Day 13 – Cabo San Lucas
Thursday, February 1, 2018
I was booked on an early tour today and scheduled to report to the theater at 8:15 am. Arranging the tour departure for 2000 guests is a major task and Cunard has it well orchestrated. Cabo San Lucas, or Cabo, is a tender port which requires an even smoother operation.
A tender is a small boat carried on a ship. After the Titanic disaster, ocean going vessels were required to carry sufficient lifeboats and life rafts for everyone on board. In the era of cruise ships, those lifeboats have been renamed tenders. Cunard’s tenders carry perhaps 75 or more guests between ship and jetty when the port has no dock large enough for a major vessel. In the event of an emergency, each tender can accommodate far more people.
The tour departure schedule is listed in the daily program and guests are urged to arrive with their companions, so they can all be assigned to the same tour bus. Guests check in with the tour office representative, show their ticket and get ‘stickered’ with the appropriate bus number. Now, they must wait until their group is called to the tender gate. Each guest must check out using his ship ID; an officer counts each guest using a mechanical hand-held counter. Thus, the tender is not overloaded. Deck hands monitor the boarding of the tender, keeping ship and tender closely aligned. Cunard now uses a mini-gangway to link ship and tender which virtually negates any chance of an accident. Current protocol requires that guests must be able to board the tender unassisted, even if they use a mobility assistive device such as a walker or wheelchair. Once on board the tender, guests must sit where directed. The short ride from the anchorage across the bay to the landing point is usually great fun and provides another opportunity to make new friends.
This morning, my tour group left on the eighth tender trip – there are usually about four tenders in operation at any one time. We had an uneventful trip across the water to the landing jetty, passing the famous El Arco de Cabo, a natural hole in the rock. We had a fish-eye view of the Ruby Princess, somewhat smaller than our own vessel.
We found our tour bus, where our friendly guide welcomed us in excellent English. First stop was a glass-blowing factory. We watched a young man twirl an iron rod in the furnace and produce a lump of molten glass to which he added glass pebbles in a variety of hues. He rolled the mass on a slab, the molten glass absorbing the colors, then placed it back in the furnace. At 1800 degrees it blended and glowed and he rolled it more, forcing it into a cylinder, then a pear-shape. Back in the fire it went, in and out and roll and heat, in a cycle of heat and glow and roll and blow, until finally he slid the bulbous mass off the end of the twirling rod, fluted the edges and showed us – a salad bowl!
Our guide explained that young men from rural areas are trained in this factory, receiving a life-long skill and the wherewithal for a successful life. There were perhaps six eager, young men each working his own rod, in his own furnace, each producing wine glasses, salad bowls and other trinkets. Fragile objects are the hardest for world cruisers to take home in their luggage, so few glasses were acquired, but the memory lingers.
Rain fell as we drove along the Cabo coast, past fancy hotels and time shares, and vacation rentals. We didn’t care – we were safe and dry on our bus. We had no idea that the tender service was canceled, it being a little too dangerous to run tender operations in the inclement weather. Sail and snorkel tours were canceled, some guests making it to shore only to be told their tour was canceled. Now they had nowhere to go and they couldn’t even return to the ship.
Meanwhile, we strolled the streets of Cabo San Jose, under blue skies, visiting the church and viewing the art galleries. A few thirsty souls sampled coffee at a charming restaurant, and I somehow acquired a magnet and a postcard.
On our return trip, the rain a distant memory, we stopped at Belluna Resort, one of the superior hotels, and sampled the local beer. The view was mesmerizing: across the bay to the Rock Arch, Queen Elizabeth standing proud at anchor, dwarfing the Ruby Princess, tiny white waves breaking over the rocky terrain, the long stretch of golden sands a stone’s throw from where we sipped our coffee in the sunshine.
The last tender from shore returned to the ship at 5:30 and the Sail Away party began on the open deck with music from the onboard band, Synergy. I heard stories of canceled tours, and bumpy tender rides, and rain-sodden clothes. But no-one minded. We have nothing to complain about. We are sailing on a magnificent ship, with a stellar crew, sound seamanship, and if the Captain is not Canute, the British king who could command the waves, it doesn’t matter. We are having a wonderful time.
My voyage on Queen Elizabeth is divided into segments. Each segment I receive a few benefits: 8 hours of complimentary wi-fi (it goes very fast), invitations to cocktail parties with literally hundreds of guests, complimentary wine-tasting (unfortunately this clashes with bridge) and a complimentary dinner in one of the alternate dining venues. Pretty and Perfect are also recipients of these benefits (plus some extra treats) so we decided to dine at La Piazza this evening. This week the Lido is ‘buffet by day’ and intimate Italian trattoria once the sun sets. Pretty arranged that we sat at the most exclusive table in the room where we could imagine we were in Italia, mangia-ing antipasti, pasta delicioso and tiramisu. We had a wonderful evening and closed the restaurant down a little before midnight – we were not the last!
