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Autumn Colours Cruise 2009 - Part 1
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This is the story of our second cruise on the Queen Victoria. It was described as the Autumn Colours Cruise and took us from Southampton across the Atlantic to New York, where we spent two nights. We then worked our way up the Atlantic coast of the USA and Canada before crossing back from Newfoundland to Southampton - 24 days in total. We visited Boston, Portland Maine, Bar Harbor, Saint John New Brunswick, Halifax, and Quebec, but due to bad weather had to miss Newport Rode Island and St John's Newfoundland. The Queen Victoria is the latest addition to the Cunard fleet, named by the Duchess of Cornwall on 10 December 2007. We had been great fans of arguably the greatest ship of all time, the Cunard QE2 and had eagerly booked onto the start of the new Queen Victoria's first world cruise which is covered in a separate set of pages our The Queen Victoria's Maiden World Cruise - the sectors from Southampton to Los Angeles. There are also many pages on our web site covering our previous Cruising on the Queen Elizabeth 2
The cruise departed from Southampton during the International Boat Show week so we left home early, at 10.00, so that we arrived at the Queen Victoria with time to spare before early boarding at 12.00. We had never before departed from the Mayflower terminal and got lost once in the network of roads. There was a fast Check In for Diamond Cunard World Club (CWC) members and after passing through security we were waved directly onto the ship. We had loaded 4 suitcases and when they reached the stateroom one was smashed. Fortunately nothing was broken although it was the ABS one with the fragile stuff. We plan to carry it off ourselves when we get to Southampton. Our three brand new soft suitcases survived. We have never had much trouble at the old Queen Elizabeth II terminal and they are normally very careful on the ships themselves.
Our cabin was a Deluxe balcony on 8 Deck (8095). Two months before departure, as a Diamond CWC member, we had been offered the chance to upgrade from our inside cabin (D8 guarantee) to a balcony cabin for a nominal sum - that turned out to have been a very good move. All three of the D8 cabins are on 4 Deck. 8 Deck is four decks higher and is well situated because it is just below the Lido self-service restaurant and the gym, both on 9 Deck. We were close to Staircase B, so were just aft of the centre of the ship. It is our second cruise on the Queen Victoria and we are now better prepared for comparing between an inside cabin and a top end balcony cabin, both linked to the Britannia restaurant.In January 2008 we had a D5 inside cabin on 6 Deck. Each standard inside cabin, grades D8 to D3, is approximately 156 square feet, and comprises twin beds which are convertible to a king size, two bedside cabinets, desk and chair with fridge and drawer, small table and one small armchair. Since the feedback from the World Cruise in 2008 the bedside cabinets are now sets of drawers and two enormous drawers have been added underneath the beds. There is still ample space for storage of four suitcases as well. This means it is much more practical for a long cruise. The Queen Victoria, unlike the QE2, does not have a baggage room.
The standard balcony staterooms are larger, and the brochure states it is 248 square feet which includes the balcony. Entering our stateroom for the first time it was obvious that it was a lot larger. Curiosity provoked Pauline to get out a tape measure and assess exactly what we had. The balcony is 9.3 feet wide and a useable 6.5 feet deep within an overall depth of 7.25 feet. It has a small round table and two comfortable seats. The cabin, including the bathroom, is 9 feet wide and 20.5 feet long. The extra space compared with a standard inside cabin means there is a two seater settee, in our case it is a sofabed, replacing the one armchair. All standard balcony cabins are exactly the same size and the price differences are about Deck and location; 8 Deck is more expensive than lower decks, and cabins in the centre where the motion of the ship is reduced are more expensive than in the bow or the stern. We liked our A1 on 8 Deck instantly, and as our cruise progressed we began to appreciate the balcony as a good place to sit and sometimes sip a glass of wine before dinner. Our balcony is very sheltered; there is a large canopy above because we are directly below the Lido restaurant which is wider and its floor extends beyond the line of balconies, and the adjacent wheelchair accessible cabin 8093 is larger and the separating bulkhead gives us extra shelter. The first evening we raised a glass to Richard Curtis, the Marketing Director at Cunard Line in Southampton, who wrote to us offering the chance to upgrade.
The first thing to do is to read the Daily Programme which is delivered to ones room and has details of everything going on for the day. It stated that Ian McNaught was Captain. This was good news. We have cruised with Captain McNaught many times on the QE2. Other familiar faces included Anna who was working in the Cruise Sales Office, with her husband running the Tour Office. Lots of other staff were from QE2 so we felt properly ‘at home’. Most of the staff Have amazingly good memories and you have to get used to being addressed by name.
We had a card to tell us the table number in the restaurant but this year we did not have a restaurant map and so went down to the restaurant to find our allocated table. To our relief it was a nice table for two, number 370, downstairs on the port side and not far from the window, again ones preferences tend to be remembered. After Boat Drill at 15.45 it was soon time for the Sail Away celebration. We had been given two half bottles of Pol Acker french sparking wine but there was nothing in our cabin to indicate that Pauline's birthday and our wedding anniversary, both during the cruise, had been recorded. Indeed when we asked in the restaurant and explained about the two celebrations there was nothing on file, but the record was quickly updated. We changed for dinner, sat out on our balcony and sipped a glass or two of red wine. The holiday had started.
One of the delights of cruising on Cunard ships is the wonderful food. We like the two storey Britannia restaurant with music, either the harpist or the permanent string quartet, playing during dinner. On our next cruise, (Yes we have booked two more on the Queen Victoria because we have enjoyed this cruise so much) we have asked for a table in the upper part of the restaurant so we have a better view of the musicians. We do not always eat in the restaurant for breakfast and lunch because the menu tempts us to eat too much, but we always have dinner there and everything has been excellent. The service in our area from Sandy and Edward, under the careful eye of Maja the lady Head Waiter for our area, is very efficient and we get good advice about the choices from our waiter. On one occasion we chose something which was not as we expected, and an alternative was quickly provided. The galley must be located very close to the restaurant. Food is nicely presented but this means that it is always plated in the galley and there is no 'silver service'.
The public rooms on the Queen Victoria are very stylish, and have survived their first two years in use with little visible 'wear and tear'. We have put more details and a Picture Gallery are on our Introduction to The Queen Victoria page so we do not keep repeating ourselves when we write up each cruise.
