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| Cunard Queen Victoria 2014
Christmas Cruises - Part 1
This is our 10th voyage on the Queen Victoria and was only five weeks after our return from our last cruise on board - The Wonders of the Mediterranean. In between we had spent 14 days on a Queen Elizabeth Mediterranean Cruise, flying from Heathrow to Rome and flying back from Venice to Gatwick; it was a last minute bargain and we are undecided whether we will do another flycruise. It is so much easier to leave from Southampton but then there are the days at sea in the Bay of Biscay. This cruise was much shorter and only 10 days, added whilst we were on board last visit as an escape from the winter weather and because the Saver fare price was so good for one of the cabins with an 'obstructed view'. It is also back-to-back with the Christmas cruise which we booked 12 months ago, giving a combination of 22 days away.
Having stayed overnight in Southampton we departed on Sunday from the Ocean Terminal which is the best of those at Southampton and everything went very smoothly, although there were said to be 1000 Priority passengers who had all arrived promptly at 1200 as instructed. The layout for hand baggage checks had changed too, and staff said that it was only the second day with the new system. We were pleased to get through the checks at the front of the Diamond line and to be on board not long after 1230. Once aboard we rapidly found familiar faces and were greeted by name by many of the staff who remembered us from previous cruises. Several asked us if we had enjoyed our vacation home and were glad to see us back. Our dinner table was in a slightly different place to the last cruise, in the middle of the ship and at the back on the upper level. Ideally we prefer one of the tables above the double-down circular stairs from the upper to the lower level which has excellent views into the restaurant and was good for listening to the music but they can not be reserved as priority is given to those with wheelchairs as they are close to the entry. Our ocean view cabin on 4 deck , had a better view than we expected, with a view past and above one of the smaller life craft. Most of the cabins on deck four have 'obstructed views', that is a window with daylight and a perfect view of the side of a lifeboat but no view of the ocean! Our preference is the cabin next door, which has a better view between lifeboats, and we move there for the second cruise. 4 deck is a good place to be as it is only one floor down to the restaurants and Grand Theatre and a reasonable climb of 5 flights to the Lido, Gym and Coffee making facilities. Regular readers will know we like our coffee and bring our own ground coffee and filter mugs rather than use room service or the machines on 9 deck. We will not say a lot more about the Queen Victoria as we have written at length already about previous cruises and in the page which is specifically an Introduction to Queen Victoria
The main problem on Cunard ships is putting on weight, the food is generally very good both in the main Britannia restaurant and in the self service Lido where we usually have breakfast and often lunch as well. The answer to this is the gym and Pete always goes to the Gym when it opens at 0600 for an hour or so and tries to average a 500 calorie burn on the cross trainers or other machines along with stretches and a few weights. On the last trip he exceeded that by quite a margin as there was very little competition for machine time unlike on world cruises when people queue at 0600 and you are rationed to 30 minutes on a machine and he actually found he had lost a couple of pounds by the time he was home.
The first thing we did when we got on board (after lunch that is!) was to go down to the Pursers office and book Boxes for one of the shows - 'Dance Passion'. We then went to the Verandah Restaurant to book for our free lunch there - a benefit of being regulars with Diamond status (over 150 days), in our case by quite a margin. It is so difficult to keep slim on board! Cunard Line has a strong Cunard World Club of repeat passengers, this cruise had 118 Diamond members so one needs to get in early to book lunches on a short cruise! The meals in the Verandah are different to the same restaurant on the Queen Elizabeth and have a fixed price supplement for three courses, $15 for lunch only on sea days and $24 for dinner. There are only 4 days at sea on this cruise, two of these sea days were formal, so that left only two days which were suitable. We chose our day, and then found that the itinerary had changed, the formal celebrations had moved too, and we were going to be committed to a good lunch followed by a wine tasting, Captain's cocktail party and evening celebration menu. It should be an excellent day.
