Queen Elizabeth 2 - Final Festive Getaway

Before I discovered I could safely go on ships with my fear of heights, I'd always dreamed of doing one over Christmas.  Long ones cost the earth for single travellers and I can't afford that so it could only be a short to get a feel of the vessel decorated for the festive season.  Back in 2005 they reduced the 3 night cruises to 2 nights beginning late October 2006.  Well as this particular cruise was the day after my birthday I talked my parents into paying for it as a birthday present and booked CA cabin 1087 in June 2006.  Closest I was going to get to being at sea around my birthday I thought.  Now Cunard prices are NOT cheap, even to share, when you can get similar for less or longer on other lines for around the same price.  But the QE2 is special and this was one of my dreams.  Of course it turned out to be the very last one after the announcement on the 18th June 2007 she had been sold to Dubai on the 11th November 2008 never to do Christmas cruises or return to these shores ever again.  I was so glad I had booked, especially as soon as the revised cruises went on sale the prices shot up.  

Aurora would also be in that day, having completed a four day wet dock and sailing to Zeebrugge and back with us.  I knew we'd be following her home as she was due to leave half an hour before us.  But who would sail from Southampton first?  The preliminary documents arrived on the 15th October and began my excitement.  
The balance was due on the 19th and there was a payment confirmation waiting in my inbox when I returned from
Oriana.  Much to my surprise on the 24th an upgrade notification came through!  I was now PG 2120 and dining in Britannia Grill rather than Princess Grill according to the cruise personaliser.  Also I was close to where Rowan and I had been upgraded to last year, albeit port instead of starboard so at least I knew the way!  There are only two single Princess Grill cabins as opposed to eight Caronia so I was very lucky.  The ticket arrived on the 20th November complete with luggage labels. Now why can't P&O do that when they're the same company now?  It listed one informal and one formal night so poshing up on both days.

I had an early night on my birthday so I could get up to see her arrive.  She had actually been in Zeebrugge that day at the end of her Christmas Markets cruise and now she would be taking me back there.  Her funnel wasn't lit when she passed my house at 6.30am.  I got the usual ferry across.  It was so cold and misty I became a little dizzy in the
1C as I dragged my case down the pier and stopped to get a couple of photos of Lizzie and Aurora.

