Day 18 – En Route to Hawaii
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Today is the first day of the new segment of this World Voyage. The question is, what does that mean for me? One thousand people got off yesterday, and a thousand different persons got on. I feel as if I don’t know a soul. I have different table-mates in the dining-room. The bridge director is new to the ship. And I was forced to create a new Wi-Fi username. I hope I can remember it.
Agreeable, the bridge lady for the last few weeks, is already missed. Although she worked alone, she taught two lessons every morning, made up pre-dealt hands with hand records for every afternoon game, awarded masterpoints to the daily winners, and did a terrific job.
Nobody knows who the new bridge directors are because they have not introduced themselves, have not welcomed anyone to bridge, did not hand out the cards until 2pm, and stopped the game at 3:45. We played only 12 boards and we bridge players are feeling peeved. Well, tomorrow is another day so let’s hope things improve.
My new dining companions are Radiant and Super. Radiant is from Sydney, Super from San Francisco. We are to have another guest join us, but she did not come to dinner this evening. Time will tell.
Both Radiant and Super are experienced Cunarders, both traveling alone and very self-sufficient. Radiant is a Chartered Accountant (CPA in American terms), newly retired and enjoying her freedom. Super is a navy man, tall, broad-shouldered, and something of a foodie. We found plenty to talk about and I think we will be quite compatible for this segment.
There are still more Brits and Aussies than Americans on board but after 40 years in America I notice British accents, not American voices. I have sometimes heard Americans complain that Cunard has a class system. I think it best to avoid discussion on this topic, but the class system doesn’t really bother me. American Airlines and other US carriers offer a first-class cabin on most flights. I think Amtrak Acela has first-class seats, so a differential exists even though we don’t call it a class system. In America, as everywhere else, money talks, and when it talks it usually means more comfortable accommodation, better service, linen napkins not paper, glass not plastic. A better tip often gets an American to the head of the queue. In England, the toff is likely to be at the head of the queue without having to tip.
On Queen Elizabeth, as on all Cunard ships, there is a wide choice of staterooms. The more one pays, the more spacious/more gracious the accommodation. Each stateroom is linked to a restaurant, the most expensive linked to the exclusive Queen’s Grill. The second level features the Princess Grill. These Grill guests enjoy a small private lounge and a private courtyard for relaxation, although they may choose to frequent the other public lounges. However, non-Grill guests do not have the option to use the private Grill space. If one chooses to sail on a different cruise line, there will also be a range of accommodation from which to choose. The more you pay, the more you get, but the only private place is your balcony.
As we sailed away from San Francisco today, we left the Continental Shelf, sailing into deep ocean, three miles of water beneath the hull. It’s a long way down. If a ‘plane fell from the sky, and no-one was there to see it fall, would it ever be found? I don’t want to think about disaster.
Day 19 – At Sea – Searching for Sunshine
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Ferdinand Magellan, the famous Portuguese explorer, found the world’s largest ocean on a good day. Mar Pacifica, he named it, Pacific Sea, for its calm and tranquility. Those guests who came on board Queen Elizabeth in San Francisco hoping for Magellan seas and Pacific sunshine will have to wait a little longer. The stretch of ocean between the California coast and the golden beaches of America’s most remote state, is notoriously unfriendly in the winter months. It’s time for ‘Sea Bands,’ those tiny elastic bracelets which target a pressure point at the wrist, or daily doses of Dramamine for those who are susceptible to motion sickness. Grey seas and cloudy skies are common. The open decks are frequently roped off to prevent guests from stepping out in gale force winds. White horses cap the waves, and a heavy swell gives a ‘rock and roll’ feel to even the most stable of ships.
Queen Elizabeth, like all modern cruise ships, was built with stabilizers, specifically designed to help vessels handle heavy seas. The Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific, and the Tasman Sea are the most unfriendly bodies of water on our planet. “Getting one’s sea legs” means that one has overcome the discomfort associated with mal de mer, and has mastered the somewhat unusual gait of tilting one’s body against the ship’s roll, which essentially maintains one’s center of gravity in the same place. I got my sea legs sixty years ago, on my first voyage, halfway round the world.
