Joined the ship at Southampton via the Cruise Connect bus, which was very efficient and would have been dead on time had it not been for the combination of the Southampton Boat Show and a football match which slowed traffic down somewhat . Embarkation was fast, despite that the fact that I had forgotten to bring the tickets! I took them out to remove the luggage labels and forgot to put them back. At the check-in desk they said "no problem" and checked me in using my passport. That was when that my credit card didn't work on their system but they blamed that on their terminal and said to register it on-board. Impressed with the cabin - sorry, stateroom - plenty of room and a view outside between the lifeboat davits, which I prefer to having a sheer drop owing to my fear of heights. The interactive TV has the name of the previous passengers on it as well as ours. Went to Britannia Grill. Had asked for a table for 2 but our table, 63, is for 6 and located right in the middle. The other guests are a couple of blonde ladies from Southampton, who are on the same deck as us but the other side of the ship and a man and wife from the UK. Conversation is difficult due to the high noise level and the fact that I am totally deaf on one side. Service is quite fast.
Had breakfast in the Kings Court, wisely as it turned out as everyone complained of the slow service in the Britannia Grill - that's probably because you all tried to eat there at the same time. Had meeting in the Commodore Club with CCs. From memory I think it was Josie and Joan, Malc and Betty, Lynne and David and another couple. And us. After accosting a number of innocent passengers we realized that there is no easy way to identify Cruise Critics as they seem to come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Perhaps a badge would help? It was nice to meet people. We had brought our laptop so registered with the ships system to get WiFi access. Although we could pick up the network, even in our room, it wouldn't log on. Spent ages trying different settings. Dinner in Britannia - the man and wife have been replaced with a couple of ladies from the UK. We later find that the first couple had asked to be moved as it was too noisy. One of the waiters steps back into the path of another who deposits a large amount of drink on the head (and silk dress) of one of the new couple. They offered to clean her dress later but she declined as it was silk and she didn't trust them to get it right.
Let the computing people try to configure the laptop but eventually they gave up, blaming it on tunneling software installed by BT (I use BT broadband in the UK). I accept this explanation as I've no idea what they are talking about. Apart from writing this review laptop now useless. Went to see former RADA students perform "Bottoms Dream". The production is very good but we later see them in a condensed version of "Great Expectations" which is pretty awful. Apart from the fact that most of the characters seem to be the same as in the first production they have managed to fit it into an hour by dint of racing through it and removing all the pauses. It's a bit like the Reduced Shakespeare Company on steroids but without the humor. If I hadn't been familiar with the book I would have found it totally incomprehensible. All right, I admit it, I'm not and I did. As an amateur actor for many years I was looking forward to the RADA workshops. There were three in the week. The first was voice exercises which I skipped as I find going oo-oo-oo, aa-aa-aa-, etc a teeny bit embarrassing, The second was physical exercises which were quite good. The third was "your opportunity to deliver a Shakespeare speech" for which read "your opportunity to say a line from Shakespeare after a five minute rehearsal". Dinner tonight - last night's new couple had gone. We later found out that one of them was deaf and had found it hard to join in the conversation. They were replaced with a couple of American ladies. Apart from the first night I have been the only man on the table. What an awesome responsibility.
Dinner - the American couple have gone, never to be seen again. Is it me? The table is still set for 6 but only 4 of us are left, the two ladies from Southampton, my wife and me.
Still at sea. Spend quite a lot of time in the cabin as not many of the activities really interest us. I could be wrong, but I would have thought that napkin-folding and scarf-tying were pretty much minority interests. The library has an excellent selection of books and one copy of The Times and the Daily Mail We are told that they don't print more owing to the amount of ink needed and the Sunday papers are not printed at all for the same reason. The library has nice seats but the concept of quietness seems to have eluded people, even the staff, one of whom has a penetrating voice that reaches to the farthest corner when he is having a conversation with customers (the library is also a bookshop). In fact, it transpires that apart from in the cabins there is no quiet place on the ship.
More sea. The cabin balcony is quite useable despite being windy. Went to an excellent lecture by Dr Jeffrey Hoffman, an ex- shuttle astronaut. Earlier in the week there were lectures by Andrew Green, an astronomer so what with the planetarium films I found it fascinating.
Arrive at Brooklyn. As we had been to NY before we had only booked the shuttle bus to Manhattan. We were told to go to the King's Theatre at 8.45am. The theatre was full and we were eventually called to disembark at 10.43am. The immigration process takes place in a large shed and about 8 to 10 officers deal with the UK passengers. I timed the actual procedure at 4 minutes per couple and we had to wait in line until 11.41am. We got to Manhattan at 12.39am, walked to Macy's, turned round and by then it was time to return to the bus. Some of the later buses had less than an hour in Manhattan. Full marks to Cunard as they refunded our fee for the shuttle although I couldn't help thinking that it had been a day wasted. At dinner our companions tell us that a half bottle of Pol Acker had been left outside their cabin, in fact all the port side cabins on deck 8., but not on the starboard side where we are. At Southampton we were given a half bottle but they were given a full bottle. Later told the purser that some cabins had been given a bottle of Pol Acker but he said that they hadn't. When we insisted he went away and when he returned said that it was an administrative error and they shouldn't have had it.
