Queen Elizabeth 2 - Autumn Getaway I
I've always wanted to go on a cruise for as long as I can remember.  I used to watch the ships sail from when I was very young and wish I was on board with them.  But despite the financial aspects (being permanantly broke) there was also a matter of height - my fear of them and cruise ships are bloody high!  I always worried I'd end up spending the entire time inside due to the rails and height which would spoil everything.  But after the visit to Arcadia back in October 2005 I knew I would be okay.  I'd deliberately taken a photo of the lifeboat below and told people what I'd done so they could see for themselves when I got them back.  So that part was taken care of.  Now how was I going to go and on what?  Canberra is one I would have dearly loved to have sailed on but it was nine years too late.  So it was still dreaming about considering extortionate single supplements until a friend of mine with no interest in ships (but she's getting interested) said she wanted to go and go on the QE2 as she could be withdrawn any time after Queen Victoria arrives in December 2007.  After looking down the itineraries we decided on Autumn Break I, the last 3-night cruise, from the 13th-16th October 2006 and Caronia grade stateroom 1007 (C2) was booked on my birthday.  What a present to myself!  Just over four weeks before the cruise and a couple of days after the tickets arrived, we were informed we had been upgraded to Princess Grill stateroom 2117 (P2) with dining in the Britannia Grill.  This was a surprise as I know a couple of people who received upgraded staterooms in the past but had to eat in the originally designated restaurant.  What a way to begin cruising.  We suddenly felt so posh!

And so the great day arrived after ten long months.  Rowan came up from Plymouth in readiness, though thankfully no last minute shopping.  With me living locally there's no need for an overnight stay in a hotel.  Rowan had never seen
Lizzie on the flesh before so we got up at 4.30am to see her and Arcadia pass the window.  Arcadia arrived first first before docking before 5am as she was docking at 6am. Lizzie passed at 6.15am, due to dock half an hour later but didn't until almost 7am.  Disappointingly her funnel wasn't lit.  The excitement began!  Later, when it was time to leave for the QEII Terminal, we went over on the Hythe ferry which takes you right past her.  The excitement increased as we talked about how in a few hours we would be aboard her.  Now being a deck lower it also meant an earlier boarding time from the original 3pm to 2.15pm according to the insert in the ticket wallet.
We arrived at the terminal at 12.15pm and was very crowded.  We were asked our grade when we walked in and directed to the Grill check-in queue.  We were also given a white Priority Embarkartion card but instead of consecutive numbers, had them quite far apart.  After security we arrived in the departure lounge and after a text from a friend telling me to go to the old public viewing gallery, we headed up the stairs and outside to get photos of Lizzie in dock.  It's a bit grey and grotty and goes part-way along the ship's side, but it's a wonderful spot to see the ship you're sailing on close-up.  So thank you, Pam, for the instructions!
At 2pm the first boarding commenced as they called Priority Embarkation cards 1-50.  We were a bit worried as Rowan's number was 70 but they said it was okay for her to board as we were together. After having our 'Welcome Aboard' photos taken, we entered the gangway and came out at the Midships Lobby where we were taken to our stateroom on the same deck.  It wasn't too far starboard aft, passing the Purser's Desk which was in an easy place to remember, but the corridor felt like it was miles long.  There was a sign on the wall next to our stateroom entrance which later would prove very useful in helping us find it when we got lost on one of those many staircases.  The stateroom was very much like a hotel room.  We had two portholes which, due to maritime regulations, you can't open.  A walk-in wardrobe also housed the life jackets and safe.  Another wardrobe (built-in) had a mini-fridge but no mini bar, two chairs, table and little stool tucked under the dressing table by the portholes.  As we were now Grill we also had a Bon Voyage bottle of sparkling wine as well as four strawberries waiting for us.  The bathroom included a bath as well as a shower.
