White Pawns Missing
Europe - Western Mediterranean
Cruising, they say, is not what it used to be. This should come as no surprise because few things remain the same. Take air travel for instance. I'm told that people used to get dressed-up for a flight. Nowadays you're lucky if your neighbour is wearing a proper shirt and shoes.
Cruising too comes from a rich heritage where the style of the voyage was more important than the substance of actually getting to one's destination. Unfortunately it was with high expectations that I boarded the Queen Elisabeth for Cunard's Holy Land Cruise.
One's initial impressions are good. It seems that the glory days of cruising live on in the Cunard name. The ship is huge, the carpets are plush and there's not a plastic table in sight. Curved wooden banisters provide an impressive backdrop as one descends the staircase to the formal dining room in which a strict dress code is enforced. Meals are exquisite and the service impeccable. But then the bubble bursts.
No you More
can't have a cappuccino with your meal; that's an extra-cost item. You can't get the picture they took of you in digital format; you have to buy 12 for $300. The "behind-the-scenes" tour costs $120 per person. Internet cost $48 for two hours. And on it goes.
It was early on in the cruise that they announced the first cancellation. The ship would not be sailing to Haifa because of the Gaza conflict and all Holy Land tours were cancelled. The fact that there was no unrest in Haifa and no Gazan missiles could reach the port didn't seem to matter. Carnival Security in the US had spoken and the decision had been made. A meeting with the Ship's Master confirmed that there was no recourse and contractually guests have no recourse.
Now the Un-Holy Land Cruise we proceeded to Alexandria. We were not far off when that stop was cancelled too. Unrest in Tahir Square and in the centre of Alexandria again exceeded Cunard's security profile and, although no tour was actually going anywhere near either square the decision had been made to miss the stop (and berthing fees). No Pyramids for this batch of cruisers -- and nothing could be done about it. Never mind, there was Pompeii to come.
But then the wind picked up and the Captain cancelled the Naples port visit.
Let's face it Cunard's business has fallen on hard times. Disposable income has dried up and so has the number of eligible cruisers. Money saved on berthing fees and fuel savings on truncated sailing flows directly to Cunard's bottom line. When it comes to cruising Cunard is just like all the others. I just wish they would be more truthful in their brochures. It's buyer beware -- when you embark the ship don't expect to go everywhere they tell you; and there's nothing you can do about it.
The giant chess pieces on the upper deck epitomised the Cunard cruising ethos. There are only seven white pawns. "One blew away several cruises ago" a crew person told me. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
No selection for Antolya:
Antolya (Pergumum) is a large Turkish bustling city well situated to take care of the tourist. The ship docked at the new port (but only just -- the berth was about 2 feet longer that the vessel) and we were bussed to the old port. From there we took a harbour cruise and looked around the town. But after the umpteenth Turkish rug shop, coat shop or tout selling shirts we had had enough and made our way back to the ship.
We docked at Limassol on the south coast and rented a car again. We drove up to a quaint village in the mountains that's noted for its handmade lace. I'm not sure how much was handmade but it was an interesting time. There was a school excursion in town at the same time, we tried to go to the restaurant with WiFi for a coffee but the haggard owner refused us entry. I'll never know if it was because he did not want our custom or if he wanted to spare us a painful experience with the noisy school children who had effectively taken over his establishment.
From there we travelled up to the capital Nicosia. A fascinating glimpse into the Cypriot way of thinking. The town is divided into the Greek speaking area and the Turkish speaking area. You have to go through a checkpoint where they check your passports to pass between the two. The Turkish part is referred to as "Turkish occupied Cyprus" by Greek Cypriots. In turn the Turkish speaking population consider themselves as Cypriots firstly, although they are different from their southern brothers (language, religion and disposition) they would prefer to be one country. There are many political and practical reasons that this will not occur in the near future, Turkey considers Cyprus theirs and when the military invaded twenty years ago, Greek Cypriots lost property for which they've never been compensated. We found the whole experience fascinating and we were late getting back to the ship, they raised the gangplanks as soon as we'd boarded.
Malta was interesting. We arrived in the late afternoon which gave an impressive backdrop to the entry into the harbour at Valletta. Management opened the crew decks at the front of the ship so that we could watch the entrance of the ship and take pictures of the approach to the harbour. We disembarked and spent a couple of hours walking around the city that night and made a car rental reservation for the following morning. The city is remarkably intact. Apparently it underwent over 100+ days of continual bombing by the Germans during WW2 as a result of its strategic position (i.e. the Brits were using it as a base to disrupt the supply lines from Italy to Rommel's forces in North Africa). The people of Malta were awarded the George Cross as a result of their resistance to the bombardment.
The following day we traversed the island visiting most of the major towns including St Paul's Bay in the north. It is the site the Maltese have selected as the place to commemorate where the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked. Of note was the cathedral at Mosta. A typical catholic rotunda with frescos and statues. The facade features a statue of each of the twelve apostles.
The Maltese language is similar to Arabic but they use roman characters. The island is virtually 100% dependent upon tourism and the ship was met with a cacophony of vendors touting bus trips, taxi rides and tourist guide books.
An idyllic spot set up specifically and only for tourism. The houses are whitewashed, the pavement is painted to look like flagstone pieces in photographs and there is no industry, I talked to a local gold shop owner who was hanging out for November 26th when the last cruise ship of the season passes through. He then shuts up shop until March.
The island of Rhodes, it was interesting. It's the best example of a walled city I have ever visited. The walls have been restored and the old city is most impressive. Although inside it is mostly shops and restaurants they have preserved the architecture and done a good job of promoting the site as a must-visit for anyone interested in Byzentine history. The restoration has largely (75%) been paid for by the EU. We rented a car and drove up to the idyllic town of Lindos. It is a coastal town dominated by a Greek church and surrounded by restaurants and souvenir stores. Close by is St Paul's Bay, an idyllic small bay with a chapel overlooking the azure water.