Queen Victoria - Bruges Short Break
Since I'd finally got a job in 2015, albeit seasonal, I decided if I passed the probation and lasted the full seven months, I would celebrate by booking Vicky!  Only a short mind, as I had other plans for the rest of the money, although it would be nice to go on anyway.  I mentioned this to my friend Rowan Graham, who I started out cruising with nine years previously when we boarded the QE2 for just three nights to see how she found it.  Since our last cruise together on the original Queen Victoria in 2010 (Arcadia), she had been on the new Queen Elizabeth twice with her husband Glen as well as Mary and Ventura once.  I still had only visited the bookends but Rowan expressed an interest in doing Vicky with me along with Glen.  They booked the 13th-16th November cruise via their travel agent on the 14th April, booking them BF grade 4045 and me 4047 since it was selling out fast and paid it off the 6th August.  We were upgraded to BC grade on the 29th September.  My new cabin was 8053 and their 8055.  The luggage labels containing the original numbers arrived the following day.

The day arrived!  Rowan and Glen came up from Devon while I arrived at Ocean Terminal at 11.30am.  I was given letter Grey N, since I was a Platinum World Club member, while Rowan and Glen had booked assistance.  I was told I could check in with them since it would probably be quicker.  Grills were checking in regardless while the rest of us had to wait until 11.45am, only there was a technical problem resulting in it starting around 12.30pm.  My letter was called first so I went ahead while Rowan and Glen did their own.  Ocean Terminal has had a revamp since I was last there with seating rearranged and more security scanners.  Glen went with the assistance while Rowan came with me and this for the first time my flat shoes were required to be scanned  We then boarded and headed to the cabins before heading to the Lido for lunch  Rowan and Glen got a waiter to help them while I fetched my own.  The choice was so much better than you find on QM2, even for someone with a food allergy like me.  Rowan wanted to be pampered on this cruise so we went to find the spa and ended up making a free consultation appointment to see about acupuncture because we took a wrong turn and he was eager for custom.  Rowan also made an appointment to have her nails done.  

A quick stroll on deck afterwards before a drink in the Golden Lion.  Rather annoyingly firstly I had to explain to the waiter what a soft drinks package was then he came back saying they've stopped doing them on short cruises.  Muster was at 4pm and we had to go to the theatre which was a nightmare getting out of.  Despite the announcement saying to let those who need assistance (such as those visually impaired like Rowan and Glen or in a wheelchair) take priority in the lifts, no one let them in, just barged past or stayed firmly in place despite seeing disabled people waiting.  Glen and Rowan stayed in their cabin for sailaway while I headed up on deck and got chatting to Phil and Carol who were first time cruisers.  Montreal Express passed around the time we were scheduled to sail but we stayed put until just around 5pm when we silently slipped out of Ocean Terminal.  It was freezing and windy, as we were getting the start of what the Met Office dubbed Storm Abigail to create a load of hype.  I stayed out until about Netley then went back in because Rowan and I had to see the acupuncture bloke.  Rowan went in first and ended up making an appointment for the following day.  He couldn't get rid of me fast enough when I told him I'm on zero hours and only got paid £72 that day.  I usually avoid spas on ships because they seem money grabbing.  I'm even not bothered about them during ship visits so was curious to see whether the acupuncture actually helped Rowan or was a waste of time and cash.  

By now we were rocking and rolling pretty well and it made me glad I had a bed to myself then I was less likely to fall off the edge.  After this we went shopping and had a drink in the Midships Bar.  Dinner was in the Britannia at 8.30pm and informal.  Because the ship had various freezing spots I decided to wear my chunky cardie with hood.  As we headed to the restaurant, an old woman pulled a face and looked me up and down like I was something she'd scraped off her shoe.  They had no problem letting me dine in there.  It's one reason I hate dress codes.  Since it wasn't formal, as long as you look smart it's okay just as it's fine if you want to go over the top.  Unfortunately Cunard bring out the worst kind of snobbery in some people, like those who boast to friends they were in Grill while omitting to mention the fact it was a mini cruise.  

Well dinner was interesting, mainly for the awful service.  It didn't help Rowan confusing the waiter by deciding she wanted a salad as I ordered mine and wanting hers with her main course while I wanted it between starter and main.  Both arrived half an hour after the starter with the main and full of lettuce which I specifically did NOT ask for.  Tomato, cucumber and onion with olive oil and balsamic vinegar has been my cruise ship staple for several years.  As a result I had to eat my main course while others were on dessert or leaving.  I fancied seeing the show but with the ridiculously slow and cocked up service there was no chance we'd be out by then.  During the entire evening there had been no sign of the wine waiter despite Glen asking for one.  Because my body clock was buggered with these nightshifts, I called it a night while Rowan and Glen went to the Commodore Club.

Zeebrugge on the 14th instead of 15th due to imminent bad weather.  I woke early and had time for breakfast before we docked.  We had two tugs assist us.  Smit Tiger was on our bow while Smit Kiwi was attached to the stern.  Since I figured most would (hopefully!) be off to Bruges, on tours or going just to Blankenberge, I had a brief wander around the ship before heading off to see if Blondie was about.  I found one of the much derided Queen Victoria 2 mats she had when she entered service.  Technically they weren't wrong since Arcadia was meant to be Queen Victoria and more than halfway finished when Carnival changed their minds, transferring her to P&O.  Blondie was sat in his car, his eagle-eye watching.  I decided against getting him to run after me since it was pretty gusty and the gangway they rarely use was near the bow  He was, however, yelling at other people who hadn't got further than the ship gangway.  I had a bit of a doze until lunch.  Rowan went with me to the Lido but because of their late breakfast and her acupuncture session, just wanted some water.  She told me it had helped a little bit and she would be going the following day.  

I had another sleep after lunch while Rowan got her nails done.  When I woke up I ordered some room service then watched our departure from the balcony.  We were due to sail at 5.30pm, our thrusters were going all the while I was out from 5.20pm and we finally moved half an hour later.  Shopping again for a bit.  Due to the revised schedule, it was informal night again.  The three of us went to the Commodore Club where we were served by an elderly waiter on his first contract who completely ignored the fact I was there even when Glen or Rowan asked what I wanted to drink.  Service at dinner was better than the first night despite lamb being on the menu two nights running and Rowan still confusing the waiter.  Rowan and Glen even got their wine and we were done in plenty of time to get to the theatre to see Tom O'Connor.  Rowan came with me then we said our goodnights.  By now the wind was whipping up, hitting 56 knots by the time I climbed into bed.

The sea day and we would be tootling along the southern coast of England to see Portland Bill, Start Point and Eddystone lighthouses before turning around to head to Southampton.  We were staying on Central European Time to give us enough light.  I had breakfast then tried dozing until we were close enough to the first one but couldn't drift off so made myself comfy on the balcony.  Portland Bill was in view before 11am and it took us about half an hour to pass.


© Patricia Dempsey 13th-16th November 2015
Not to be reproduced without permission