Rowan's case arrived at 2.30pm which was some going.  We decided to go for a wander and explore some of the ship.  Now Lizzie is not my favourite ship but she is an absolutely beautiful grand old lady and in very good condition.  People criticise her unfairly, their main argument being she's old and outdated.  Well so are a lot of others and they don't say a word about them.  It's far too easy to do Lizzie bashing because of her fame.  She always drew more crowds than any other until QM2 came on the scene.  It's not 'brainwashing', as it has been termed, but because she actually looks like a ship unlike so many around since she entered service and most of the general public with no interest in ships love her.  She is just as elegant and graceful sailing or just being in dock and as much of a joy to see as she always was.  They can love their cloned box boats till the cows come home but they can't escape the fact Lizzie is unique and always will be, unlike Queen Victoria who is a modified
Holland-America design.  Carnival can posh her up as much as they like inside but they can't escape there fact there's already five ships using similar exterior designs and deck layouts and neither can
Lizzie's critics.  I know I'm not the only one who would prefer QV to be as original and unique as Lizzie and QM2, thus keeping Cunard's heritage intact.  However, with QV on the horizon, Lizzie's days are even more numbered which will make her critics happy.
Afterwards we went to the Queens Room for an early afternoon tea where we got talking to a nice elderly lady on her own from New Zealand who fitted in the cruise during a visit here.  She told us she hadn't even been to her cabin, having been whisked there as soon as she boarded.
We returned to the stateroom and found my case waiting outside the door.  Our stewardess Sheena introduced herself and asked if we'd like bathrobes.  According to the brochure we were meant to get them anyway, along with daily fresh fruit.  We never got the fruit or even the slippers mentioned on the site but none of that mattered.  Lifeboat drill was 4.15pm and we assembled at our muster station on the starboard side of the Grand Lounge up on Upper Deck.  That lasted half an hour then we put our life jackets back in the stateroom and it was up to Sun Deck for sailing at 5pm.  The weather was glorious for mid-October.  Arcadia was also down to leave at 5pm and did begin to move a short while after the hour - terrific!  Just what we wanted.  Could get passing shots and blasting to each other.  But then fifteen or so minutes later we heard three long blasts followed by a short one - we were moving!  Lizzie spoiled the passing plans!  Noooooooooo!  How could Captain Perkins be so mean to us?  I definitely needed some of the other small bottle of the Veuve Cliquot champagne after that.  I'm not that keen on champagne any more than wine but this was so smooth and wonderful.  Pity it's so expensive.
As we sailed down Southampton Water it began to get colder as the sun was setting.  It was such a strange feeling actually being on board after so many years wishing instead of just watching.  A lot different to being on the Red Funnel ferry to the Isle of Wight that's for sure.  As we rounded Calshot it began to feel real.  By the time we went in to get changed for dinner about 6.30pm it was much windier, colder and photos of Arcadia were harder to get without blurring.
Now not a lot of people like to posh up but to us it's part of the fun.  If you rarely dress to go anywhere it can be a bit of a hassle do to it on a ship, especially considering most areas after 6pm are banned if you aren't in eveningwear, but it also gives you a chance to do something different.  Unfortunately I couldn't find the pouch containing my jewellery so left the pendant on.  We took ages finding Britannia Grill.  We knew it was somewhere near Princess Grill, but the signs leave a lot to be desired.  We found Princess Grill portside and realised we'd passed on the way into the Crystal Bar starboard so went back.  We went down the stairs with our reservation card and were taken to table 127 after having our hands squirted with gel.  Our waiters Francis and David were helpful and friendly.  Rowan asked Francis is they had large print menus and was told no.  The next thing he handed her one.  He had used his own initiative to do them for her and she appreciated it a lot.  She got one at every meal we went to in there afterwards.
Out of the window during dinner we saw Arcadia slowly pass us en route to Vigo.  The food was absolutely delicious and petit fours wonderful.  We needed all those stairs to help burn the calories!  We went for a wander round the ship and bought a few souvenirs before going on deck afterwards to get a photo of Arcadia slowly disappearing in the distance and get some shots of Lizzie at night.
As they were cleaning the Boat Deck we decided to go back to the stateroom to check the daily programme to decide what to do for the rest of the evening.  The Yacht Club were having a 70s & 80s night with records and a band called Fusion so we put our shoes back onand made our way there for 11.30pm as each was in 45 minute sessions.  We stayed until 12.45am before venturing out on the Boat Deck, hoping they'd finished cleaning by then.  They had and it was a nice mild night.  The observation deck under the bridge was closed off due to high winds even though there weren't any.  Back to the stateroom we went , glad to get to bed at 1.45am having been up so long. but talked for ages.
