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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman


Queen Elizabeth 2
Southampton to Amsterdam
June 12th-13th, 2000

by Bart de Boer

Who would not want to sail on the most famous passenger ship in the world - even if it was for only one night?   

We jumped at the chance to sail from Southampton to Amsterdam on the Queen Elizabeth 2, or QE2 as most people call her. Built three decades ago for a combination of transatlantic crossings and cruises, this ship still represents the ultimate in sea travel.  And although her owners Cunard are now part of the ever-growing Carnival Corporation, this grand lady is still going strong! 

Our trip from Amsterdam to Southampton involved a leisurely car ride, a coach trip, a fast ferry crossing, a 180-mile drive on the wrong side of the road in an English rental car and one death defying taxi transfer.  And yes, we arrived at the terminal in time.

Just… 

Check-in was easy, with staff making an imprint of your credit card and making a digital photo that miraculously appeared on the plastic boarding card later on. We were booked in grade M5 guarantees (the cheapest cabins – yes, we're Dutch!), but were pleasantly surprised to find out the eight of us were upgraded to C5 grade cabins on Two Deck! We ran on board at 4pm, after having our group portrait taken by the ship's photographer (alas, we have never seen the result as the photo shop was closed upon arrival in Amsterdam). Stewards were readily available to guide us through the maze of corridors to our cabins. Ilona and I occupied cabin 2016, all the way forward on Two Deck. A cozy cabin - VERY cozy. Considering this is a Caronia-class cabin, I was rather surprised by its small size. Two beds, two closets, one nightstand. One porthole. One small bathroom. That was it. Of course we wouldn't need anything more on this one-night trip, but things would have gotten a little cramped if we were to stay here for 7 days or longer. Not to mentioned the full World Cruise…

The bathroom was newly refurbished and looked spic 'n span, featuring a good shower (with folding glass door) and lots of Cunard toiletries. The nightstand was almost topping over with stuff. There was a small bottle of champagne in a cooler and two glasses, the Cunard and Seabourn 2001 brochures, a leather-bound folder with useful information, more brochures and leaflets, the cabin keys and of course the daily program. We also stumbled across two Cunard bathrobes - for us to use during the WHOLE trip… All 16 hours of it!

After exploring our sleeping quarters it was about time to hit the deck and see us setting sail from Southampton. A brass band played on the quayside - and on this nice spring afternoon there were bars set up on the open decks. At precisely five o'clock the ship's whistle sounded and we cast off - this was the moment we had all been waiting for. The Opus band played on the aft deck for some time - and with all passengers out on deck it was a magical sight as we slowly sailed down the Solent towards the Isle of Wight. We stood on deck with our drinks and felt absolutely on top of the world.

When a cool breeze started to blow, we felt the urge to discover the rest of QE2. And mind you, there is a LOT to see on this huge ship. Other than a cruise ship, this is really a city at sea, and every corner brings new discoveries. I will not go into too much detail, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the ship in great shape. I had last sailed on the QE2 in December of 1995, and it was good to see that Cunard has gone to great lengths to refurbish public rooms and cabins. One of my favorite lounges is the Queen’s Room, now done in beautiful blue and yellow, with new wood paneling throughout and some very comfortable high-backed chairs. The indoor promenades surrounding the public rooms are redecorated too and now are truly great places to sit and watch the ocean. The small Chart Room is still a gem with its new upholstery and décor. And the switch of locations of the Caronia and Mauretania Restaurants seems to have been a good decision.

Miles of new carpeting was laid during QE2’s last major overhaul last year, most of it in a funny purple/red color that can be best described as rather overpowering. But, this is QE2 and she has a style of her own! Which passenger ship nowadays features a synagogue, florist shop, garage, two indoor pools, a kennel (accommodating three cats, two dogs and one parrot on this transatlantic voyage) and a complete bookshop?

OK, the sightlines in the Grand Lounge are not very good, the cheaper cabins might look a little tired, and there’s no eight-deck high atrium with glass elevators. But QE2 doesn’t need all this – she is an ocean liner first and foremost!  