Crossing the Atlantic in a westward direction means that many days are 25 hours long, so that gives an extra hour overnight. This was the first such time change and as we woke at dawn it was only just after 06.00 local time. The gym opens at 06.00 so we got ready, drank a cup of coffee, decaffeinated in the circumstances, to start the morning, and then set off for the cross-trainers. There are four on board as well as many treadmills, bicycles etc. There are sufficient machines that there is no booking system needed although the treadmills machines are set to a maximum time of 30 and the less popular cross-trainers to 60 minutes. The machines are a different manufacturer to those on the QE2 or QM2 but fortunately they all seem to have standard pick-ups for our ‘Polar’ heart rate monitor belts. The gym is located at the front of 9 Deck and there is a super view forward from the machines, especially when dolphins grace us with their presence. Each machine has a personal TV screen and our headphones, bought on the QM2, match the technology. Pete tries to average a calorie burn on the cross trainer of 500 calories a day including most days in port.
After a healthy light breakfast of fresh pineapple and strawberries, with muesli and yogurt we split in different directions. Pauline went to the watercolour class with Helga whereas Peter headed for the lecture by the Maritime Historian Bill Miller. It was then time for a light salad lunch, followed by a nice classical concert in the Queens Room by Geoffrey Haydock (clarinet) and Penelope Smith (piano). Their career was mainly playing with the BBC, and in Scotland. They finished just before the formal Afternoon Tea ceremony so we stayed in our seats and nibbled delicate sandwiches, crust-less of course, and traditional scones, jam and cream, we avoided all the many sorts of home-made cakes this early in the cruise.
In the afternoon the telephone rang and we were asked if we would like to join the Doctor's table for dinner – we accepted.
The first two nights of a transatlantic crossing are both formal nights and tonight was also the night of the Black and White Ball. Pauline had bought a new dress in Guernsey especially. It was also the night when the Captain welcomed everyone in the Britannia restaurant, and there were lots of glasses of sparkling wine. Michelle started to introduce us, but didn't need to as Ian interrupted with our names. We chatted with Thomas and with Martin O'Rourke, the Chief Electrical Officer; the equivalent to Terry Kearney on the QE2. We have sailing in common and he asked for our card. As Diamond Cunard World Club members we normally get an automatic invitation to the Senior Officers party so did not think much about it. Until later.
Joining a Senior Officer’s table on the Queen Victoria is a special privilege and the membership varies throughout the cruise; this is in contrast to the QE2 where once you are invited you stay there for the complete voyage. We joined four other passengers and spent an excellent evening chatting with the Principal Medical Officer Dr Martin Carroll and drinking Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc and a very big red Californian wine, Lancaster, which we were told was a mighty 16%. The medical officer seems to believe in the health benefits of red wine although we also noted he backed it up with vigorous work in the gym.
The next day, Pauline's birthday, (Sunday 20 September) we again we gained an hour overnight, which made an early start at the gym feasible. Today is Pauline’s birthday. She decided to have a proper breakfast in the restaurant, as part of her celebrations and we found that the word ‘one’ is sometimes understood on the Victoria unlike the Queen Elizabeth where both one and small were words always missing from a waiter’s vocabulary. When at sea the interdenominational church service is held by the Captain at 11.15 in the Theatre and we sat in one of the Boxes to see what they were like.
Each cruise we can have one ‘complementary’ lunch in the Todd English restaurant because of our Diamond Cunard World Club status – there is normally a small surcharge. We chose today. We had the signature fish cakes, followed by the Mediterranean paella (Pauline's choice) and the Oxtail (for Peter). The winelist included Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and we could not resist our favourite New Zealand wine although we had planned to only drink half of the bottle at lunchtime it was too nice to leave. When the time came for a choice of dessert Pauline was presented with a birthday cake covered in strawberries and had to blow out the candle.
We went to Anna and booked our next two cruises - on the Queen Victoria in 2010. Pauline claimed one was a birthday present and the other a joint anniversary present and Pete could not think of an answer quickly enough after all that superb wine.
This was another formal night and we noticed the lady dentist was hosting the table where we had been the previous evening. We mentioned to our waiter that we wanted to finish dinner by 22.00 so we could go to the theatre. Food was then produced at the most amazing rate, culminating in the presentation of another birthday cake, and the staff around us all sang 'Happy Birthday'.
The rush was because we had booked a Theatre Box for the evening, again at a surcharge of $50. The Royal Court Theatre on the Queen Victoria is a fine theatre, with the usual stalls and balcony seats. There are also 16 Theatre Boxes, 8 on each side arranged in two rows. We had booked box number 16 which was on the port side, and was a large box with capacity for 4 people. Most of the boxes were for only 2 people. We had to report at 22.00, some 30 minutes before the performance started, where we were greeted by White Star Bell Boys dressed in their traditional red uniforms and offered finger desserts and champagne in a private lounge area. At performance time one of the White Star Bell Boys guided us to our private box where bar staff served us chocolates and a half bottle Veuve Cliquot champagne, all covered by the surcharge. The Theatre Box programme is currently only available for performances by the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers – in this case in ‘A Stroke of Genius’. At the end of the performance we were presented with a souvenir cast photo. We enjoyed the evening and hope to repeat it later in the voyage.
Already on (Monday 21 September) we were planning how to spend our time ashore, and the first port would be New York – the Big Apple. We had booked a number of tours in different places, but we were going to spend the first day in New York independently. On the second day we were going to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. So after breakfast Pauline went to listen to the destination lecturer Dr Batstone. He gave a very well presented lecture which encouraged us to set off on foot from the Queen Victoria towards Times Square. Last time we visited New York had been on the QM2, berthed at Brooklyn, and then we disembarked in order to complete US Immigration formalities and then went directly back on board. Previous to that, on the Queen Victoria, we had done much the same as we do not like big cities. Perhaps it was time to look at the city.
After lunch in the Lido restaurant it was soon time to go back to the Royal Court Theatre for the feature movie ‘Mamma Mia’. This film, produced in 2008, is the film version of the stage musical featuring the songs of ABBA. The music and singing was generally good, especially Meryl Streep who takes the central and leading role. Pierce Brosnan, no longer a James Bond character, was the one failure; he cannot sing even after all the lessons. There were no cocktail parties and so we sat on our balcony with one of our bottles of sparkling wine before going into a leisurely dinner.
