd encountered a distinct lack of bar staff.  We eventually caught the attention of a waiter who said he'd get someone.  We hadn't expected a bloke in a suit!  Despite us both showing our cards, he took mine then returned saying, "Next time, madam, remember you are only supposed to order one drink from the package, not for two people."  Rob's was still there completely ignored and he wouldn't have it he made the mistake.  Once we dropped the pilot off, we went to the stern to watch the other two.  Ventura should have moved by then, her departure time having been changed to 6.45pm.  Before we went to the Golden Lion for a pre-dinner drink, we spotted Crown as the sun was beginning to set.  There was no 8pm quiz - yay!!!!  Was this a one-off or had they restored the natural order of relaxation before dinner?  I'd arranged to meet Alex Gradwell-Spencer a few months before, who had also been on the previous 200th crossing, and did wonder if she'd remembered.  They walked in then promptly out again so I assume not.  Rob ran after them and we had a chat until dinner.  It was the first of four informal nights, which means an entire week poshing up.  Cunard have done away with casual so men MUST wear a jacket every night (tie only on formals) and women cocktail dresses or 'stylish separates'.  If you don't, you can only go to three places on board or probably be thrown into the prison.  You have a long day travelling then have to posh up?  PISS OFF!  This isn't the 19th century, you know.  Tastes are changing but Cunard have gone to the nth degree, which will drive people to book with more relaxed cruise lines where you are not dictated to.  It was like this when I began in 2006 until 2008 and too much then, so was delighted they had introduced casuals when I went back in 2011.  Even their bosses, P&O, have virtually done away with informals, referring to them since 2011 as "Smart", and even though it says jacket, many back then didn't wear one, while six star cruise lines don't force you to wear evening dresses and monkey suits each night.  How people on Cruise Critic believe this is dumbing down towards more casual when it's the complete opposite is beyond me.  Yes there are people who like to dress up since they don't at home but every night is far too much.  You need casuals to create a balance and not be banned from going to certain places.  Would they dare ban Lord and Lady La-Di-Da from a Duplex for choosing to go around the ship in jeans?  Of course not because of the Cunard snobbery.  We're all equal in the grave.  In the Britannia, we were on table 2 with some great table companions, Fred and Tracy, Anne and Martin and Megan and John.  Crown Princess was passing us, appearing to float on milk.  Afterwards, since we didn't fancy the comedian, we went on deck to see if Crown was still in sight and she was and in our shipping lane.  Despite being told to go back to the Purser's desk later to check on our onboard credit, they still didn't have that information.
It was foggy around 8am so the fog horn was going, but thankfully that cleared by the time we got up in time for the noon whistle.  A bird was happily circling above our bow but dropped out of the sky when the horn went.  We hoped it hadn't died of fright.  Because the food in the main Kings Court looked so unappealing, we went to Chef's Galley and had the same problem as the night before with no one asking if you wanted something to drink.  Later, after checking we WERE getting our onboard credit, we did some shopping.  I hadn't taken my winter jacket so bought a Cunard Gilet which I hoped would keep me warm.  It was reversible and covered my bum, which was handy! Oskar, who we'd be meeting in Stavanger, wanted an umbrella but they no longer sold retractable ones and the large had a Cunard lettering flaking off so I didn't bother.  We also went to look at the boarding photo and they have completely changed them.  Ship name, date, smaller with two bigger than wallet-size attached and for the same price.  It's HORRIBLE!  At least give the smaller copies as an option for those who don't want it instead of having three of the same picture, for crying out loud.  The boarding photo used to have where you were going and port of boarding.  Not now.  Gradually they've been dropping information on it, even dates, so now we're left with boring, generic over-priced crap which could be anything, anywhere or done on your own computer.  Afterwards we returned to the cabin and ordered room service.  Rob hadn't particularly liked the taste of the burger in Chef's Galley this time around.

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© Patricia Dempsey 13th-20th July 2013
Not to be reproduced without permission