Sunday, January 21, 2018
Perfect, Pretty and I enjoyed our pre-dinner wine in Café Corinthia, a spacious bar/café on Deck 2, offering all day service with breakfast pastries, specialty coffees, exciting cocktails and our favorite wine, a sauvignon blanc from – where else – New Zealand. Pretty seemed to know all the handsome young men waiting on the guests, but she had a special smile for those who welcomed her with happy faces, beaming eyes. At 8:25 pm the march of hungry guests began, and we saw scores of people wending their way aft, along Deck 2, past our cozy table in the Corinthia bar, toward the Britannia Restaurant. Cunard offers two sittings, the first a little too early, the second a little too late. I always request late sitting as I feel it makes my day longer. Others prefer a longer evening with an early meal and a show followed by dancing in one of the largest ballrooms afloat. Or a visit to the casino. Or dancing in the disco until the small hours.
As I walked into the spacious, luxurious restaurant I was greeted by black-suited waiters, one to spray my hands with sanitizer, one to escort me to my table. We strolled through acres of tables, for two, or four or more, covered with blindingly white linens, the napkins folded like plumes, sparkling wine glasses, water goblets and gleaming silverware. A slender vase of pale yellow alstrameria graced every table.
I was assigned to a table on the restaurant’s upper level. My dining companions are Eloquent E and Saucy S. They are from The Villages in Central Florida and they play bridge. Someone at Cunard does an excellent job of matching guests to those with similar interests. We had another very important thing in common – we all like wine. This means that our sommelier, Rustana from Bulgaria, will be punctilious in visiting us as soon as we are seated. Our waiter, Rono, introduced himself and his assistant waiter, Edsel. They are both from the Philippines and are pleasant and efficient.
I was delighted to see parsnip soup on the menu. Cunard soups are unfailingly delicious, and always arrive piping hot. To follow, I ordered lamb en croute, a lamb version of beef wellington. It was accompanied by potatoes au gratin, creamed spinach and the essential mint sauce. Fresh strawberries for dessert. A delicious beginning to six weeks of gourmet cuisine.
Two hours later I was ready for bed. When I turned off my light I realized that the other bedside lamp was still lit. I was too tired to get out of bed and switch it off. I was too tired to roll across the queen size bed and switch it off. I closed my eyes and instantly went somewhere else for a solid eight hours. I woke up and discovered my pen and sudoku puzzle in the bed with me. Thank goodness there was no ink on the sheets.
A year ago, on board Queen Victoria, Perfect and I formed the habit of meeting at 8am for breakfast. Today, I was very sluggish, finally making it up to the Lido by 8:20, freshly showered, hair washed, and suitably attired. Perfect was already there, drinking coffee. It was going to be a busy day: breakfast, read, trivia, needlepoint, lunch, bridge, trivia, afternoon tea, read and nap, get gussied up for the evening (formal attire) cocktail party, dinner, show. I did everything but the show.
Cunard hosts its TRIVIA games in the Golden Lion Pub, a friendly, traditional English pub environment.
Every session we are reminded of the two rules for TRIVIA.
1 – No more than 6 people to a team.
2 – No I-phones or informational aids of any kind.
Today’s session consisted of 20 general knowledge questions. Each team chooses a name, ‘The Know Nothings’ being a popular choice. Team members collaborate to produce an answer which the team-scribe records. Teams swap answer papers for marking and much fun is had when everyone shouts out the answers. The team with the most correct answers wins. The prize? A stamp in one’s log book to be used toward prizes the day before disembarkation. Last year I won a huge array of prizes as I was on a very knowledgeable trivia team and I frequently won at bridge.
I was invited to join a team of two, A and D. Together we became Team ADR. We didn’t win, but we had fun and I made two new friends.
Lunch was leisurely, then Perfect and I went off to play bridge. For the first time ever, I knew the bridge host onboard, Agreeable A. She tells me I am her hero because she bought my “how-to” book about teaching bridge on cruise ships, found an agent and started teaching on ships. Now she has reached the pinnacle of success – Cunard.
Perfect and I enjoyed a delightful afternoon and earned our first win. Any masterpoints we are awarded here on the ship will be forwarded to our ACBL records at home, another big plus for Cunard.
More trivia, then back to my room for riveting MSNBC coverage of political problems until it was time to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Cunard held a welcome aboard party for all guests who embarked in either New York or Fort Lauderdale. This was less than half of all guests on board, the others all having joined the ship in Southampton.
Cunard sells its World Voyage in segments, the most privileged being those who sail the complete round the world trip, Southampton to Southampton. Americans qualify if they sail New York or Florida to Southampton (via the world) and take the Queen Mary back across the pond to New York. Full World Cruisers have a charming, private lounge area in the Garden Lounge and typically enjoy a World Voyage Gala party in an exotic locale. Back in 2006 when I did the full World Cruise, our special event was held in Dubai, undoubtedly the most exotic and glamorous banquet at which I have been a guest.
This evening’s cocktail party was held in The Queen’s Room, a large, elegant open space with the biggest dance floor at sea. The room is two storeys high, with a gallery from where one can gaze down on the revelries below.