Newport. We had booked for Scenes of Newport tour a couple of days ago but last night got a card saying that it was full and we were wait-listed. Decided to wander down to the King's Theatre anyway and were told to go ashore and wait to se if there were any vacancies. Turned out that there were plenty so we had a nice drive along the coast. The weather was more like summer than fall.. Had lunch in a sushi restaurant near the harbor. Delicious. The library has apparently discovered vast reserves of ink as they are now printing several copies of the newspapers and even include the Sunday Times (UK).
Boston. Another nice day. Took the shuttle bus to Quincy market. Wondered why many shops were shut. realized that it was Sunday. Have lost track of time. Bought one of the many trolley tickets that take you round the city. They are actually good value and run about every 15 minutes so you don't have to wait long. Back at Quincy market there is an amazing variety of snacks in the central hall. Boston is a beautiful city. I would love to come back some time.
Bar Harbor. Took the most expensive tour, the grand tour with lobster bake. Acadia National Park is very scenic but due to the late fall the trees have only just begun to change color. The programme lists 3 photo opportunities and sure enough 3 is all you get. Although the bus passes some interesting views and items like a beaver lodge, it doesn't stop, so for a photographer it is a bit frustrating. We stopped for lunch at a place not mentioned in the programme for some unknown reason and despite brilliant sunshine ate indoors. We did not have the clam chowder that we had been promised. At Thunder Hole the tide was out so we saw the hole but not the thunder. Apart from the top of Cadillac Mountain, which is spectacular, the few stops seemed to be linked to gift shops rather than the views. I would say that the tour is poor value and you would probably get a much better lobster dinner in the town.
Halifax. This is Canada so they don't even ask for our passports. Instead of immigration control we file past tourist shops. We then walked into the town via the boardwalk which follows the shoreline. You can even get a free bus round the city although it is packed and not that frequent. At dinner we experiment and find that our table for 6 can easily be converted to a table for 4 by putting the flaps down so we show the waiter and he says that he will do that every night. Had a long conversation with the head waiter regarding service issues. I tell him that I am half deaf and find it difficult to hear and he does a most amusing impression of a deaf person, consisting basically of putting a hand behind one ear and saying "What?". We all explain to him that in a real restaurant the waiters serve from the left and clear away from the right, cutlery is put out at the start of the meal and not pushed through from behind as you are eating, food is not cleared away as half the table is still eating and especially not as you are still conveying the last mouthful from the plate to your mouth, etc. He cheerfully explained that as we were not getting silver service we had to put up with these little problems, and explained the difference in staff/passenger ratio between the Britannia Grill and the Princess Grill. Most people that I speak to seem to think that the problem is just bad staff training. I asked the head waiter why the tables could not be rotated at various times through a long voyage but was told that it would be too complicated. I'm pretty sure that other ships manage it.
At sea. Decided to do our laundry. There are several laundries on different decks but each one is quite small and heavily used. People get quite irritated when loads of washing are left in the machines and nobody returns for them Unfortunately, no baskets are provided , so if you take somebody's washing out there is nowhere to put it. We heard of one major argument where a man had put his whites in one machine and a single pair of black socks in another, while a long queue was waiting. Toyed with the idea of doing the washing in the middle of the night but decided that everyone else may have the same idea. The guest lecturer today was Art Linkletter who is in his eighties but still an excellent speaker (without notes, too). Cabin interactive TV not working. You can report problems but you have to do it on the interactive TV! Tell the steward and he says that he will get it fixed. The ships system is down for maintenance at the moment so there may be a connection. Hurray! The dinner table has been set for 4.
Quebec. Another lovely city and a sunny warm day. Together with another couple we hired a taxi for two hours and he gave us a conducted tour. It cost less than the ship's tours and being a smallish vehicle we were able to get through narrow streets. Also, he stopped wherever we wanted for photos. We ended the tour in the upper town, from where it is an easy walk back to the ship. Interactive TV still not working. A very good comedian on tonight, Jon Courtenay. Nearly didn't go as he was billed as a "comedy pianist". Actually he is a brilliant comedian and a brilliant pianist. And singer. We later met him in the lift and he said that they never billed him as a comedy pianist before - somehow to me it conjures up someone who is neither one nor the other. Dinner table set for 6 again. After choice words with the waiter checked with the menu that there wasn't anything that we especially wanted and then left and ate in the Lotus restaurant.
