Southampton to Amsterdam
June 12th-13th, 2000
Bart de Boer
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.
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
Copyright © 2000
Bart de Boer
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