How can we top this wonderful day? Not even going to try.
Day 14 – Sea Day – En Route to San Francisco
Friday, February 2, 2018
When my husband, Frugal Fred, was alive, we traveled on several cruise ships. On one memorable cruise our welcome aboard lifeboat drill was held in the casino. That’s not precisely accurate. It would be more correct to say that our Muster Station or Lifeboat reporting location, was in the Casino. As we walked in, Frugal saw a slot machine sporting ‘777’ in the winning line! He made a beeline for it, sat down and made it his own. Of course, it wasn’t working while we were in port, but that evening, after a sail away party and an excellent dinner, Frugal went trotting back to that machine to try his luck. And the casino gods smiled on him. He put in twenty dollars and in five minutes received a $500 payout. I should change his name to Fortunate Fred! That was the first and last time I ever saw him in a casino.
Moi? It’s a little different. I like the poker machines – but not too much. I think in Australia they are often called ‘the pokies’. I learned to play the poker machines in Atlantic City, New Jersey, about 30 years ago. I don’t play much but I remember what I was taught.
Here on Queen Elizabeth, there is a small casino, with slot machines at the perimeter, and tables for blackjack and roulette running the length of the place between the pokies and the open space at the foot of the Grand Staircase. I’m not willing to risk my money at the tables, but I enjoy a flutter at the poker machine. My game of choice is Jacks or Better. In this game, you place your bet (minimum 25c, maximum $1.25), hit DEAL/DRAW. The game machine deals five cards, face-up. The skill lies in choosing what to hold. The more you hold, the fewer your chances of drawing the card(s) you need. It’s easy if you draw a pair of honor cards. Hold them both and you are sure to get your money back. If you draw a third matching card, your winnings increase. If you don’t have Jacks or better, you should hold any small pair and hope to get a third card of the same denomination. 3 x 7’s beats a pair of Aces, or two pairs. Then there’s a straight (5 in a row) or a flush (5 cards of the same suit), a straight flush (a sequence of 5 cards in the same suit) or the best hand of all, a Royal Flush (AKQJT in the same suit.) The winnings increase exponentially, so a Royal Flush on a maximum bet will pay out $1000.
I once saw a fellow win $23,000 playing Caribbean Stud Poker (a table game) on a cruise ship. He very quietly said, “I’ve got it. I did it.” His voice went up an octave and he thumped the table. “I’ve won.” And then the world went mad. Casino strong men arrived pushing a cart heavily laden with playing chips. The pit boss watched while the dealer counted out piles of $100 chips until the full amount was stacked in plain view. The winner was still reeling in shock. I think he ordered champagne for every player at his table.
Day 15 – Sea Day – En Route to San Francisco
Saturday, February 3, 2018
When I worked in Manhattan in the 70’s and 80’s, I had a wonderful secretary named Linda. She was born and bred in New York and she educated me in the American way of life. Once a year she and her husband would book a long weekend in the Catskills. For the uninitiated, the Catskills is a range of mountains conveniently close to New York City, but distant enough to be truly rural. There are dozens of resort hotels in the area, one of which formed the background for the fabulous movie, Dirty Dancing. Linda always referred to her Catskills trip as her ‘eating vacation.’ The nightly rate included all-you-can-eat meals at least three times a day.
A cruise ship is the same. It’s all-you-can-eat all the time.
A quick glance at the daily program tells me that I can start eating Continental Breakfast in the Lido at 5:00 am. Hot food, bacon, sausage, eggs cooked to order, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, are available starting at 6:30. The Lido is rather like Citibank – the Lido never sleeps. Lunch begins before breakfast is over. Then there is afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, cakes, scones with jam and cream. You can eat made-to-order pizza for lunch or dinner. The outdoor grill will serve you hot dogs or hamburgers with French fries and all the traditional American accompaniments. Dinner service begins at 6:00 and you can get a late-night snack until two in the morning.
Apart from the lido, there are formal meals in the main restaurant. And just in case you’re too lazy to take the elevator to the Lido, you can order from Room Service.
When do the chefs sleep? When do the bartenders, the waiters, the busboys and the dishwashers have time for their own meals? Furthermore, when do they have a chance to go to bed?