Saturday morning we got up at 8am after a bit of a lie in.  The stateroom was cold due to the air conditioning and even though I turned the heating control up to full it made no difference.  Either it wasn't turned on or broken.  Outside the sea was really choppy and visibility very poor.  Thankfully it wasn't raining.  This was a day at sea anyway and by the end of the day had cruised from Cornwall, past Devon and into Dorset before heading south towards Guernsey.  After breakfast we turned the stateroom upside down, searching every bag, case, nook, cranny and even moving the beds in case it was underneath, trying to find my jewellery pouch.  After asking Sheena if she had seen it, I had no choice but to report it missing to the purser.  I know I had it.  I'd moved it the afternoon before but couldn't remember what I'd done with it and thought maybe it had fallen out of my handbag somewhere and hoped someone would hand it in.  Later Sheena informed us she had found an earring by one of the bedside tables and put it on there.  It was one of mine.  I returned to the purser's desk to tell them of this update then went back to the stateroom where we found the pouch sticking out from underneath one of Rowan's shoes, which it hadn't been before.  It was such a relief, to the purser too.  In a happier mood, we braved the deck.  Surprisingly the observation deck was open despite the gale.  We didn't get very far around it, Rowan going a bit father along than I did, before going back in to defrost and get the tangles out of our hair.
In the afternoon we did the 2.30pm Heritage Trail with our guide Thomas.  It began in Midships Lobby, lasted ninety minutes and was very enjoyable due to the enthusiasm, humour and obvious love of Cunard coming from Thomas.  He said he has worked on Lizzie twenty years.  The time flew and before we knew it it had gone 4pm and time again for afternoon tea.
The Queens Room was packed so we went to the Lido instead.  The Lido isn't the nicest of public rooms with its green decor and wicker chairs and was the only time we ate in there.  We wandered again before having to change for dinner.
Being formal night we had to make a real effort.  We noticed some didn't and wore what they normally would during the day.  The meal again was magnificent and the waistlines were expanding rapidly.  We had a photo of ourselves taken between the Crystal Bar and Golden Lion by one of the ship's professional photographers and then went to The Golden Lion for the Name That Tune quiz.  We didn't do too badly getting 30/40 (the winner had 34 but there were about half a dozen of us with scores over 30) so were very pleased.  After staying a while to listen to the jazz band which returned we made our way onto the deck through the Lido for quick photos of ourselves in our finery before we froze.  The midnight buffet smelled gorgeous but we were full from dinner.  Instead of going straight back to the stateroom we called in at the purser's desk to buy stamps then wrote the postcards because the rocking of the ship was keeping us awake.  We finally got to sleep after 3am after several times thinking Lizzie would tip sideways and we'd end up on the floor.      
Sunday was even more of a lie in.  The lack of sleep since Friday was really starting to hit despite running on adrenalin.  We'd decided to skip breakfast and changed our minds about going to Guernsey after all even before Captain Perkins woke me up at 9.15am to say all excursions were off due to the wind and rough sea, but they would keep an eye on things.  I know Rowan certainly was keen to go as it had been a selling point for her, having always wanted to visit the Channel Islands.  But we were too afraid to say in case the other was disappointed!  I got up an hour later and there was a letter pushed under the door from the auditor telling me to register a credit card.  This was totally ridiculous as you only need one per stateroom and we'd registered Rowan's at check-in.  She went to deal with it and came back saying there was an enormous queue of people complaining, some about the card and at least one saying they had been charged for something which was free.  It was so ludicrous and a definite minus during the entire cruise.  Thankfully the purser sorted it.  The Boat Deck called after the Captain said at noon we'd be there at least another four hours before sailing.  When we got there it was closed off due to them raising the tenders so we went to the Pavilion for breakfast/lunch.
The Pavilion was very nice and again there was hand gel but they really should move it near the door.  People can easily just walk in, order their food and sit down completely missing it.  Like the Queens Room and the Lido, it's completely voluntary.  They should make sure everyone uses it before entering these rooms as they do in the restaurants.  Lizzie had a starboard list we noticed, hopefully just from the anchor which had given them so much trouble a few weeks previously.  The sun was out by now so we went back onto the deck through the Pavilion and it was much warmer, though the sea still rough.  It was really pleasant on the observation deck without being blown to pieces and we were both pleased to get all the way around this time.
We did more souvenir shopping and walked around the inside of Lizzie to get some more photos since most people were outside enjoying the clement weather.