This was our fourth visit to to La Coruna which is located on the top left corner of Spain, in Galicia. It is the port closest for tours to nearby Santiago di Compostela. La Coruna is smaller than Vigo, and is the second largest city in Galicia. It was the capital of Galicia from 1563 to 1982. We arrived at 0900 when sunrise was at 0853, so decided there was no need to rush out. La Coruna is called the 'Crystal City' because of the glass-enclosed balconies, miradores, of the 19th century buildings facing the harbour and in the old town. By 1000 we were ready to go out and the temperature had risen to 10 deg C, which was much warmer than on our previous visit on the Marco Polo on 25 December 2013 or when we visited on exactly the same day on the QV in 2013 and suffered memorable cold and windy weather. Our plan was to stroll around the old town, using as an excuse the need to find some local cheeses to stock our fridge and take home. We crossed the deserted gardens of Mendes Nunez, by the Kiosko Alfonso and La Terraza, then strolled from the Avenida de la Marina into the narrow streets.
On our first visit we had walked to the San Carlos Gardens to see the tomb of Sir John Moore, and then the churches of St Dominic, St Barbara and St Mary, continuing via the Town Hall in the Plaza de Maria Pita and St George's church to reach the beaches at the Playa de Riazor. The following pictures are from that visit.
We quickly found the church of the Capuchins. Everywhere was quiet. There is a useful supermarket in the same street, which is also within sight of the Market of San Agustin. The supermarket is open all day (not Sunday) but the market is not, so we purchased our cheeses to make sure we had them. Everywhere in Spain closes from about 1230 until 1500 or later.
We had not had time to walk to the Torre de Hercules lighthouse on previous visits, but planned to do so. Now the weather was getting brighter, still dry and calm, and it was not far from the end of the road at the Plaza de Espagna. We approached along the Calle de Torre, which seemed likely from its name to be the best direction. There were orange pylons for the tram system along the road, but no sign of any trams. Entry is from a large car park, on the edge of a public park, and by a gentle ramp. It was only 3 euros, and half price for seniors. The entry is at the basement level and explains the building of the original foundations; it is important to pass through this part slowly because the tour route ends elsewhere. As the leaflet explains: Built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, it is the only lighthouse of Antiquity that is still in operation today. The remains of that lighthouse were incorporated into the present building in 1788. It is large and dominates the hill, each of the four sides measures 11.4 metres and the tower is 59 metres high. The lantern room was built in 1804. Climbing the internal steps to the top is a significant climb, but at each of the three floors there are rooms to halt and admire the views. Above, the Round Room, topped with a dome, was built in an original roman rotunda and retains the original roman floor.
The views from the top were good, and we planned our route back to the port by a different route which continued along the promenade, towards the Playa de Riazor until we saw our red funnel ahead.
After a short stop to admire the surf and the beaches, and an even shorter stop at the supermarket, there was time to walk past the church of Saint Nicholas, closed for lunch, then through the Plaza de Maria Pita and then along the Avenida de la Marina to the Cruise Terminal.
Wednesday was a day of cooking demonstrations and exhibitions and eating. First was a demonstration in the Queens Room of some of the signature dishes of the Verandah Restaurant by their chef (Frank) which included some of our favourites and an interesting smoked carpaccio starter which is served under a bell jar full of smoke. Alongside there were tables displaying the three options for alternative dining in the Lido on this cruise: Coriander, Prime and Bamboo. There were samples to taste of sushi and little tarts and sweets. Several people were asking about vegetarian options, and it seems that this cruise has more people than usual who avoid meat. On the other side of the room the beverage teams were showing the wine tasting events, coffee options, the special afternoon tea, and the whisky tastings.
To round this off we had booked lunch in the Verandah that day, before knowing what preceded it - very fortunate.
We completed lunch by 1400, just in time to go to the Cunard World Club wine tasting. The Captain's welcome parties were all held this evening so it was very much a day of food and drink.