After changing for dinner we met up in the beautiful circular Midships Lobby on Two Deck and proceeded to the Caronia Restaurant. The advantage of dining in the Caronia Restaurant vs. the Mauretania Restaurant is the fact that the Caronia operates on an open-sitting basis. You can come for dinner anytime between 6.45pm and 9.00pm. We arrived at the Caronia around 8.00 pm and were welcomed by the friendly Maitre d’ and shown to our tables. The restaurant received a complete makeover during the ship’s last refit and now boasts wood paneling, crystal chandeliers, and very nice classic looking furniture. Our nice German and Italian waitresses introduced themselves and presented us with the dinner menu. We felt glamorous. And then something went wrong.

We had to hail the Wine Steward in order to secure a bottle of wine with dinner. The $32 bottle of Chardonnay was excellent, but our Steward forgot to fill a glass, which left one of us wineless, as he ran off with the bottle before we could say "Chardonnay."  In the meantime, our soups were served. My chilled blackberry soup was very good, but some of my friends found the garlic soup rather "starched."  When the waitress came and asked if we would like more bread, we asked for some more of these yummie cheese rolls. She promised to bring them right away. They never appeared. The same thing happened with the salad. We ordered the salad together with the main course - we are still waiting for it. At our other table, coffee and petit fours arrived before dessert, and the Polish waitress couldn't stop telling her equally Polish colleague that he made nothing but mistakes - in the middle of the dining room!

Now all of these things can be considered "minor incidents" - and I would never dream of mentioning them so extensively if it wasn't for the fact that Cunard that keeps referring to "impeccable Cunard White Star Service." We might have experienced White Star service, but it sure wasn't impeccable! Perhaps it was due to the fact that this was the first night out, which of course is always a little chaotic. But when I compare this experience to my previous trip on QE2, I must say that dining room service (and food) hasn't improved. And that's an understatement.  So next time we should perhaps pay more, book a suite, and go for the Queen's Grill!

After dinner we proceeded to the Grand Lounge, where we easily found a good spot to watch the Welcome Aboard Show. We're still debating whether the hour-long monologue interrupted by two very short "commercial breaks" (i.e. a dance couple and a singer) could be interpreted as a "show," but I guess it set the tone for the entertainment on this voyage. It's clear that people don't travel on QE2 to see feather-clad girls trying to evade laser beams and pyrotechnics at the stomping beat of yet another Las Vegas hit.  So it was with great pleasure that the Cruise Director introduced us to lovely Maureen from the Library, Knut from the Card Room ("Hello, I'm from Norway and you can play backgammon with me.") and Helga who was in charge of all German-speaking passengers ("Guten Tag und Wilkommen an Bord").

We left the Grand Lounge prematurely and headed for the Yacht Club, where we were in for some serious Party Time! The Yacht Club's excellent band "Opus" was performing old-time cruise favorites and we had a great time on the dance floor. The band's break was used to run to The Lido to LOOK at the Midnight Buffet. Of course we managed to end up sitting at a table with a plate in front of us munching away on some nocturnal goodies. After this midnight snack Mayke, Loes, Teun Wim and I thought it was time to call it a night.  I fell asleep to the faint sound of the mist horn sounding every five minutes or so, while QE2 sped through the night at 27 knots, gently rolling as only a LINER can.  Meanwhile, Ilona, Janneke, Adrie and Demis managed to keep the Yacht Club open until 3am!

The next morning I woke up to the sound of the bow thrusters. When I looked outside, I saw that we were just tying up in the IJmuiden locks. Weather was dreadful, misty and damp. But even the bad weather didn't hinder a number of people from driving up to the locks and to look at our magnificent ship.

While the ship was navigating the North Sea Canal to Amsterdam, we had a substantial breakfast in The Lido and made our last rounds before it was time to disembark. QE2 docked at precisely 10am at the desolated CERES Terminal, as her huge draft doesn't permit her to dock at the new Passenger Terminal.  From the quayside we finally had a good look at the ocean liner that we called "home" for just one night. We felt like it was "our" ship, and isn't that what it's all about?

Queen Elizabeth 2 - long may she reign! 

Bart de Boer
b.de.boer@tip.nl

Copyright © 2000 Bart de Boer


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