The first destination lecture had been very good and the theatre was full the next day (Tuesday 22 September) for the next lecture – about Boston and New England. After lunch we went to the Queens Room for the second classical concert 'Masters of Melody' by Geoffrey Haydock (clarinet) and Penelope Smith (piano).
One of the other additional benefits for Diamond Cunard World Club members is that there is an invitation to a complimentary wine tasting. This was held this afternoon, upstairs in the Britannia restaurant. There were 6 wines to taste, each introduced by a different sommelier. They were Matanzas Creek 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County ($42), Trimbach Gewurtztraminer from Alsace ($40), Selaks 2008 Riesling from New Zealand ($39), Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2007 Pinot Noir from California ($42), Banrock Station Shiraz/Cabernet from South East Australia ($28) and Château Coufran 2003 from the Haut Medoc in France ($70). We spent almost 2 hours tasting the wines, in groups of 20 to 25 people. There are some 300 people on board this cruise who were eligible to attend as either Platinum (75 days) or Diamond (150 days) Cunard World Club members.
The clocks changed overnight (Wednesday 23 September), and so it was only just light when we set off for coffee at 06.30. The gym is still very quiet at these times and it left time for Pete to start on the Weights and to investigate the other fitness machines. For a change we had breakfast in the Restaurant today. We had a table by the window and admired the weather – sunny, calm and wonderful. You could almost see reflections on the water and we were in the middle of the Atlantic. After breakfast we found an invitation to sit on the Staff Chief Engineers Table in the Britannia restaurant tonight. Tonight is also the Cunard World Club cocktail party, so the rest of our red wine will have to wait until another day. It is the third of six formal evenings during this 24 day cruise.
The weather was so lovely that we decided to sit outside by the pool in the afternoon, reading. Pete even went for a short swim in the pool. We did not realise how powerful the sunshine was, until we got back to our stateroom and saw the red glowing skin. Pauline even had a white swirl the same shape as necklace pendant.
The Cunard World Club event is always hosted by the on-board representatives, who also run the Cruise Sales Office. On this occasion Captain McNaught also welcomed everyone at the entrance. We were again able to chat with several senior officers, and at the end of the event there were a few moments when we could discuss with the Captain the final days of the QE2 when she passed through Malta in November 2008. On arrival at dinner, we recognised the Staff Chief Engineer, Tony Kelly, but only once he had taken off his new glasses. We all drank too much Geyser Peak Chardonnay as well as a splash of Rosemount red wine. It was an excellent evening.
By our final day at (Thursday 24 September) sea we were well into a routine and had even had time to play the odd game of Backgammon After lunch there was the third classical music concert with Geoffrey Haydock and Penelope Smith. This concert was 'From Wolfgang with Love' – music by Mozart interlaced with readings of letters from Mozart to his family and friends.
Today we arrived in New York. We were awake early and sat on our balcony to watch a spectacular sun rise. Then we grabbed an early light breakfast and then went to the viewing point at the front of 6 Deck to listen to the commentary by Bill Miller and take photos. It was the first time we had entered New York in good weather and in daylight. Previously we had arrived early, and although it is nice to watch the sun rise behind the Empire State Building in the early morning it is much nicer to come along the Hudson River later. Our previous visit was on the QM2, so we had to berth in Brooklyn, and we only disembarked to go through immigration; before that we were in New York on the Queen Victoria maiden World Cruise, and again we spent little time ashore. On this visit the Queen Victoria arrived at the Pilot Station at 06.00, then passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge just after 07.00, passing the Statue of Liberty on the port side at 07.40 and the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan island shortly afterwards. We watched it all from the front of 6 Deck then moved back to our stateroom where we had an excellent view from our balcony of the important landmark buildings as we slowly traveled along the Hudson River to our berth on the northern side of Pier 88.
The veteran aircraft carrier USS Intrepid was back on Pier 87, with Concorde G-BOAD on a floating platform alongside. It is a Sea, Air and Space Museum and we spent an interesting day there on a previous visit to New York. Getting into our berth was difficult, even with the help of tugs, and the forward starboard tug had to push very hard to prevent the corner of the pier scrapping alongside the Queen Victoria. In his efforts, the tug managed to nudge some of the wooden pillars at the end of the pier, but did not seem to suffer himself. The Pilot (and Captain) were unfortunate that the wind was blowing onto pier, and there was a tide flowing too.
Nevertheless we were alongside by 09.00, as scheduled, and 8 Deck was to be the first to be called for disembarkation. Except there were no calls, and we just walked down at 09.10 and joined a short line of hopefuls at the gangway just as disembarkation started. Processing by the US DHS was efficient, everyone was smiling, and by 09.35 we were outside the Cruise Terminal and walking along 48th Street towards Broadway. Part way along 48th Street we passed a stabling for horses and a few horse-drawn carriages were parked on the street. Reaching Broadway we could see Times Square in the distance, but we turned north instead.
It was a beautiful clear morning and our priority was to get a panoramic view of New York. Our first target was the Rockefeller Centre, on West 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, because we had been advised that the queues to get in were much shorter than for the famous Empire State Building, and there are good views from the central tower, the GE Building. This, the first open air observatory, was originally opened in 1933, and is an art deco masterpiece. After renovations which started in 1986 it re-opened in 2005 and is one of the best places to see fantastic views of the city. We were there at 10.00 and it was very quiet. We each paid $20 to go to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck and paid the extra $2 for a useful map showing the landmarks which would be visible from the top. It was a very clear day without a cloud in the sky and one had spectacular views.