The ship’s galleys produce 12,000 meals every day. Just think of the number of plates and bowls and cups and saucers and glasses and silverware and linen napkins and tablecloths. Think of the salt and pepper servers that must be filled regularly. Think of the beverage machines dispensing orange juice, cranberry juice, iced tea, milk, coffee. Think of the number of teabags used every day – and the Brits drink a huge amount of tea. Think of all the little cakes, eclairs, buns, pain au chocolat, croissants, sausage rolls that appear on the buffet counter whenever we are hungry. Think of the varieties of cereal that are served, the variety of breads which are freshly-baked every day. Think of the delicate canapes that are served in the bars at cocktail time. Think about making beef wellington for 500 people while you’re busy making duck a l’orange for another 500 and lobster for another 500 plus a vegetarian dish for 100 or so, and a curry dish and a pasta dish, not to mention 5 appetizers, 2 soups and a choice of salads with at least 2 different dressings. It’s a chef’s nightmare or a foodie’s paradise.
It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think of the quantities of food consumed every day at sea. How do they manage food waste? How do they manage trash? Nothing can be disposed of in the ocean. These are the days of green – when everything must be disposed of in a way that does no harm. The eco-system of the ocean must not be disturbed. Wild-life in our oceans must be protected.
Those of us with keen eyes are watching the ocean – not to check on improper disposables, but searching for birds, for flying-fish, for dolphins, perhaps whales.
Today has been a day of seeing nothing except the ocean. However, beneath the waves lie unseen mountains, left from ancient volcanic action. These sea-mounts, as they are known, frequently have names and are shown on navigational charts. Apparently, we are passing the San Juan Seamount. This mountain grows from the sea-floor at a depth of 3300 meters and rises nearly 500 meters. Queen Elizbeth has a draft of some eight feet (this means eight feet of ship below the water line) so we’re not in any danger of clipping the top of the submerged mountain. It is well over a mile beneath us.
Master sailors learn to read navigational charts. They are quite complex charts showing landmass, currents, trenches. Cunard has long displayed the chart of the day so that guests can watch the daily progress. Typically, the navigator will draw a line from port t to port on the chart and then place a marker to indicate current position at noon each day. I find it fascinating to see the vast expanse of ocean, the chart showing depths of water, seamounts, tiny islands which most landlubbers have never heard of. Cunard frequently offers the chart at auction and bidding is always brisk. Last summer I was delighted when our Silversea ship offered the chart of our Alaska cruise. My grandson, 11-year- old Ben, expressed interest in owning the chart. We went to the auction, found front-row seats in the balcony and the bidding began. “Bid, Ben,” I said. He caught on quickly, raising his hand whenever I said, “Bid” and the entire auditorium went wild when Ben made the winning offer. The chart was amazing. It was the actual chart, our course carefully plotted from Sitka down to Vancouver, signed by the Captain with a photograph of the officers, photographs of Alaskan wildlife, Alaskan flowers, Alaskan birds. It cost me an arm and a leg to have it framed but I still consider it money well-spent. It’s a fabulous souvenir of a superb family vacation.
I can’t help wondering how much the Cunard charts will bring at auction this year. All proceeds are donated to the Prince’s Trust, a charity set up years ago by HRH Prince Charles. Hmmm. I wonder where the Silversea monies go.
Day 16 – San Francisco – Home of the Golden Gate Bridge
Sunday, February 4, 2018
As we drew closer to San Francisco there was a spirit of excitement all over the ship. We were all looking forward to land after several days at sea. Then we heard the news. Our arrival would be delayed owing to heavy winds in San Francisco Bay. It’s customary for an ocean-going vessel to pick up a local harbor-pilot prior to reaching the port, often in the early hours of the morning. Once on-board, the pilot is responsible for ensuring that the vessel moves through the approach channel, in deep water, and arrives safely. This morning it was too dangerous for the pilot to attempt to board Queen Elizabeth in the strong wind. Consequently, we were a little later than scheduled and we were just about to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge when I stepped on to my balcony at six.
The view was amazing. The harbor entrance is guarded on both sides by high hills which provide a marvelous vantage point from which to view the bridge but, from my balcony, I had the best view of all, the bridge arching in the distance, the distinctive color and shape an instant identifier.
Closer and closer we sailed, until I could see the traffic on the bridge, trucks and vans and cars, pedestrians, and then, as we moved slowly beneath the metal splendor, the majestic Queen Elizabeth presented any lurking cameraman with an iconic image. Into the harbor we went, past Alcatraz on the port side of the ship. I thought of the Birdman and made a mental note to watch the movie. I knew that Eloquent and Saucy, like many of the guests, would be touring the infamous prison later in the day. And then our ship turned towards the vibrant city of San Francisco, the hills, the cable cars, the Bay Bridge, and our berth, just a stone’s throw from the famous Fisherman’s Wharf where the seals play near the end of the pier.
