Pittsburghers Jan Grice and her husband Don recently took a two week World Cruise from San Francisco, CA to Sydney, Australia aboard the Queen Mary 2. Below are some excerpts from Jan’s travel journal, emailed from the ocean liner to her friends from February 5 to 20, 2007.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Hi, everyone. The QM2 is massive and beautifully new. It took most of the day yesterday to board, get the luggage, and unpack. I went to bed right after dinner.
We did, by the way, get switched to early sitting, which is much better because I’m still on Eastern time. Sailing out of San Francisco, the ship was accompanied by about ten police boats and Coast Guard clippers. I guess we’re a good terrorist target! Going under the Golden Gate Bridge was quite an event. The ship is so large that there was only about 30 feet clearance. The bridge was lined with people, applauding as we went under. San Francisco was beautifully lit up, receding in the background.
The cabin is small but cozy, and the bathroom is luxurious -- unlike all the other ships we’ve been on. There is actually space to put things, on a long, granite counter. And, the bathrobes are great.
The weather today is rainy and very windy. I haven’t gone on deck -- too cold. And, somehow I managed to forget a bunch of my clothes. They were the things I took out of the DHL shipped bag, to lessen the weight. I hung them inside the spare bedroom closet door and completely overlooked them on the second packing. I guess that’s what happens after 50. Tonight is the first super-formal night.
I’ll be in touch.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
It’s day 3 on the ship and I am still bumbling around the hallways, trying to find things. All I’ve managed to get straight is that I make a left out of the cabin door to exercise and eat at the casual venue. A right takes us to the formal dining room for dinner. To make matters even more complicated, there are sub-levels to some of the decks at the aft and stern ends. And, the stairwells don’t serve all the decks, so you often run into a dead end.
Yesterday, Don and I walked around the ship seven times in near gale-force winds and rain, for exercise. Three times around is a mile, so you can deduce that the ship is larger than a football field. The gymnasium is large and well-equipped, with all the things I’m used to at Club One. I’ve been up there every morning after my room service breakfast.
The seas have been very rough. Today, there are 12-foot swells. I guess this is what makes all the good surfing waves in Hawaii. Seasickness, though, has not been a problem. I have taken only one of the multiple Bovines I brought. We dock in Honolulu tomorrow, and the forecast is in the 70s. So far, it hasn’t risen out of the low 60s and there is virtually no activity on deck. We’re traveling at a rapid rate. When you look out the windows, the sea is just zipping along.
This morning I found the best part of the ship: the hydrotherapy spa. It has a massive whirlpool swimming pool, with bubbling water, showers, and countless jets. There are two saunas -- Swedish and herbal aromatherapy -- a steam room, reflexology whirlpools for your feet, and full-body showers. There’s a daily charge to use it, but I’m definitely going to return a couple more times. It makes up for not being able to swim laps.
We have good table mates. Doreen and John are a retired couple from Sydney. John wears a white evening coat reminiscent of Noel Coward. Doreen is one of those very attractive older ladies who must have been quite pretty when she was young. She has a good sense of humor. The other two, two 60ish women from Australia, have been on the ship since Fort Lauderdale. June has been ill and we haven’t met her. Di has a rather aristocratic air about her, but Doreen and Don had her laughing last night. I’ve worn two of my formal outfits thus far and am not sick of it yet!
I’ll send the Hawaii report on Saturday.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Okay, now you’re not going to want to read my emails anymore. It’s 77 degrees and the sea is calm. I found a shady spot on the starboard side of the seventh deck this morning and settled into a teak deck chair with comfy green cushions and read for a couple hours before getting a bowl of cream of spinach soup and a salad for lunch. This is more like it!
We were in Honolulu barely long enough to get any sense of Hawaii. The ship docked right downtown, so we walked a few blocks to the Iolani Palace, which was the residence of the Hawaiian king and queen in the late 19th century. We took a tour, led by a delightful senior citizen in a muumuu, who was an excellent docent. We got the whole history of the monarchy, up to the overthrow and creation of the republic of Hawaii -- history of which I had minimal knowledge and of which Don knew every detail, of course!
In the afternoon, we took a shore excursion offered by Cunard that involved taking a ferryboat off the shore of Waikiki beach to a battery-powered submarine. It accommodates about 65 people and submerges to around 100 feet below the surface, where we could see artificial reefs (i.e., submerged old airplanes and ships) covered in coral and teeming with fish. We saw several mega-turtles, lounging about on the wreckage, three sand sharks sleeping on the ocean floor, and hundreds of small fish. I know you’re imagining a colorful scene, but everything was grey, because the light doesn’t penetrate far enough for color. That was a bit disappointing, but it was nevertheless a fun experience. The sub was cramped, but the windows were large, so you didn’t feel claustrophobic.
The entertainment on the ship has been good so far. We’ve had a Tony Bennett-type singer, a Russian classical pianist (technically brilliant but lacking soul), an Armenian piano-playing comic who was an absolute riot, and the standard dance troupe.
There is also a company of Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts grads who are doing short pieces throughout the cruise. They did an abbreviated A Midsummer’s Night Dream on Thursday afternoon and will do Private Lives and an Alan Ackbourne piece later in the cruise. There is also an astronaut onboard who gives lectures in the ship’s planetarium and two authors who do the same.
Tonight it’s a show by an Australian musical theatre actor. There’s also a string quartet and a harpist, who perform at various locations. Just last evening Don and I found a whole part of the ship that we had missed -- the Queens Room, which is where the “gentlemen hosts” are available for unaccompanied lady guests who want to dance. That room has its own big band orchestra.