Just a few steps away, where West 50th Street meets Fifth Avenue, we visited St Patrick's Roman Catholic cathedral which is dwarfed by the surrounding buildings – one gets no impression of size until one is inside. The building of the Gothic style cathedral began in 1858 but the steeples were not added until the 1880s and the Lady Chapel and adjacent chapels were added between 1901 and 1908. The stained glass windows throughout are very beautiful; some are blue-toned and made in the USA, others are multi-coloured and made in France. One notable modern shrine is that of Elizabeth Seton, the first American born saint. There is also a marble statue of the Pieta which is surprisingly three times larger than the Pieta of Michelangelo in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Fifth Avenue has many exclusive and expensive shops. On an earlier trip to New York our tour bus deposited us outside the Trump Tower. We never went in, but this visit we were attracted by a great thirst and a view of a Starbucks coffee shop in the foyer, and a sign proclaiming that it was open to the public. Trump Tower is a 58-storey skyscraper located at 725 Fifth Avenue, on the corner of 56th Street, and was completed in 1983. Inside the atrium glows golden and there is a restful wall of water which must be the best part of a hundred foot high. At the top of the escalator we found there was access to Public gardens. After sitting down with a very large Americano coffee, three shots of espresso coffee topped up with water to make about half a litre of liquid, and clutching a packet of ground anniversary coffee to take away, we were sufficiently recovered to continue our walk. The restrooms, near the restaurant in the basement, are useful too.
The southern end of Central Park is at 57th Street. Here we found a number of horse-drawn carriages for hire. We had seen Central Park from the Top of the Rock, but the very southern corner had been hidden from view. It was just after 12.00 and there were people everywhere – sitting on the grass in the sunshine or just strolling along the paths and enjoying the beautiful weather. We followed a maze of paths, passing a lake, until we reached the western side. Then we turned back, along Broadway, New York’s longest street, to finally visit Times Square - a brash neon pedestrian area where Broadway meets 7th Avenue.
We made a short exploration down 44th Street. The Harvard Club, one of many reciprocal clubs with the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, was at 27 West 44th Street and the Cornell Club was at 6 East 44th Street. Fifth Avenue splits each Street into West and East. Neither place was very close to our route. Suddenly the shopping changes from Bond Street to Tottenham Court Road with cheap souvenirs, electronic toys and cafés. Although everything was priced it was not expected that anyone paid the marked price. Pete bought some new boxed Sony portable speakers to improve the sound from the Netbook which were priced $69.99 but he negotiated $25 – they are light and run on rechargeable batteries and have transformed the sound. Everywhere is added the eternal sales tax, of course. There were stalls on the pavement selling $5 pashminas, postcards, small pictures, T-shirts and hats.
We continued south to 34th Street and the Empire State Building. Completed in 1931 it is currently the tallest building in New York. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue and the foyer is dominated by a shining relief of the skyscraper. We didn't expect to be able to go in because the queues are reputed to be horrendous, but the guides estimated only a 30 minutes wait, and we believed them. There are many stages where it is necessary to queue, so the length of line ahead does not mean that is going to be the length of overall queue. It cost $20 each to go up to Floor 86, and an additional $15 each to go up the Observation Tower to the old waiting room for balloon flights on Floor 102 – the big extension on the top was designed to anchor the balloons but it never proved popular as the wind was too much of a problem.
The weather was still good, and very clear, so we decided to pay to go as far as we could. The first express lift went up to Floor 80, and we were told to look upwards as we travelled and watch the light show in the ceiling. At Floor 80 there were more queues and this was because there was only one Tower lift working to go from Floor 80 to 86. We were given the option of walking and did so. It was only the same as going from the Purser's desk on 1 Deck up to our stateroom on 8 Deck. No problem. At Floor 86 we caught a really small lift to go to Floor 102. Fortunately few people paid the extra to go up the 16 extra Floors as the area can only hold about 30 people. The view from the top was very good, and we glimpsed the Queen Victoria at her berth and also could look down on the viewing area of the Rockefeller Building. Descending from Floor 102, the views from Observation Deck on Floor 86 were also good and we were still looking down on the Rockefeller Building. Again we walked down from Floor 86 to catch the express lift at Floor 80.
Shopping is supposed to be a special feature of every visit to New York but it was still a surprise when we passed the entrance to Macy’s and Pete suggested we went inside. The reason he gave was that the green porches over the entrance doors reminded him of Fortnum and Mason's in Piccadilly and he wanted to compare them. It was soon clear that Macy’s was not that type of shop, and we passed upwards through floors and floors of ladies clothes until we reached the top floor. We now realise that the food areas were in the basement so we will have to visit again another time. The escalators at the lower levels were modern and metal then there was an abrupt change to wood until the final escalator was old, wooden and narrow. Some parts of the building had clearly been beautiful, whereas other parts were just plain. On the top floor shopping was more interesting with some nice examples of fine Waterford crystal, including a stunning red crystal chandelier, as well as cheaper modern glass, still made in Waterford. Lismore sapphire (blue) champagne flutes were eye-catching, and there was also a series of flutes for the 12 days of Christmas. It did not appear that the credit crunch was biting here yet. Some of the Sri Lankan china, made specially for Macy’s, looked nice enough to replace any breakages in the mixture of bits of Limoges, Wedgwood and Royal Worcester we use at home.
From our map we estimate we walked 8 kms, over 5 miles, in addition to the steps in the Empire State Building and the general wandering around monuments, churches and shops - it seemed further but so much time is spent waiting to cross the traffic. We got back to the Queen Victoria just before 18.00.
The following day we had an early start because were taking an organised tour to visit the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum; our check-in at the Queens Room was at 08.30. Normally we prefer to travel independently but we were concerned that we might have problems with the ferry queues, especially on a Saturday, and the organised tours promise that the ship will wait until they return. We arrived early and were allocated to Bus Number 1. There were four buses. By 08.45 we were already on our way down 12th Avenue and along the new waterfront parks, passing Ground Zero where the new World Trade Centre is being constructed. Our guide had been nearby in New York that day and spent the following day in the bucket brigade sifting through the rubble – the largest item he saw that day was a computer keyboard. Our bus halted at Battery Park and we walked to the departure point for the ferries which do the round-trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.We were advised to stand on the upper deck of the ferry, on the starboard side, so we got the best view of the approach to Liberty Island and its famous statue.