On that trip, we made a very southerly crossing of the Pacific, south-west from the Panama Canal, towards Pitcairn Island and New Zealand. We saw sun every day on that voyage.
With the sun-worshippers confined to the indoor space today, Trivia was mobbed. Teams of six crowded the Golden Lion Pub. I managed to find six stools and placed them round a tiny table. I could have sold those stools six times over!
Internet connectivity was poor today. Hitherto we have hugged the coastline as we sailed from Florida through the Caribbean and up the coast of Central America. Now we are much further from the American continent and even our cable TV is not completely reliable. I tried to log on to the internet, using my phone, but then couldn’t log off properly. This meant a visit to the computer consultant who resides in the Library on Deck 3. He is adept at checking our logins, and can see instantly that although we were logged on, we were inactive. He gives immediate credit for the unused time and easily makes one happy again. I think he is one of the most popular officers on the ship.
Day 20 – At Sea – Where’s the Sun?
Thursday, February 8, 2018
We are still en route to Honolulu. I can’t believe how many people are complaining about the number of sea days. Why are they here if they don’t like ocean crossings? The Pacific Ocean is vast, covering 65 million square miles. This is 46% of the earth’s water surface. I write this because the information might be of use to anyone who plays trivia on ships. It’s just the type of question which might crop up. Our team lost the morning session but won this fternoon. It always feels good to win, and of course we are playing for Cunard’s valuable prizes – chuckle, chuckle. We are told this every day and everybody moans the inevitable ‘heard it before’ groan. I will find out just how valuable the prizes are on Redemption day, about three weeks hence, the day before we get to Brisbane and my disembarkation day.
Even though we have not seen the sun today, I don’t mind, because I never go out in the sun. But the sun worshipers among us are growing despondent. However, there’s nothing a good cocktail can’t cure.
Agile hosted this evening, in the Commodore Club. Perfect, Pretty and I, were all glammed up in ‘resort very smart’ attire. The Commodore is a huge bar, high on Deck 10 with a 270-degree panorama spread before us. I remember we were there last year, on the Queen Victoria, the identical sister ship, when we saw the green flash, that moment as the sun sinks over the horizon when the sun turns green for a split second. It’s a rare phenomenon. On a day with no sunshine, there was no visible sun to sink, so no green flash tonight. However, we had delicious vodka cocktails, with our green in the glass, delicious lime cordial which makes the vodka sweet and sour and tangy all at the same time.
Day 21 – At Sea – Are we There Yet?
Friday, February 9, 2018
Pretty and I have dubbed an elderly guest ‘WineLady.’ She and her partner have been lunching daily at an adjacent table in the Lido. They summon a sommelier and order a bottle of white wine in an ice bucket together with a bottle of sparkling water. Pretty thought their behavior was sophisticated and very appealing, so today we copied their example and ordered a glass of my favorite New Zealand ‘Landmade’ sauvignon blanc. Crisp and cold with a citrusy note, it goes with everything on the lunch buffet.
I am all booked up to sail again next year. I vowed that this year would be my last long trip, but once I’m on the ship I never want to leave. Last year, quite by chance, I had a room with an over-sized balcony. The next-door room was a butler’s pantry with no outside space, so the outside space became mine. I loved having such a large balcony, so I booked that room for next year. I can’t reveal the room number but check the deck plan if you want to reserve the room for yourself.
Super has that over-sized balcony on this segment but so far has not discovered it. I have made him a happy man with this information and he is off to beg, borrow or steal a sun lounger to make his balcony happiness complete.
The ship’s doctor gave an interesting talk this morning. She spent a year in Antarctica, at the British research station, Halley, on the Brunt Ice shelf. She was the sole female and I think she married one of the men. Now she serves on ships while Hubby serves in Antarctica. I bet they spend their time off somewhere warm.