We are overnighting in San Francisco and about 1000 people will leave the ship tomorrow, only to be replaced by 1000 people getting on. Since leaving Fort Lauderdale, we have visited Jamaica, Aruba, Guatemala and Mexico so San Francisco is our port of entry to the United States. I was prepared for significant delays in Immigration as the entire passenger population had to disembark the ship and meet face-to-face with the authorities. Global Entry was not available at the port but there was a ‘fast-path’ lane for US citizens which helped considerably.
Every on-board guest was given written instructions regarding immigration formalities. Guests would be summoned to the Royal Court Theater, deck by deck, starting with Deck 8 and working downwards. My home-away-from-home is on Deck 5, so I knew I would have a long wait. Even though we were docked before breakfast, I did not get off the ship until 12:30.
Heavenly, Macho, and their two little girls were waiting for me. Heavenly is part of my extended London family, now living in San Francisco. While I was waiting to present my passport for immigration inspection, they visited a nearby museum where the children had a fabulous time exploring the interactive exhibits. Heavenly et al live on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, so we piled into their car, drove along picturesque streets, past Fisherman’s Wharf and over the bridge, the great orange towers just fitting into the frame of my photo.
Heavenly’s home is in a community which was built on a former air force base. It was fascinating to see how the original barracks had been converted into apartments, aircraft hangars enjoying a renaissance as modern office space, a stolid cinder block rectangle reborn as a cheerful kid-friendly restaurant. We enjoyed Sunday brunch, catching up on family news and travel tales. It’s marvelous getting together with friends and family as one travels round the world on a long voyage. There is an old saying about a sailor “having a girl in every port.” In the modern era of World Cruises or Grand Voyages, passengers are like those old-time sailors, with a friend in every port along the way. For me, seeing friends beats jumping on the tour bus. I’ll take real people over statues every time.
Day 17 – San Francisco – A Walk in the Woods
Monday, February 5, 2018
Fifty years ago, in the Fiordland area of New Zealand, I donned a pair of hiking boots, hoisted a 40-pound backpack on my shoulders, and climbed the pass from the Matukituki Valley into the Dart – 6000 feet – before lunch. That afternoon, I walked/slid/careened down hundreds of feet of scree slopes, and waded through icy waters at the edge of a glacier. Today, with only a tiny bag to hold my cruise card and a little paper money, I was hoping I could safely navigate a stroll through Muir Woods, a National Monument and home to giant redwood trees.
I need not have worried. The trail was flat, most of the path was paved, and most important of all, it was impossible to get lost.
I had long wanted to see America’s giant trees, the redwood and the sequoia. This was my chance to see redwoods – and learn a little about their history. 150 million years ago, the Northern Hemisphere was covered in trees. As the climate changed, and time passed, the geographic area covered by redwoods shrank, until there remained a relatively small area, running down the coast of Oregon and California.
Redwoods grow to a height of nearly 400 feet, as much as 22 feet in diameter, and live up to 2000 years. Sequoias are a little shorter, but much bigger in girth. They can survive for more than 3000 years.
Back in the early 20th century, businessman William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth, bought a tract of land to protect a stand of uncut redwood trees. When the deal was completed, they donated the forest to the federal government. In 1908 President Teddy Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to proclaim the area a national monument. Kent requested that the area be named in honor of the conservationist John Muir. Kent later served in government himself and introduced legislation creating the National Park Service.
Now known as Muir Woods, the forest is a short drive from San Francisco, up into the hills via a steep and twisty road. Once there, walking along the shady path under the canopy of the giant trees, one can forget that the outside world exists. We were given two hours to explore as we wished. I chose the 3-bridge loop, a one-mile route alongside Redwood Creek, a tiny stream with occasional ripples spreading outward from some unknown activity beneath the water, perhaps a tiny fish or possibly a salamander. There were giant trees, tall and broad, leafy, shady, burls of seeds which will one day produce new trees, the forest ever replenishing itself, standing strong against marauders.
Ferns, moss and sorrel thrive in the moist soil between the trees. In Cathedral Grove, a small stand of trees reaches to the heavens, their tippy-tops pointing towards the sky like spires. Even children felt the awe and grandeur and paused in silence. This walk was so peaceful that my heart stood still, so graceful that my feet wanted to dance a pas-de-deux with Nature, so spiritual that my soul rose and soared like a carefree butterfly. I must return.