At 3.45 this morning, the alarm suddenly shattered the darkened silence with Alexa chirping a cheery “Rise and shine!” as the last vestiges of sleep left me and I swung my legs over the side of the bed and made my way to the bathroom. Ordinarily we would have taken no pleasure at being awoken at such an unearthly hour, but today we were going off on another cruise! 😊
Yes! We were due to board the wonderful Cunard ship Queen Victoria this afternoon, but first of all we had to make that long journey from Durham to Southampton, hence the early start.
Most of our packing was already done, apart from the last-minute essentials and those formal items of clothing that we didn’t want to get creased more than necessary. It was therefore just a case of getting dressed, having a cup of tea (breakfast could wait until our first stop, somewhere on the M1) and finalising the packing, locking the cases and attaching the luggage labels containing our deck and stateroom number.
A good friend had agreed to pick us up at 5.00am and take us to Washington Services on the A1(M) southbound, where we would board the Intercruises coach ready for the journey down south. Trevor and I were not cruising on our own this time; we were joining Trevor’s older brother Billy and his wife Carole, who would be celebrating 60 years of marriage (their Diamond Wedding anniversary) on Thursday.
Once we arrived at the services Billy and Carole were already there, as was the coach, and the driver took our three luggage items (one suitcase each, and an extra one containing my shoes!!!) and stowed them in the hold of the coach; the next time we’d see them would be in our stateroom. 😊
We also had our carry-on bags and a large carrier bag containing the ‘props’ we’d need for some of the gala theme nights; a couple of masks, a hat and a couple of feather boas – I placed the bag on the overhead rack in a position where it would not get squashed by other bags.
The weather, for mid-November, was not too bad. We have had an unseasonably warm November this year, with daily temperatures, even in the north of England, being around 14-15°C. So the early morning was silent and cool, but not cold.
The coach set off with only ten couples aboard; we had other pick-up points along the route; the first of these being at Scotch Corner in around 30 minutes’ time. More passengers were picked up as we headed further south in places such as Wetherby, Leeds and Woolly Edge as the weather gradually deteriorated. Before we reached our first rest stop, the rain was lashing down and pouring down the sides of the windows as the wheels of passing lorries sent up cascades of spray. We certainly hoped the weather would be better once we reached our first port of call, La Coruña in Spain, in two days’ time. 😊
Just after nine o’clock our driver, Dave, announce we would be taking a rest stop at Woodall services (on the M1 in south Yorkshire) and the coach pulled up in the car park. As I had unwisely packed my cagoule in my case (!) I pulled my alpaca wrap over my head and made a run for it along the puddle-ridden paths into the rest facilities. Dave told us we had 45 minutes to have a drink and bite to eat.
Spotting a Subway, we each ordered a bacon, egg and cheese six-inch sub and a large white Americano each. Then we browsed the limited shops for a little while before using the loo and making our way back on board the bus. There were still one or two passengers to pick up in Northampton, which Dave told us would be around two hours’ time.
There’s not really a lot you can do on a coach. I read the magazines and books I’d loaded onto my tablet, surfed the internet, dozed and stared out of the window as the rain continued to pour down relentlessly. Trevor had sneaked four of the little 200ml bottles of Prosecco into his rucksack and, around 10.20am, we cracked them open and offered one each to Billy and Carole as well. We are on holiday after all! 😊
We continued southwards, having another stop at Cherwell services which Dave told us was only one hour 45 from Southampton, giving us an ETA of 2.00pm. Only one other ship was in, Saga’s Spirit of Discovery, so the famous cruise port would not be too crowded. In fact, it was exactly two o’clock as the coach pulled up at the Mayflower Terminal and we collected our carry-on bags, had a quick look around to make we hadn’t left anything, and alighted from the bus. Walking inside the terminal, we were instantly directed to a check-in desk; we had already printed our boarding passes and had copies of negative Covid-19 tests and our vaccinated record, so check-in was an absolute breeze.
Stamping our boarding passes, the lady on the desk passed them back to us and wished us a wonderful cruise as we made our way to security. Then, after having our bags scanned, we made our way along the corridor; “TO THE SHIP” proclaimed a cheerful yellow sign, pointing the way. A sign that is always guaranteed to make your heart start beating a little bit faster, to make you want to shout “Yaaaay!” and dance along the corridor.
Trying hard to look nonchalant, we strolled along, spotting the bow of the ship with Queen Victoria proudly painted on the side, and soon we were making our way over the air bridge and stepping into the ship’s plush interior. The last time we’d been on Queen Victoria was four years ago (pre-pandemic) and it was just so wonderful to be back. 😊
We had been allocated cabin 5123, a balcony stateroom on the starboard side, while Billy and Carole were next door in 5125. The staterooms are marked as ‘partially-obstructed’ but, to be honest, it was no big deal; we could look out at some lifeboat winching equipment but most of it was below the level of the balcony anyway, and we still had a wonderful view. 5123 has light and airy floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading to a fair-sized balcony containing two reclining deck chairs and a small table.