Unfortunately our tour only included entry to the island, not access to the monument. This was not a surprise when we saw the price on our tickets. It was only $10 for the entire boat trip. Other tour groups had tickets which included access to the observation deck on the 16th Floor and recently access to the Crown has been re-opened but with only a small number of tickets available. Our guide said they could only be obtained by ballot. Originally it was possible to climb inside the arm and reach the torch, but after the arm was broken access there was removed. There has been extensive maintenance work, partly caused by the mixing of the different metals in the construction. The copper of the statue covers a skeleton framework made of iron. There were problems of corrosion and now the internal structure is of stainless steel with a PTFE layer. Having been assembled in 1886 the restoration was completed in 1986 and it is said to be ready for another 100 years. We spent some time in the National Parks Information Centre and we were offered an upgrade of our tickets. We think it was because we were obviously interested in the metallurgy and the technical challenges of maintenance, and also maybe they noticed our New Zealand Catalina hats. However we were warned that the queues for security would take 40 minutes and we had to choose between doing that and rejoining our organised tour later, or continuing as planned. We decided to continue with our tour, and then to make a longer visit to Lady Liberty on our next visit to New York. So at 10.45 promptly everyone met at the curved brick wall and we all set off for the next stage of our ferry trip, to nearby Ellis Island.
On arrival we followed the footsteps of those who had arrived in New York as immigrants. Ellis Island was originally a small oval island, the shape of an oyster. As the New York subway was excavated the spoils from the construction work were used to increase the size of the island. There are a series of models showing this expansion; the first immigration building was wooden and only survived five years. The new fireproof French Renaissance style building which is there now was opened in December 1900. The idea behind the very ornate and fancy architecture was that this was the first building which immigrants would see when they arrived, and it was intended to show the opportunities and wealth of the country and be a real welcome. Many immigrants were country people and so their first impressions would be important.
Immigrants who had been travelling in ‘steerage’ on the steamships arrived on small ferries and barges and entered the Baggage Room where a display of typical bags, boxes, suitcases and trunks is displayed. Our guide then insisted that everyone walked upstairs to the Registry Room in the Great Hall. These stairs were the first test of the immigrant’s health, they were watched by doctors who put a chalk H (for Heart) on those who flagged during the steep climb. The Registry Room above was huge with a magnificent tiled ceiling and was where all the information about immigrants were collected and the paper processing took place. There were many questions and some simple tests of basic intelligence and reading. The gallery above gave access to a third level with dormitories for those who were not processed the same day. Apparently a third of the immigrants stayed in New York City, and only about two percent were denied entry and forced to return home by ship. Contract labourers were not allowed so a common reason for refusal was that a job had already been set up – everyone had to be fit, available and willing to work. Women had to be collected or arrive with a male relation and often had to wait for weeks before being admitted. Unaccompanied children under 16 were also refused entry
Having arrived at 11.30 we were allowed a full 2 hours before our return so there was plenty of time to see all the exhibits. Some people even found time for a coffee or a light lunch. Most of the interesting exhibits were on the Registry Room level where ‘Through America’s Gate’ gave a fascinating story of what happened to an immigrant at each stage – including the medical checks and the rest of the inspection process. One test, for trachoma, involved looking underneath the eyelids and a button hook was often used to do this. No-one realised that this could transfer the disease from one person to another. There were so many immigrants at one time that every newly qualified doctor had to spend the first two years after qualifying on Ellis Island and the same for nurses. Even so the time for initially checks averaged 6 seconds per person for the majority who were passed. Some of the intelligence checks were interesting especially when they had to be constructed so that people who did not speak any English could still be tested, and the intelligence of those who could neither read nor write was also assessed. Those who were deemed to be unlikely to find work and would therefore be a drain on the country were sent home. The shipping lines were obliged to take them back at no charge. Some tests had to be explained by a translator and often these people could use their role to encourage the immigrant to chose the right answer to tests. Immigration statistics are that the busiest day was 17 April 1907 when 11,747 people arrived at Ellis Island. Beginning in 1892, in total some 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island, and more than 100 million Americans can claim ancestry.
Outside there is a lot of building work and so exploration of the island is limited. In addition, the island is divided. In theory because of its location the island should be part of New Jersey, not part of New York. The Immigration Museum in the Main Building was restored in the 1980s and belongs to the town of New York because the work was done by them. The management of the site is by the National Parks Service, as is Liberty Island. The other half of the island, which houses the hospital, contagious disease wards and doctors housing belongs to the State of New Jersey, and is under restoration. We could not access any of this, nor could we access the Baggage and Dormitory building. We did manage to walk along the new circular American Immigrant Wall of Honour, on which some 600,000 names are inscribed. We all met together at 13.30 back on the steps of the entrance, and just missed catching the next boat. This had the advantage that all four Cunard groups would be going back together.
By now there were long lines waiting back at Battery Park to catch the ferries and we were pleased that our tour had been early in the morning. Unfortunately the traffic in New York was much more congested in the afternoon and our driver did a series of interesting moves to try and get away from the stationary queues. It did mean we could admire a lot of the apartments in the side streets occupied by famous people, as well as pass the New York Stock Exchange building and the site of the new World Trade Centre. Many Streets are one way only and we had to go north as far as 55th Street before we could turn and approach the entry to the Cruise Terminal. Having left Battery Park at 14.15 we reached the Queen Victoria just before 1530 and said a reluctant ‘Good Bye’ to our guide. He was excellent and it was one of those rare occasions when we gave a tip. Back on board the Afternoon Tea ceremony had already started but we found remnants from the Buffet Lunch in the Lido to sustain us until dinner. Apparently there is usually something from the Buffet until 16.00.
‘All Aboard’ was at 17.30 with departure at 18.00 so we went up to the Commodore Club to celebrate. The Commodore Club is just above the bridge with a full width floor to ceiling glass window facing forwards so it has a magnificent view. Just as we sat down there was an announcement from the Captain that our departure would be delayed until early the following morning while we waited for some equipment to arrive. As a consequence we would not be going to Newport Rhode Island, and would be steaming directly to Boston. In addition, we were told, the weather forecast for Newport was bad and it was not going to be possible to operate a tender service, even if we had gone there. It was a pity we had not been informed earlier because we could then have stayed out in Manhattan instead of returning to the Queen Victoria. But now we were too tired to go out again.
Our neighbour on the port side, a Carnival ship, departed quietly. Our other neighbour, Saga Ruby, gave a cheerful blast of her horn as she departed, which we responded to. Saga Ruby used to be part of the Cunard fleet, under the name of Caronia, and before that she was the Vistafjord. On the other side, Costa Atlantica, the same size as the Queen Victoria, sat quietly on her berth. We knew that the Norwegian Dawn was going to take our place at Pier 88 so whatever happened we had to be clear by 06.30, when she was due to arrive.