Day 22 – Honolulu at Last
Saturday, February 10, 2018
We sailed into Honolulu early this morning, distinctive Diamond Head clearly visible in the sunshine. The promontory is an extinct volcano with an enormous crater. Tour buses make their way into the crater every day, laden with tourists. I’ve been there a few times and I just wish I had been fit enough to climb to the crater rim.
I spent the day with Vibrant, otherwise known as Australian Vxx. We have been on-board friends for several years and she has always been generous of spirit. We began with breakfast at 8 in the Lido and as soon as the ship was cleared we headed down the gangway to hail a taxi. I negotiated a flat rate of $50 per hour which I thought very good as it was the same price I paid back in 2011. I gave the driver my route plan and a schedule. We immediately set off from the ship’s berth at Aloha Tower, turned two corners and arrived at the King Kamehameha statue opposite Iolani Palace.
King Kamehameha was a fearless warrior king who united the Hawaiian Islands and founded a dynasty. He died in 1810 but his grandson, Kamehameha III built the Iolani Palace, the only Royal Palace in the USA, which is now an American National Historic Landmark. The last Hawaiian queen, Lili’uokalani, died in 1893.
From the palace, we drove up to Punchbowl, high on the hill. Anyone who remembers the old Jack Lord Hawaii 50 will remember the opening credits, and the stone girl with the almond eyes. On my first visit to Punchbowl several years ago, I almost shrieked with excitement when I saw the familiar icon.
Punchbowl is an extinct volcanic crater, its Hawaiian name meaning Hill of Sacrifice. It is certainly that, for it’s the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the final resting place for hundreds of men and women who gave up their lives in the service of the US Armed Forces. I read a few of the brass plates, clearly visible in the freshly mown lawns. Brave young people, some a scant 18 years old, none of them more than 24, killed in their golden youth, hopefully never forgotten. Punchbowl is a place of peace and simplicity, with manicured lawns and enormous banyan trees spreading their branches. I urge you to visit Punchbowl, when you come to Hawaii, and take time to pause and reflect.
At Pali Outlook, our next stop, we ran into the ship’s tour bus. We held on to our hats and our cameras as we jostled for a place at the lookout point, the lowland spread out before us, 1200 feet below, the ocean sparkling in the distance. We gazed down on the windward side of the island, feeling not just a breeze, more of a gale. We laughed with exhileration, posed for pics and rushed back to our taxi feeling the chill of the gusting wind.
Then came the Valley of the Temples. This is one of the most spiritual places I have seen in all my travels, because several religions are represented in this vale of peace. Thousands of graves are here, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Shinto, each place of worship standing proud, neighbor to other faiths in tolerance and harmony. We drove to the last shrine, the Buddhist Byodo-In Temple. Vibrant and I walked across the narrow bridge and enjoyed our first view of the temple, nestled in the shelter of towering mountains, a reflecting pool tranquil in the sunshine, golden koi swimming happily at play, while a pair of black swans glided serenely in their midst.
The temple doors stand wide open to permit entry, the fragrance of floral offerings delighting our senses. A bronze Buddha stands above the altar table, candles, silence, peace.
Taxi Kai waited patiently for us and then a fast drive along H1, the main motorway on Oahu, took us to the tourist mecca of Waikiki. Long ago my Kiwi friends, the PBs, told me how they stayed on Waikiki Beach en route between New Zealand and England. I followed their lead and began overnighting at the Outrigger Hotel whenever I flew from New Jersey to Auckland. Cherished Child and I took a MaiTai cruise there one year, and walked past the pink hotel, the Royal Hawaiian. Now I lunch under one of their pink umbrellas whenever my ship calls at Honolulu.
Vibrant and I walked out to the casual pink umbrella bar, sat at a beachside table and ordered refreshing, cool drinks. Mai Tai research was the order of the day, and one was not enough to form an opinion 😊 We could have sat there all day, drinking and nibbling on delicious food, greeting several fellow Cunarders who also popped in for lunch, and enjoying the spectacular views of Diamond Head.
All too soon it seemed we must swallow our last sip and make our way back to the ship for Sailaway.