Day 1 Saturday, January 20, 2018
Mail Forwarded? Yes.
Newspapers stopped? Yes.
Plants watered? Yes.
Bags packed? Almost! A last-minute flurry of packing the final few essential items and ten I was ready to walk out the door.
Half an hour later the cab dropped me at Terminal 19, Port Everglades, right in my home town of Fort Lauderdale. Amazingly, and in total contrast to the mob scene a year ago when I sailed on Queen Victoria, I was the only one in line. Embarkation was easy. I presented my e-ticket, posed for my security photo, received my boarding pass/room key and walked right on to Cunard’s elegant Queen Elizabeth.
The gangway led directly on to Deck 2, midships, the heart of the vessel. Decks 2 and 3, 9 and 10 are the prime entertainment areas with restaurants, bars, lounges, and a three-story theater which would not be out of place on Broadway. There is a card room, (11 tables for bridge), a photo gallery, a gym and the Canyon Ranch Spa. There are two swimming pools, whirlpool tubs, and at the spa,a therapeutic pool. There are shuffleboard courts, ping-pong tables, and hundreds of sun loungers around the pools. I knew the layout of the ship and took the midships elevators from Deck 2 to Deck 5. I then walked forward on the port side of the ship (easy to remember with the aid of the following mnemonic – we left port) and found my room beside the A stairway. There are three passenger stairways on this enormous ship, A, B, C – Forward, Midships and Aft. My stairway lobby has 4 elevators, and there are 10 more in the other two stairways. There are close to 2000 guests when at maximum capacity and at meal times the elevators become very busy.
My stateroom was ready to receive me, pristine white linens on the bed, a bottle of Pol Acker chilling in the ice bucket. I stepped on to the balcony from where I could see five more cruise ships, all part of the regular tourist traffic in South Florida. Not so, Queen Elizabeth. “My” ship was already part way through a World Voyage, having departed Southampton, England, two weeks earlier. This would be her only visit to Fort Lauderdale until 2019.
By the time I had unpacked and stowed my carry-on bag, my other luggage arrived. As a solo traveler, I had all the closet space to myself, one of the best reasons for not having a room-mate. I was soon ship-shape, so went upstairs to the Lido Restaurant for a quick lunch, much appreciated as I hadn’t bothered with breakfast.
The Lido is the casual restaurant on board, just as it is on most cruise ships. On Elizabeth, it takes up more than half of Deck 9, more than twice the length of my condominium building on land. The Lido is divided into 4 sections, with 2 buffet lines, one to serve each side of the ship, the kitchens, or galleys, located between them. At the end of the horseshoe of buffets is a pizza and pasta station, a sandwich station, a specialty salad station and a beverage station with tea, coffee, water, cranberry juice, orange juice and Cunard’s ever popular lemonade.
I looked for a table close to the pizza station. I knew that friends from previous voyages would be on board and this was always our meeting place. Sure enough, as I was sipping a glass of New Zealand Landmade sauvignon blanc, I saw Vibrant V and Trendy T. I sat down with them only to jump up again when Pretty P showed up and said that she and her mother, Perfect P were sitting on the outside deck enjoying burgers and French fries. I went to join them. Perfect and I had arranged to be bridge partners for this voyage and I couldn’t wait to see her. We sipped our drinks in the warmth of Fort Lauderdale and toasted to a splendid trip. We will be together for 6 weeks, from Florida to Sydney, Australia.
Cunard’s iconic red funnel
By five in the afternoon all new guests were on board and we were ready for the sail-away party on Deck 9 Aft. Waiters were offering bubbly, champagne or beer, or any cocktail one wanted. I ordered Tito’s with a splash. I had forgotten that British drinks are very small compared with the generous pour at most American bars, but it was still delicious. I sipped slowly and watched Pretty and Agile boogie to the exciting music from Caribbean band Synergy. As people danced, or merely shuffled their feet, we heard the other ships blow their whistles (it sounded like a chorus of foghorns) to signal their departure.
Queen Elizabeth had been first ship into the port, and was last to leave. We watched from the open deck as the other ships let go their lines, pushed off their berths and made their way out from the harbor, turning south towards the Caribbean. When we were the last ship in sight, standing, the Captain spoke over the PA(Public Address System) welcoming us all on board. He suggested that we should stand on the port side of the ship as hundreds of home owners and apartment dwellers alongside the harbor would be on their lawns or balconies to wave us off.
They did not disappoint us. We sailed out past a row of carefully maintained single family homes, then past the towers of South Ocean Boulevard, whistles and noisemakers booming back at us from shore. In a few minutes we were out of the harbor, past the rocks, past the beach of Lago Mar and heading south ourselves.
The air from the ocean soon turned chilly and I went back to my room. I had a 7:30 date to keep with Perfect and Pretty – cocktails in Café Corinthia.