After our final bit of souvenir shopping we went to the Funnel Bar on Sun Deck where we also had afternoon tea minus the tea.  The steward I asked said we were sailing at 5pm.  Unlike the Queens Room and Lido this was entirely self-service with a steward behind a table.  As 4.30pm arrived it began to get colder and a bit windier.  I went to get my coat and, despite memorising the route back from the shops, still ended up getting lost.  Such is the joy of Lizzie!  Several people were on the observation deck waiting for us to leave but 5pm came and went and nothing.  There was an American man I got talking to who told me he and his wife had done the Leonardo da Vinci for their honeymoon and their daughter had paid for them to go on Lizzie for their 35th wedding anniversary.  Finally to the joy of a lot of freezing people, there was movement on the bow and the pilot boat appeared around 5.50pm.  The poor thing nearly capsized several times and we were glad it didn't.  The anchor was raised and off we went, heading back home twenty minutes later and towards the end of the cruise.
It was informal night again and when we got to the Britannia Grill there were menus (apart from breakfast and dessert) signed by Francis and David on all the tables they tended.  We didn't get that evening's dinner one to go with them.  It was a nice little souvenir though - and free!  There's not much I can add about the food but the salmon I had literally melted in the mouth.  Pity there were yellow peppers in the vegetables underneath.  I had to leave the veg because I'm allergic to peppers.  During dinner Lizzie rocked really badly, worse than the day before.  You certainly knew you were on a ship!  I ended up chatting as we were leaving to a woman from Marchwood on the next table whose husband worked at the same place my dad had, only my dad was a few years earlier, while Rowan disappeared.  I went to look for her, which isn't easy in heels when the ship's rocking all over the place and you're trying not to fall onto your bum, asking crew and passengers if they'd seen her.  I decided to try the stateroom figuring if Sheena hadn't seen her either I could ask her to let me in so I could get the spare key.  Sheena told me she was in there.  It turned out Rowan had asked one of the waiters to tell me where she'd gone and he obviously knew which one I was but hadn't passed the message on even though he headed in my direction.  After some time watching a film on the TV about the docks, which irritatingly didn't
have a date on but featured
Lizzie, Royal Princess and Crown Odyssey so somewhere around 1988, we went to our one and only show in the Grand Lounge.  We got there about 10.25pm and caught most of the Glenn Miller thing which was quite good even though not my cup of tea.  Then at 10.45pm British comedian David Copperfield came on stage for his second hour-long set.  He used to be really famous in the early 1980s when he appeared in the BBC sketch show Three of a Kind with Tracey Ullman and Lenny Henry.  But while they went onto bigger and better things, he sadly disappeared from our screens.  He was still just as funny, saying he wasn't on telly any more because he can't cook and how Lizzie was a real ship which you could tell from all angles, unlike some which look like shopping trollies.  Rowan and I knew immediately he was referring to the Grand class Princess ships as I'd called them that myself.  The hour went really fast.  He said he'd be by the piano if anyone wanted to talk to him so we dashed downstairs for some paper and the camera (by now the sea was calmer thankfully) and when we returned he was talking to only four people.  It was sad really but we did start a trend for his autograph!  Then it was back to the stateroom to pack our cases to leave outside the door before going to bed for our final night.
Monday morning arrived and we were up at 4.30am so we could get on deck to see us arrive.  The hours were rapidly disappearing.  The funnel wasn't lit which was disappointing.  It was cold but also mild, depending on where you stood.  The wind whipped up as we passed Cowes and we made our way back to the observation deck after checking the funnel but then dropped as we sailed up Southampton Water towards the QEII Terminal when mist decended.  We docked at 7am.

We had our final breakfast, said goodbye to Francis and David then gathered our belongings to wait for disembarking on Upper Deck.  It did seem silly not being able to wait in the Midships Lobby.  Once they got the self-help people off as well as those going to Heathrow, Gatwick and on Cruise Connect they began calling Eight and One Decks at 8.40am.  Ours was called fifteen minutes later.  We could have waited in the stateroom after all if we'd known it would be so early!  Within twenty minutes we were in a taxi to drop Rowan off at the station where I got one and was home at 9.45am, she arriving at 2pm after catching an earlier train.  We were glad to be home to catch up on sleep but sad such a wonderful weekend was over.  Yes there were a few grumbles but overall it was terrific and I certainly can't want to go back on her next year.  Shame Rowan can't.  For photos of Lizzie and Arcadia sailing, click here.

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© Patricia Dempsey 13th-16th 2006
Not to be reproduced without permission