I arrived early, entering from A stairway, avoiding the long line of guests waiting to shake the Captain’s hand and be photographed with him. Thus, I was able to find a seat from where I could view the action. Waiters were handing out champagne, chardonnay, merlot, or non-alcoholic plain old oj. Once seated, I was able to request my usual tipple, vodka on the rocks. Perfect and Pretty soon arrived. Pretty was acknowledged by every bar waiter in the room. It’s not that she drinks a lot, but she enjoys Synergy every lunchtime in the Lido Bar and dances every evening in the Yacht Club. She is also a frequent Cunarder, has appeared in one of the brochures and has earned the accolade of being “top sailor” on more than one occasion. ‘Top Sailor’ is the on-board guest with the most days sailed on Cunard vessels. If I could add all my days when I was Bridge Instructor on board Cunard, then I might, someday, have a chance.
Captain Aseem Hashmi welcomed all the guests, told a couple of amusing stories, and introduced his most senior officers, the Deputy Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Manager, Food and Beverage Manger, Security Officer, Doctor. One hopes that this is the only occasion on which one meets the doctor.
Pretty introduced me to EP3 from Atlanta, Georgia. Tall, charming and friendly, he kindly escorted me into dinner. Our tables are side by side and now I have another new friend.
Eloquent, Saucy and I are still the only three at our six-top. We had another delightful evening. I enjoyed asparagus with hollandaise sauce, salmon en croute and lemon soufflé. Rustana was there in timely fashion with my sauvignon blanc – a large glass this evening.
One thing I have learned from my years of sailing around the world is that it’s better to drink by the glass. If one orders a bottle, the sommelier is willing to store the unfinished bottle until the next night. However, each sommelier has a habit of filling one’s glass when one isn’t looking. It’s amazing how quickly the bottle becomes empty.
I had every intention of going to the show, a brilliant musician/comedian to use his own words. I just couldn’t make it. I went up to my room (the formal dining room is always very low and aft on ships – the most stable area), eschewed the chocolate on the pillow, brushed my teeth and once again flew away to Dreamland.
Day 3 – Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Monday, January 22, 2018
Many years ago, on our first visit to EPCOT, my family and I fell in love with the Eastern Airlines ride. I never flew Eastern, but I well remember the images displayed on that ride, short video clips of colorfully clad people dancing gaily in the streets of Puerto Rico or perhaps Mexico. Women wearing bikinis, men in skimpy trunks, all holding hands and climbing a waterfall. How I wanted to jump in the water with them and climb that waterfall myself.
On my first visit to Jamaica, about ten years ago, I took a panoramic tour. Our driver stopped in a large parking lot near the coast and our guide told us to take a walk and look at a waterfall.
It was MY waterfall. Actually, it was Eastern Airlines’ waterfall! The one I had loved to watch at EPCOT. In reality, it was the famous Dunns River Waterfall. It looked wonderful, and there were people, young and old, children and wrinklies, all holding hands and stepping their way up, carefully placing each foot in the footprint of the guide.
On my next visit to Jamaica, I signed up for the tour to CLIMB that waterfall. It was a marvelous experience. We began on the beach. Our guide led the way, each of us holding hands with the one in front and the one behind. Slowly we wound our way up, delighting in the cool water that reached first our ankles, then our knees, then our waists. Our feet slipped on the smooth rocks and we gripped our buddies’ hands even tighter. Then it was over. We had climbed nearly 200 feet. A splendid afternoon.
On this visit, I knew I didn’t need to climb the waterfall again. I was ten years older, with achy knees and tender tootsies and my water shoes were in my closet back home in Florida. In addition, the news was disturbing: shootings in Montego Bay, drug-driven crime. We were docked in Ocho Rios, about 100 kilometers from the unrest and we were told we would be safe.
I left the security of the ship, and walked along the shady path, past the stalls selling gaily colored t-shirts, beads and bags. I was following the crowd but nevertheless alone.
“Hallo,” called a voice. “Will you be my Queen? I can be your King.” The caller was a tall, lean Jamaican, with dark dreadlocks and a gleaming white smile in a lined-too-early face. I clutched my bag a little tighter. How far to the shopping center? Was it safe? Should I go back to the ship? There were so many fellow guests around I decided to continue my walk to the Taj Mahal Shopping Plaza. The ‘king’ kept his distance.
“No, thank you,” I said politely and quickened my step just a little. I could have been crowned Queen at least five times as I walked the quarter mile to the Taj Mahal. The open doors of Diamonds International welcomed me. I stepped into the air-conditioned calm and did a quick look-see. Nothing there for me. Post cards were top of my list, not diamonds. I wandered into each of the souvenir shops, collecting a couple of magnets, a couple of postcards, including a memorable picture of Dunns River Falls. I headed back to the ship dodging the kings who were still giving me the eye.
Now that I look back on this visit, I wish I had been braver. I’m sure I could once again have climbed that waterfall. I could have enjoyed a cold, refreshing drink at one of the jampacked cafes, reggae music giving a party vibe to the morning. It might even have been fun to be a queen – but just for the time it took to walk to the Taj Mahal.