And tucked away behind that is a discothèque that doesn’t open until 11:45 p.m. Judging from the average age of the clientele, I don’t suspect there are many people there. But who knows … The shipboard gossip is that five people died on the first segment from Fort Lauderdale around South America to San Francisco. I guess it’s a better end than fading away in the nursing home.
The gradual time-zone change is really not much better than doing it all at once. I’m still ready for bed at 8:30. This week, we won’t have a Thursday. I’m eager to see how this works. It doesn’t seem to make mathematical sense to me. Right now, we’re five hours behind Pittsburgh, and somehow we have to jump to 15 hours ahead. I’ll let you know.
Tablemates Di and June are warming up and have rallied us all to make a reservation for Valentines dinner at the “Chef’s Galley,” which is an alternate dining option for a small group. It is a presentation meal, with the kitchen as the stage. They have done it already and say that it is terrific. Doreen and John are holding the title so far in the daily quiz contest.
We have three days at sea before Pago Pago, which, by the way, we have learned is pronounced “Pango Pango.” File that away in your trivia file.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I know you won’t believe this, but I’m envious of you -- I love a big snowstorm crisis, and I’m missing it!
We crossed the equator on Saturday. The King Neptune ceremony involved covering 12 volunteers in messy food, having them kiss a fish, and then dumping them in the pool. We passed on that one. The three days at sea between Hawaii and Pago Pago were warm and calm, very relaxing. We had lunch on Monday at the up-charge restaurant, Todd English, one of those celebrity chef restaurants. It was well worth it -- delicious.
Yesterday was Pago Pago, a beautiful island. Imagine near vertical mountains rising out of the ocean, covered in lush forests of palm trees. Pago Pago is the main town on the island of American Samoa and has a protected natural harbor that was deep enough to accommodate the QM2. We were docked and cleared to disembark by 8 a.m., so we walked around “town” and perused the souvenir booths set up by the ship. We were greeted by Miss American Samoa, sash and all, doing a native dance on the dock.
After lunch, we took our shore excursion tour, which involved a long bus ride around the island in an open air converted mini-truck, decorated with fake fur dash and a painting of King Neptune on the back – similar to decorated buses in Latin America. The weather was sweltering and humid, but once you gave in to sweating, you were okay.
Our tour guide was a high school student named Tiva, who was doing her first tour. English is the second language in Samoa, and hers was a little sketchy. She sang native songs to us and danced, right in the front of the bus. She was adorable. As we drove around, literally everybody we passed waved and shouted hello. Even high school students! I have never seen such friendly people. Even the merchants at the souvenir tables were genuine and warm.
The island has 80,000 residents. The homes are shabby, but each one has an elaborate cemetery right in the front yard, where each family buries its dead. The men wear skirts -- a sarong-type thing called a lava-lava.
We saw only one motel on the island. The only tourism seems to be the occasional ship that stops. The people seemed genuinely happy to have visitors. As the tour ended, Tiva sang a farewell song and gave a little speech about how she will miss us and was weeping! It was definitely not your average day.
I returned to the Canyon Ranch hydrotherapy spa this morning and brought Don along. I had a lemongrass body scrub. Aaaaahhh.
Tonight is the Valentine’s Ball. We’re having dinner at the Chef’s Galley, with our table mates. Then it’s one more day at sea before Auckland on Saturday.
Save some snow for me.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
We’re down to one more day at sea. It’s Sunday afternoon, and we just have Monday before arriving in Sydney on Tuesday morning. In the last 12 days, the ship has become a familiar home. I can find my way to the gym, the theatre, the dining room, the various decks, and back to the cabin with no problem. Just in time to get off!
Auckland, New Zealand was beautiful. We docked in a container ship port (we are too big for the passenger ferry port). Shuttle buses were provided to downtown, which is a modern city of 1.5 million people.
We started our day with a bus tour north of the city, with two stops. The first was a natural seaside refuge -- beautiful scenery and thousands of gannets (sea gull type birds) perched on massive rocks protruding from the sea. Then it was on to a sheep farm, where we watched sheep dogs herd sheep (just like Babe!) and saw the shepherd shear a sheep. It was a family farm, and after the demonstrations, we were served tea.
The landscape was rolling hills, similar to Pennsylvania mountain valleys, except the plant life is mostly succulents and desert plants, along with large eucalyptus trees. Afterwards, we walked around downtown Auckland and had a late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant on the pier. Don had New Zealand mussels, which were the size of a man’s wallet. Things are big here.
When we were boarding our tour bus at the pier, a giant Maori warrior grabbed me and made that war whoop, with the tongue turned inside out. We got a good photo. There are no native animals on the island. The only indigenous wildlife is frogs, bats, and insects, and the insects are very large. Luckily, the only ones I saw were bumble bees, and they were busy pollinating a flowering bush. All other wildlife has been introduced by man.
Today, we finally made it to tea in the Queen’s Room. With main sitting dinner at 6 p.m., we haven’t felt like eating cakes and sandwiches at 4:00. But we didn’t want to miss the experience, so we went today. Small tables surrounded a string quartet, and white-gloved servers offered tea, pastries, and sandwiches on silver trays. It was quite nice. Tonight is the last formal dinner. I hope I can squeeze into my gown.
So now it’s two days in Sydney and the long flight home. See you soon.
Don and Jan Grice, arriving in Sydney, Australia
By Jan Grice