All Aboard was now re-timed for 04.00 the following morning, so there was plenty of opportunity for everyone to spend a good night ashore. New York City is said to be a city which never sleeps. We had an early night and were up at dawn the following morning, as usual. On departure, another one of the best places to see the view forwards is in the gym which is just under the Bridge with full width windows facing forward. So at 06.15 we started an early session on the cross trainers just as the ropes were released and we watched as New York and the Statue of Liberty slipped by. It was steadily raining, although visibility was still good enough to see to the top of the skyscrapers. Pete reached 400 calories as we past Wall Street – hard work this sightseeing. As we approached the bridge (with 750 calories burnt) it gradually became more murky and we realised we had been lucky that our two days ashore had been so sunny and clear. By the time we turned north it was so foggy the horn was blowing every 3 minutes.
This was an unexpected extra day at sea, and also a Sunday, so it was back to the usual routine with the traditional church service at 11.15, followed by lunch. We completed writing our diary of the voyage so far, and then sat playing Backgammon, a new board game for us and one where, so far, we have been able to play together rather than as adversaries.
The Captain was correct about the inclement weather. We had experienced lumpy seas on the Queen Victoria during our previous cruise and knew that she handled weather nicely. As the day progressed the wind rose and according to the display from the GPS which can be read on the stateroom TV it peaked at 48 knots. This is a serious wind and is Gale Force. The Queen Victoria was rolled by the wind at a slight angle, and this was not serious for passengers but was a problem for the girls and boys of the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers who should be dancing in the Royal Court Theatre in the evening. Their show was postponed for two days, and this meant that our reservation for a Theatre Box was moved too. We had so much enjoyed the Theatre Box experience for Pauline’s birthday that we had booked another.
Having once hoped that we would arrive in Boston early, having missed the previous port, it was now announced that we were not able to steam as quickly as had been hoped, and we would be alongside at the original time of 10.00. Overnight we had gone through all the bad weather and the forecast for today was very good. We were up early to go to the gym, and as we sipped our coffee beforehand in the Lido on 9 Deck Pete noticed a spout of water. Then another. We were passing a small group of whales. Staring closely now, we just glimpsed the black shape of another whale before it blew. The coast here is well known for whales, and there are tours which specialise in whale watching.
After New York, all the ports on this cruise would be maiden calls. The Boston Cruiseport is directly in line with the end of the runway of Logan International Airport and we were relieved there was no aircraft noise inside our stateroom. Immediately ahead at her berth we saw the Saga Ruby. Boston was unexpectedly difficult for embarkation. We were supposed to be able to embark from 2 Deck and 1 Deck, and most people were waiting at 2 Deck for the gangway when we arrived to join the line at 10.00. Unfortunately the crew found setting up everything was difficult, and as time passed more people arrived, and then the first of the tour groups, supposed to leave the ship at 10.15, joined the queue. As even more people arrived and began to sit on the stairways the crowd barriers came out. This all took more time away from the task of disembarking passengers and increased the delays. Part of the problem was that the gangway on 2 Deck was a very steep angle from the ship down to the shore. Extra care was needed to walk down, and it would be extremely slow and difficult for a wheelchair or passengers who had difficulty walking.
Having been to Boston on the QE2 in 2005 we had some idea of how to get around. We walked out of the port area, instead of paying the $9 per person for the Port Shuttle Bus to Quincy Market. Boston is a port where the Port Authorities no longer allow Cunard to set up a free Shuttle Bus service. On our last visit we noted there had been a free shuttle bus but we did not want to go to Quincy Market. We picked up a walking map from the Visitors Bureau stand and set off. Just outside the port area we were confronted by our first fish restaurant, the Yankee Lobster Fish Market, with its eye-catching adult red lobster. It was too early to think of eating there, but we noted the location for our return.
Boston has a good MBTA Subway system and there is a new Grey line which goes out to Logan Airport, starting from the South Station. The lines are named after colours, and we were heading towards South Station, and the Red Line to visit Harvard and Cambridge. But first we wanted to see progress with the restoration of the Boston Tea Party Ship. It has a permanent mooring at Congress Street Bridge, and in 2005 was being restored following a lightning strike and fire in 2001. It is not the original ship, but a good replica. At the mooring there was nothing and we wondered what had happened. The staff at the nearby Boston Children’s Museum explained that there had been another fire and the smiled as they said it was hoped the ship would be back on display next year. They also explained that the Silver Line of the MBTA went from South Station out to the airport, and it was stations on that line we had seen on our walk. We went across to South Station.
Tickets for the MBTA are obtained from machines and we decided to purchase a Charlie Ticket valid for 24 hours which cost $9. A single journey is $2. South Station is on the Red Line and so is Harvard, so there was no need to change. Cambridge is on the opposite side of the Charles River to Boston, and we crossed it between Charles/MGH and Kendall/MIT stations on the Longfellow bridge.
We emerged from the subway at Harvard Square and looked around. We had several choices and decided to go towards Cambridge Common, passing the First Church of Cambridge and the Old Burial Grounds of Christ Church next door. The milestone at the northeast corner indicates that it is 8 miles to Boston. Everything of particular historic importance in the cemetery is marked by a flag, and it is interesting to spend a few moments exploring. When we visited the only gate which was open was next to Christ Church. Cambridge Common has a monument to Lincoln and the Civil War dead which overshadows the newer memorial to the Irish Potato Famine which led so many people to leave Ireland around 1845. Further into the park is the revered Washington Elm under which it is said that George Washington took command of the Continental Army. The original Washington Elm was cut down in 1946 and the present tree is raised from one of its branches. The old Charleston-Watertown path goes through the park, and we emerged on the east side to walk along Cambridge Street. This was clearly University country with students everywhere. The Memorial Hall, with its pointed arches, flying buttresses and stained glass windows by Tiffany and LaFarge, resembles a church but is actually a combination of a University eating place and public lecture theatres. North of the Memorial Hall and in the heart of the campus is the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. It is not free to visit, although there is a combined ticket and the desk was willing to give a discount to us if we could show evidence of our Oxford University Ids. There has always been a good relationship between Oxford and Harvard Universities.