The room itself contained a king-size bed, a two-seater sofa and coffee table, a dressing table and mirror and chair and a double wardrobe with plenty of hanging space and shelves. The bed has a bedside cabinet with three drawers on either side. The stateroom was decorated in muted shades of grey and beige with a couple of abstract prints on the wall, as well as a 40” TV screen mounted on the wall opposite the bed. The bathroom contained a vanity unit, a WC and a shower cubicle. We knew, from our previous three voyages on QV, that we’d enjoy a comfortable 10 nights. 😊
As we were looking around, our cabin steward appeared and introduced himself as Edison, telling us if there was anything we needed we only had to ask, etc. etc. We then stuck our heads around the door of cabin 5125 to see what Billy and Carole’s was like; it was a mirror image of our own.
After dumping our bags (our cases hadn’t yet arrived) we decided to go up to the Lido Restaurant for a late lunch, as it had been a looooong time since our Subway breakfast. When we arrived, everyone must have had the same idea, as the self-service restaurant was pretty busy and we had trouble finding a table; we had to share with another couple. I only wanted something light as I didn’t want to spoil my dinner later on. I therefore selected some salad vegetables with a light balsamic dressing, washed down with a can of cold Budweiser – we noticed that Cunard had put their already-expensive drinks prices up even more since our last voyage on Queen Victoria four years ago.
Cunard do an all-inclusive drinks package at $60.00 per person per day. At the time of booking this cruise we thought there was no way we would spend 120 bucks per day just on booze (putting another $1200 on the price of the cruise), but if the prices we’d seen so far were anything to go by, we realised that going all-inclusive might have been a bargain! ☹
After our late lunch we thought we’d return to 5123 for a power-nap to make up for our early start this morning. As we turned the corner into the corridor leading to our stateroom, we noticed two of our three suitcases outside the cabin door, so we took them inside to begin unpacking. Shortly afterwards, a discreet knock on the door heralded the arrival of the third case, and we emptied it out and hung everything up neatly and placed folded items in drawers and on shelves. We then settled down for our much needed nap as darkness slowly drew in beyond our balcony doors; we always leave our curtains open.
We always book early sitting to give our dinner time to “go down” properly before bedtime. On the Queen Victoria it was early indeed – 5.45pm. After getting washed and changed we made our way to the Britannia Restaurant and, with a sense of déjà vu, saw that we had been allocated the same table for four, #511, that we’d had last time we were on the QV.
I enjoyed a salmon mousse starter followed by a juicy sirloin steak with hand-cut chunky chips and vegetables, served with a very piquant horseradish sauce. It was washed down with house rosé wine and finished off with a selection of cheeses, accompanied by a tawny port. We finished the meal with a coffee.
Queen Victoria had already set sail, around 5.30pm, and already the ship’s motion was very discernible. The voice of Captain Tomàs Connery, came over the PA system to tell us that we would be in for a rough ride, both tonight and during our crossing of the Bay of Biscay tomorrow. That news was of no consequence to Trevor and me; we have very good sea legs and, in fact, I rather enjoy it when it’s rough – you know you’re on a ship then! 😊
After our excellent meal we made our way to the Royal Court theatre and bagged a couple of front-row seats for tonight’s entertainment, which featured a German multi-instrumentalist called Andy Buenger. He was very good; he played what at first sight you’d think was a xylophone but, in actual fact, many sounds could me made on it, from marimba drums to a Hawaii’an guitar sound. He also played a wonderful selection of well-known pieces on the Andean panpipes. His performance was punctuated with some amusing patter and we really enjoyed his show a lot.
Looking at our daily programme, Trevor and I noticed that they were holding a trivia quiz up in the Winter Garden, a large conservatory-like room with a retractable roof adjacent to the pool deck. When we got there, we agreed that the ‘winter’ part of the room’s name was appropriate; it was freezing! Trevor returned to 5123 to collect my pink alpaca wrap and a sweater for himself; they were certainly needed. When he returned, we each ordered a drink and collected a quiz paper and pencil. We scored 13/20, nowhere near enough to win.
Afterwards we felt quite tired, so we went down to the Golden Lion pub for a nightcap, then made our way back to our stateroom. We usually wedge our balcony door open a few inches to let in the wonderful sea air, but it was already blowing a gale and opening the door just made it whistle and howl through our cabin, so we hurriedly closed it! We then got washed and undressed and into our ‘jamas, then settled down in our big bed with its rustly cotton sheets, where it wasn’t long before we fell asleep, rocked by the motion of the Queen Victoria as she made her way determinedly south.