I lugged the case down the steps on the ferry to get inside.  Usually I would stay on deck but with that bitter wind I wasn't going to this time.  As there was a Hapag-Lloyd container ship on the way out, we veered a little further over than normal leading to the following great shot of Lizzie.
I got to the QEII terminal and found Princess Grill passengers no longer have priority check-in and embarkation so queued with everyone else.  Despite being long it wasn't too bad.  One good thing is they don't put your photo on the card any more.  It's still taken for security purposes.  I was given my card and felt proud it said World Club even though I'd done just one cruise previously and on that glorious ship.  Say what you like about her, she is the last true liner and something really special.  She isn't to everyone's tastes but then neither is QM2.  Inside the departure lounge is was already packed at just half twelve.  Upstairs by the viewing gallery all the chairs had disappeared.  It used to be the smoking area before the ban came in but I can't see why you can't still sit there.  I overheard many people saying it was their first time as they wanted to go on her before she leaves.  I also chatted briefly to a man who had got on the cruise to Dubai!  The terminal, understandably as it's barely used during December, was sparse with a solitary Christmas tree at the foot of the stairs.
My letter J was called to board at 2pm.  After the obligatory boarding photo we entered as usual in the Midships Lobby on Two Deck.  The steward who took my hand baggage had no idea where my cabin was as she'd only been working there a week so I had to show her!  She said she wouldn't renew her contract as she wanted to do something in tourism.  We chatted so much we passed the cabin completely.  I was surprised at how spacious it was but a long walk from the door/bathroom to the bed.  If I'd wanted to use the safe I couldn't as it was locked.  I did get five strawberries rather than the four for both of us before as well as the half bottle of sparkling wine.  I just wish I'd had a different view.  My steward Fidel introduced himself and was very nice.  It's the end of his current contract so would be disembarking Sunday like the paying passengers.  The cabin TV was a vast improvement on last year.  Proper music on information channels rather than BBC World Service or classical and there was more choice of channels.  We even had BBC so there was no escape from the snooker!
Being port rather than starboard is slightly disorientating on a ship I've been on before as I kept going the wrong way to and from the cabin.  As Pam likes car carriers and all those other horribles I decided to go out on deck to get the one docked behind us and nearly ended up flattened by a cage full of chairs being loaded!  They had a rope up the starboard side of the deck but not port.  I hope Pam appreciates me risking my life for her horribles!  The weather hadn't improved and mist lingered.
As the Queens Room was packed for Afternoon Tea I decided to go for a wander and check out the decorations, which is another reason I wanted a Christmas time cruise only to be disappointed with them. I don't know if it's always been sparse or because Lizzie is going in less than eleven months they couldn't be bothered.  Aurora made more effort for Halloween when I visited the year before.  The book shop was the only place open so I went in as I saw last year they had different postcards to the souvenir shop.  I was after Christmas cards too and found they did do them but individually and they were a couple of pounds each.  I bought a few presents as I had warned people they were getting QE2 tat regardless with it being her final year.  The only thing with 1967 I did buy was the limited edition first day cover of the 40th anniversary of the launch which thankfully said 1967-2007 rather than the 2008 as on everything else.  It's amazing how many people believe she has been in service 40 years thanks to Carnival's misinformation.  She's only 38!  I'd punch anyone who aged me up like that.  We 1969 girls must stick together.  The first day cover, which was available on the 40th anniversary cruise, had only 1000 made but there's a glaring error on the back.  Under launch it says 20th September 1965!  I'm surprised that got through with all the 1967 stuff on the front.
Lifeboat drill was at 4.15pm and by now the mist had become thicker.  My muster station was the Grand Lounge again.  The elderly man next to me dozed off a few times.  Some people came in wearing their coats.  They hadn't realised you don't need them.  I also overheard someone behind saying they worked for Cunard in the late '50s and it had really gone downhill.  Muster didn't get off to a good start. The tape broke.  Once that was over it was time to freeze for sailaway!  I bought a half bottle of champagne which I had to drink before reaching the observation deck as I can't juggle camera, video and glass!  The rope from the afternoon's loading activities was still up and people tripped over it in the gloom.  The tugs arrived and attached themselves.  And the funnel was lit - hooray!  The observation deck was already crowded despite the cold but I managed to squeeze along the side.
Both we and Aurora were listed to sail at 5pm so who would lead the way?  Captain Perkins came on to inform us we had a problem with the starboard engine so would be delayed.  That's the last thing you want to hear when you're on a cruise, especially one of the last over the Christmas period.  I didn't want to go back home.  It was a good atmosphere as we waited though.  Aurora cast off at quarter past but had to stop to pick up two of her tenders.  Also an air-sea rescue helicopter flew past after a man had either jumped or fell off the Itchen bridge and was taken to the General where he was dead on arrival.  I met more first-timers.  It's amazing people had come from as far as Scotland just to sail on Lizzie at least once.  Long way to come for two nights.  Captain Perkins came on again with an update. A breaker needed to be replaced so we waited more.  Meanwhile Aurora was on the move so would pass.  Great!  Well normally.  She blasted to us but we didn't return the gesture.  There were camera flashes, cheers, calls and whistles from both ships.  Although it would have made for great photos, my dad was glad to be in the warm filming from the window instead.
Once Aurora was safely ahead, Captain Perkins came back on.  The problem was repaired and we were going.  There was an enormous cheer.  At 5.45pm we began to move but sadly didn't blast.  As soon as we'd passed Hythe I went in.  The wind made it even colder.
Time to change for dinner.  Being in the Britannia Grill you could turn up any time between 7-9pm but I like to get there early.  I'd opted for a table for eight and the first two of my table companions were already there.  Les and Patricia from the Isle of Wight.  I also saw Francis, who was my and Rowan's waiter last year along with David but he wasn't there.  This time I had Vijay and Wendy.  Despite a name like that Wendy is a man.  The other table mates, Ian and Mary and Jacqueline and another Patricia arrived.  As the evening progressed we discussed the lack of blasting between us and Aurora.  Les and Pat mentioned a cruise they'd done recently on Arcadia where another ship was in as well as a Princess.  I asked if it was the 2nd September by any chance to which they said yes.  I replied, "You were following me!" and explained me and Rowan had been on Aurora.
We began to call it a night about ten past ten.  It had been a good evening.  I couldn't be bothered going on deck to find where Aurora was so got the postcards stamped and wrote some of them.  I'd also bought the boarding photo.  It had gone up $3 since last year but at least the date was the right way instead of American.  We were going at 23.3 knots and rocking well.  One of the radio stations was playing non-stop Christmas songs so I left that on as I can't bear silence.  I was in bed after midnight.  It was very comfortable but there was a draught coming from the portholes.  Around 2.15am I heard the phone in the next cabin ring.  Then mine did.  "Oh I'm sorry," the woman says.  "I dialled the wrong cabin".  Good job I was still awake!

As we and
Aurora were due in Zeebrugge for 8am I set the alarm for 6.30 to give me a chance to see where we were and get breakfast.  I woke up fifteen minutes earlier, put the webcam on the TV and saw we were almost there!  Hurriedly put on my six layers then went outside.  There was no sign of Aurora.  We were still some way from 705 so I did a little exploring as I waited rather than freeze waiting for Aurora to show up and dock in 702.  The Queen's Lounge & Grill is near the door on the boat deck.  I'd not gone there last time.  To get to the restaurant you walk through the lounge.  The maitre'd wasn't keen on letting me in to take photos of the restaurant as it was dark inside.  I went anyway but fancy having the waiters set up in the gloom.
Braved the cold again as it was going to be just two degrees centigrade in Zeebrugge and finally Aurora was coming round the point.  Slow coach!  You can't beat Super Ship no matter how gorgeous you are!  I was chatting to one of the security officers who was on the nightshift.  She didn't realise it was Aurora, said she had friends onboard and would go and see them.
Surprisingly some of the photos using night shot mode came out.  However this type of photo creates an illusion.  I had accidentally filmed some of the arrival as the dial had moved and it was too dark to notice.  While the filmed footage is slightly lighter than using basic flash it showed just how dark it and the ship were at almost 8 o'clock in the morning so photos using that mode, as above, aren't far off how it truly is.  As they rarely come out when anything's moving I decided to use them anyway.
I went to breakfast after taking most of my layers off.  Only Jackie and Pat were at the table.  They were going on an excursion.  Afterwards I thought I'd stay out of the cabin for a while to give Fidel a chance to do his job.  I watched all the excursion people go down the gangway in the wind and cold from the window in the Crystal Bar.  As I made my way back I noticed some damaged carpet.


© Patricia Dempsey 14th-16th December 2007
Not to be reproduced without permission