The weather was beautiful and we would have gladly spent the day in the museums if it was raining, but it was not. Instead we approached Harvard Yard, the centre of the University, entering by the side of the Memorial Church, then walking in a large clockwise circle until we found the John Harvard statue in the Old Yard in front of University Hall. It was unmistakable. There was a queue of visitors waiting to have their photo taken with him, and to place their hand on the point of his shoe. The Old Yard dates from 1636 when it was a grazing yard for University stock. The original college was founded in 1636 for training clergy and in 1638 it took its name in honour of a local minister, John Harvard, who bequeathed his library and half his estate to the new institution.
Having explored Harvard we went back on the Red Line to Park Street. The subway station is on the northeast corner of Boston Common, close to the Visitor Information Centre. We looked around for the typical ice cream stand as is always found in large city parks and instead saw a McDonald’s. We don’t like their burgers but we will eat their ice cream sundaes so that and a giant Diet Coke made us refreshed and ready for more walking. Park Station is at the one end of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile path which is marked on the pavement by a red brick line and leads all the way to Charlestown and the USS Constitution, linking sixteen points which were chosen because they were significant to the country’s struggle for freedom. These included the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church whose lanterns warned of the British arrival, Faneuil Hall where opposition to the British proposed tea tax was voiced, the Old South Meeting House where the first protests took place, the Old State House which served as the Boston seat of British Government and the site of the Boston Massacre. We had walked the complete trail on our previous visit to Boston, and it is interesting and we were happy to do more of it again. A good description is in our QE2 travel notes from 2005.
We did not complete the trail but stopped at the Old North Church and then continued to the Charles River before returning to the Queen Victoria along the Harbor Walk. To our dismay, the Harbor Walk is not a continuous walk but is a series of isolated walks to the coast and back. For example, our map showed the walk going by the water beyond the US Coast Guard building, but when we got there the path was locked and we had to retrace our steps. This happened many times. When we reached the MBTA at the Aquarium we were tempted to complete our journey by subway, but when we looked at the map we saw we needed to change at State, then at Downtown Crossing and again at South Station to reach the Silver Line heading towards the cruise terminal. It would be five stops on 4 different lines. Maybe it was going to be quicker on foot. When we visit Boston again we will learn about the buses because they must be more direct.
One advantage of walking was that we could define how long it was going to take, and once we had reached the bridge over Fort Point Channel we started looking for somewhere economical to try a lobster. In the North End there had been a lot of advertised cheap lobster meals, but here everything was double the price. Nothing appealed until just on the edge of the docks we remembered the Yankee Lobster Fish Market. It was like a Fish and Chip Shop, and much of its business was Take Away, although there were a few tables inside and on the pavement. It was only 17.00 and we checked whether that was too early to sit down for dinner. With a surprised smile we were told it was OK and we ordered a lobster each, which came with fries, coleslaw, sweetcorn and lots of melted butter. We paid $12.95 each. We were given plastic bibs to protect our clothes, and a pair of plastic nutcrackers to deal with the lobster. It was possible to order wine or beer with a meal, so we each had a pint of the Harpoon Brewery IPA brewed next door, another $4 each. It was an excellent meal, great fun, and we recommend the place. When we had dinner on the Queen Victoria later that evening we decided it was best to skip a starter because we had eaten so much lobster already.
It was a gloomy grey morning as we approached Portland in Maine. As we got closer we were greeted by a fireboat with its celebratory water cannons. From our balcony, the most interesting building on the skyline looked like a windmill, and we knew from the map that it was not, but was the Portland Observatory. Once we were cleared to disembark we set out in that direction. It was built in 1807 and was established by Captain Lemuel Moody as a maritime signal station to manage Portland’s busy harbour. It is not a Timeball station, but is an information service which relied upon seeing approaching vessels up to 30 miles away by telescope, and raising nautical flags to indicate what vessels were approaching so that merchants in shore could organise a berth and employ stevedores ready for unloading. The wooden octagonal tower is 86 feet high and our guided tour involved climbing the stairs to the viewpoint on the top. There were good views in all directions, and we could see mountains in the far distance. A bright blue bird flew past which was identified as a blue jay. We had not noticed, but in the middle of the road there was a small length of track and a six sided brick inset in the tarmac. This was the only remaining remnant of the original tramway and the bricks were the same size as the footprint of the Portland Observatory.
The observatory is on the highest point of Munjoy Hill and so it was all downhill along Congress Street to visit the rest of the town. The poet William Wadsworth Longfellow was a famous resident of Portland and his birthplace is a museum. The brick house, also in Congress Street, was built by his grandfather in 1785 and was acquired by the Maine Historical Society in 1901. The interior is decorated with original antiques and the home is preserved in late 19th century condition. Entrance is only by guided tour and the tour is always of one hour duration. We waited for the 12.00 tour and started late and finished later so there was not enough time to visit any other museum before going back to the Queen Victoria. We did not even have time to go into the Maine Historical Museum which was next door to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, except to make use of their washrooms.
We had booked a tour to visit three lighthouses, and it departed from the pier ashore at 14.00. We grabbed a very quick lunch in the Lido and were back outside in a record 20 minutes. Each time we went through the cruise terminal we were offered a free bright green carrier bag to welcome us on our maiden visit, and by the end of the day we had collected five of these. It was easy to spot the other Queen Victoria passengers ashore.
Our tour to visit three lighthouses started by taking us away from the lighthouses and along the shore with a short stop at Fort Allen Park to admire Casco Bay, and then past a number of large detached houses before turning back along North Street to intersect with Congress Street at the Portland Observatory. We were obviously going to see the town too, and it all overlapped with our journey on foot in the morning. So again we saw the Roman Catholic Cathedral, City Hall, Monument Square and the Maine Historical Society Museum with the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Our first lighthouse was the smallest of the Portland Maine lighthouses – the Bug Light is only 13 feet tall and was very close to Portland Ocean Terminal. It was first illuminated in 1875. Everyone was encouraged to get off the bus and walk along to get up close to Bug Light. In the same area is the Liberty Ship Memorial. There were 266 Liberty ships built on the site during WWII and the tarmac of the car park is deliberately the same shape as the bottom of a Liberty ship. As well as a series of information boards there is a steel frame of the forward part of a Liberty ship, to give an idea of its size and design.