At sea. Interactive TV now working. Turns out that that connection had been pulled out at the back when the steward drew the curtains. Ate dinner in the Chefs Galley. Highly recommended as the food is nice and you see it cooked. Not sure that chef should have sneezed into his hand and then carried on preparing the crab cakes but the ones that we were served came from the galley.
At sea again. By now everyone has realized that this is three one-week cruises, rather than one three-week one. The waiters tell us that the menus have a 6-day cycle. There are three major music and dance productions that are repeated each week. RADA have only two productions and their workshops are the same each week. The planetarium shows are repeated. The only things that seem to change are the guest lecturers and the films. The lecturers are excellent but seem only to stay on the ship for a week. Likewise Jon Courtenay who was the best performer but only did two shows. Ate dinner at Todd English. The food was nicely presented but very salty. We ordered a bottle of champagne and they poured us one glass. When the glass was empty I had to ask the waiter to re-fill it but when he did there was only half a glass each At that point they realized that they had mixed up our bottle with someone else's, obviously that of a quicker drinker. For some reason they use enormous plates and the design is such that when you put down your cutlery it slips into the middle of the plate. Didn't leave a tip. Britannia Grill had obviously missed us as they rang our cabin and the maitre d' sent a note of apology and some chocolate covered strawberries. Don't like strawberries but it's the thought that counts.
Back to Brooklyn. Surely we won't have to go through immigration again? Oh yes, we will! Everyone has to get off the ship, even if they don't want to go ashore. We turn up the King's Theatre at the appointed time and are told to return in twenty minutes. Then a further thirty minutes. This time when we disembark we only have to wait for an hour as we go through immigration, go out through one door, back in through another and wait in a hall until we are allowed back on the ship. For some reason we have been issued with new passes, without our pictures on them, and once on board we go for a drink and find the new passes don't work although to be fair we were able to enter our room with them. The waitress tells us that the staff have also been given new passes with new numbers but their uniforms are all marked with their old numbers for the laundry. The interactive TV has stopped showing our names and has reverted to showing only the previous inhabitants. Ate dinner in Britannia again. Our table companions said that the staff had been quite worried that we had shut ourselves in the cabin and were starving to death but I reassured them on that point. They had remembered to set the table for 4, although for the last few nights there had only been two people at the table.
Heading home! This time a full bottle of Pol Acker was left outside the starboard cabins but not the port ones. When we told our table companions they complained and were given a half bottle. There very good guest lecturers from the New Yorker magazine, Andy Borowitz, Anthony Lane and Adam Gopnik. Also, ambassador Gwen Clare who spoke about the war against terror and managed to make the subject interesting. Unlike in the US British immigration are on board and seeing people in the dining-room for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the afternoon. Long queues. Figure that if we go about fifteen minutes before they are due to finish the queues will have gone. I was right. Dinner in the Britannia. All went well except for feeling of dEjà vu on seeing menu.
Only four days and we will be home. Has it come to this? Dreaming of home comforts and walking dogs again. Had an invitation from Elderhostel (?) to a cocktail party. Turned out that we had been invited by mistake so we drank their champagne and left.
Had lunch in the Britannia Grill instead of dinner. The lunch is very good. Neither of us are big eaters and we find that we cannot cope with both lunch and dinner in the Grill so it is either/or.
Day 20 Dinner in Britannia so that we could say goodbye to our table companions. Waiter gives us a folder with copies of the menus in. There are six of them and half or ours are in French. How does he know I speak French? And why after three weeks can he not remember that I am deaf on my left side? Doesn't he wonder why I keep ignoring him when he stands there waiting for the order?
Have lunch in the Britannia Grill but not dinner. Reflections on the voyage. Well, it is very obviously three separate cruises although a couple of month sago when I asked if I could upgrade one leg to Princess Grill I was told that it was all one trip so I would have to upgrade the whole lot. I declined. It is a beautiful ship and the crossing was smooth despite a force 9/10 tail wind on the Eastward crossing. The actual public rooms are not as impressive as I expected. The layout of the ship means that you don't see all that much at once except when you look along the corridors where the cabins, sorry, staterooms, are. Come on, guys, the Winter Garden is not modelled on Kew Gardens. Kew doesn't have a few artificial trees and a painted ceiling. The central atrium from the Royal Court Theatre to the Britannia Grill looks good but much of the time it is filled with trestle tables laden with cheap "bargains" and mementos or photographers and their painted backgrounds. It looks more like the center of many UK cities a few years ago. Most have cleaned up their act now. I overheard a senior member of staff giving an interview to the press in the Commodore Club and telling them what sort of perks people expected if they had paid $50,000 for a suite. Well, I could afford $50,000 for a suite but I don't think that I would pay it. Before we went I thought that Kindlychap was mad when he suggested paying extra for the Princess Grill but now I see his point but resent having to pay for service that I think should be available all through the ship.
Home! Foliage in the UK looking lovely as it just turning color.