It was when Queen Elizabeth was leaving her berth in Liverpool to sail across the Irish Sea to Dublin that I began to see that a cruise around the British Isles had not been such a bad idea after all. Until now I had steered clear. After all, why tour Britain when you live here?
The send-off we received was hugely emotional. Scousers lined the streets to watch and cheer as the ship let go her lines and on the quayside a ukulele band belted out Lennon & McCartney and other hits from the Sixties. It was fantastic and just one of my memories of this special cruise. In Scotland, we were sent on our way from Greenock to the stirring sounds of a bagpipe band and for our maiden call at Killybegs in Donegal the locals treated us like royalty. But the biggest bonus was to see my own region from the sea, to sail up the Mersey and gaze at towns I had only explored on foot; the sandy beach at Wallasey, with the dome of the handsome town hall towering above, presented an image totally at odds with the reality of previous visits.
But the greatest pleasure was to experience such sights from the comfort of Queen Elizabeth. Standards of service across the ship were excellent, inspired by the leadership of Captain Aseem Hashmi. He could be seen around the ship every day and his announcements at midday were always worth hearing. Apart from navigational updates, he added seafaring anecdotes spiced with humour, and at every port he kept us informed about his plans for leaving the berth and for the course to be taken. No wonder the theatre was packed for his talk about life on the Bridge. Captain Hashmi can certainly look forward to a lucrative career on stage if ever he tires of the sea.
On sea days I found the displays of memorabilia from Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage fascinating and would make time to look at them as I walked from one venue to another. It was a surprise to see that a bottle of wine cost less than ten dollars eight years ago; today you’re looking at around 30, although you could spend a lot more. Across the ship, original oil paintings of the fleet’s ships and black-and-white poster photographs of Hollywood movie stars taken when on board emphasized Cunard’s place in maritime history.
The daily programme of activities requires careful study because there is so much to do. I found the art classes fun, especially when our efforts went on display at the end of the cruise. The Clarendon Art Gallery was a useful destination to appreciate the real thing - here you can buy works of art ranging in price from the low hundreds to $10,000+. The speakers and port presentations were popular with guests, as was the handsome library, the best I have seen on any ship. Dance classes, some of them privately arranged, continued throughout the day and up in the gym there were alternative forms of exercise for those determined to remain at peak fitness. Add daily quizzes to the mix and you can see that there is never any need to feel bored. This year’s sizzling British summer meant that reading by the pools was also essential as was the occasional swim with the aft pool being reserved for adults only.
I used Club dining, eating at 6 o’clock in the Britannia restaurant. Both food quality and service were excellent. Geronimo and his assistant, Jericho, were perfect waiters, soon becoming used to my nightly requests for ice cream with caramel sauce for dessert. The steaks were juicy and tender and the fish was also of good quality but portions of vegetables were small. My lemon sole was delicious but an accompaniment of two halves of a potato seemed mean, although of course there were other vegetables on the plate – and yes, that included the usual broccoli. Geronimo responded immediately when he heard me mention the lonely potato and brought extra from then on. Another plus point about eating in Britannia is that after leaving the table you are tempted at the restaurant doors with a table piled high with crystal ginger and chocolate mints.
Upstairs in the Lido self-service restaurant, the range of choices was generous and platters were constantly being refreshed. At breakfast I could not fault the omelettes, prepared by a chef who chatted cheerfully as she prepared my choice of fillings. And at teatime, I defy anyone to resist the warm scones accompanied by a pot of Cornish clotted cream!
Downstairs on Deck 2, the Queen’s Room offers a more formal afternoon tea. As the clock strikes 3.30 white-gloved waiters march to the middle of the dance floor, the harpist or pianist begins playing and sandwiches and cakes start to be served. It is a classically English occasion. But more often than not I still opted for the clotted cream in the Lido.
After dinner the theatre soon fills up. Dance and music shows are presented by the ship’s own theatre company and there are also guest artists, including magicians, comedians and solo instrumentalists. I enjoyed them but my prize for the best show goes to The Barricade Boys, four young men who have performed in the West End and who brilliantly delivered show songs that had us on our feet, cheering for more.
So would I do another cruise around the British Isles? Yes, definitely. And would I be happy to return on board Queen Elizabeth? Of course I would. To sit in Café Carinthia enjoying an Americano for $4 whilst drinking in coastal views of great contrast is a privilege that deserves to be repeated more than once.
For a single traveller, this cabin was a good choice. It was spacious and the curtains and carpets looked fresh. The bathroom sparkled and Abraham, the steward, was happy to provide an armchair. The cabin had a picture window, a real bonus. The cabin was blissfully quiet - no creaks and rattles. There was one problem when the air-con went into reverse and the cabin became colder and colder. However, Abraham reported it immediately and an engineer sorted out the problem within two hours.