The second lighthouse was Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and was easily seen from the Bug Light. It is a ‘spark plug’ style lighthouse, constructed of brick on a cylindrical cast-iron caisson. In contrast, the lighthouse is at the end of a long granite breakwater and we were forbidden by the tour guide to go up to the lighthouse because of the risks of slipping on the granite rocks. We looked at the breakwater and decided it was much safer than rock hopping while fishing in New Zealand. Pete went off quietly along the breakwater and Pauline followed five minutes later when she could see his departure had not been seen.
The third and final lighthouse was the famous Portland Head Light, Maine’s oldest lighthouse sited at Fort Williams. Portland Head Light was lit in 1791 and our approach to it took us the pleasant residential area of Cape Elizabeth, We arrived for our introductory talk at 16.00; the small museum in the former lighthouse-keepers quarters closes for normal entry at 16.00. The Portland Head Light is the most photographed lighthouse in Maine. After our visit to the museum we had plenty of time to explore Fort Williams and wander along part of the coastal walkway.
Our route back by bus to the Queen Victoria took us past another historic building, Victoria Mansion. It is in Danforth Street and is just within walking distance of the Old Port. Built between 1858 and 1860 it is considered to be the finest Italian villa style house in the nation. It reminded us of Larnach castle in New Zealand although the stone is a different colour.
This evening the performance of ‘Celtic Heartbeat’ by the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers, which had been postponed because of bad weather, was due to take place. We ate our evening meal quickly, collected our camera so we could get a photo of the Theatre Box Experience, and settled down for a very pleasant evening in Box 3. Celtic Heartbeat was very good and we had a better view and the box for two had more useful space than the earlier one.
Bar Harbor is on the eastern side of Mount Desert Island. Behind the town rises the summit of Cadillac Mountain, within the Acadia National Park where one of its main attractions is the Thunder Hole. We were going on tour in the afternoon to visit the area. We knew from our research at home that Bar Harbor was going to make the maiden visit of the Queen Victoria something special. This was confirmed by the Mount Desert Islander newspaper which was given to everyone on board. The morning was going to be a celebration, with the local High School orchestra playing on the wharf, other musicians playing around the town, and a vintage car rally. We had been careful to book our excursion in the afternoon so we could spend the morning ashore joining in the celebrations. The one disadvantage of Bar Harbor is that the Queen Victoria was at anchor, but we went down to collect our tender tickets as soon as the ship was cleared and walked straight on to the next tender. We therefore arrived while the celebrations were being set up. It seemed that the welcome ceremony with the joint cutting of a large cake by local dignitaries and the Captain was scheduled for 09.30 so we had half an hour to explore the main streets and find the vintage cars. There were special First Day Covers issued to celebrate the maiden visit, as well as other covers to celebrate previous visits of the QE2 and the QM2. We bought a collection of different ones.
The Captain arrived at Agamont Park shortly after 09.30 and the speeches and exchange of gifts began. TV crews from ABC were there as well as another camera man, and there were photographers everywhere. Unfortunately Suzanne, the official videographer, from the Queen Victoria had gone off on tour but we managed to record the proceedings. Five or six different politicians or their representatives gave speeches expressing greetings, and Captain McNaught responded, reminding everyone that the QE2 had visited Bar Harbor some thirty years earlier and this had been the start of the visits by Cunard Line and other cruise companies. Indeed Captain McNaught had been the Captain on the QE2 when she visited for the last time in 2008 so he was especially proud to be bringing the Queen Victoria on her maiden visit. Gifts were exchanged – we did not know until now that the motto for the Queen Victoria was ‘Sol Semper Spendit’ which Cunard translates as ‘sailing always in the sun’ - and it was rather like being at a wedding or christening as the cutting of the cake took place. We managed to avoid being interviewed by the TV people and decided it was time to take our pieces of cake and stand on the sidelines.
The main street of Bar Harbor is Main Street and it is crowded with little shops on both sides. They were all offering 10% discounts to Queen Victoria passengers. Lobster is the local specialty in Maine and we had been recommended to try the lobster ice cream but although we went into the shop with the intention of purchasing one we changed our minds. Even a small ice cream was quite expensive and it was a waste to spend $4 or $5 if we didn’t like it.
In contrast, the local library in Mt Desert Street was clearing out hundreds of books at 25cents or 50cents each and we bought a few which were of interest. The library building itself was worth admiring, with its gallery and dark wooden book displays, similar to old University libraries. Opposite the library we visited St Saviour’s Episcopal Church which is on the National Historic Register. It deserves its place because of the beautiful stained glass windows. It was still early in the morning and we went back to Agamont Park, begged for another piece of the celebration cake and started the Shore Walk. It is only one mile, and on a flat well-surfaced path clinging to the edge of the coast, with water and rocks on one side and hotels and nice houses on the other. We had an excellent view of the Queen Victoria sitting at anchor in the sunshine. At the end of the path we worked our way back to town and yet again walked down Main Street.
It was too far to go back to the Queen Victoria for lunch by tender and get back to the pier in time for our afternoon tour and we noticed a coach was being filled early, so we climbed aboard. We were going to the Acadia National Park and taking the 27-mile Park Loop Road which gives access to the summit of Cadillac Mountain at 1530 feet. It was a clear day and we were fortunate in having good panoramic views from the Cadillac Mountain Road, and then in our 20 minutes allowed it was an easy walk along a small path around the actual summit. The Park Loop Road is mainly a one way system, but two lanes wide. This means it is safe for the buses, even on the hairpin bends. We stopped at Thunder Hole where the ocean swells crash against granite cliffs to create a thunderous roar. When it is high tide it must be a very wet spot. The park is criss-crossed with walking trails and although we did not stop again we did slow down in many places to admire the views along the ocean drive. We stopped at the Gatehouse and the Jordan Pond House before driving along Jordan Pond. Many lakes are closed to swimming and wading because they supply drinking water. Although we had left early we did not have any spare time at the pier and were herded towards the tenders. The last tender was timed for 17.00 and our tour all got the one before.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
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