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|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 1
Overall the cruise was 75 days long and took us from Southampton across the Atlantic via the Azores and Port Canaveral to Fort Lauderdale from which there is a complete circumnavigation of South America returning via the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale then back across the Atlantic to Southampton. Of the many places we visited fourteen were be new to us and others overlapped with our South American Journey last year. Not all of the places of interest were 'ports' in the conventional sense and included the Beagle Channel, Cape Horn, then the Magellan Straits at the tip of South America, and also two Chilean Glaciers and a long period in the Chilean Fiords. One must not forget the Panama canal where it was our first passage since it has been widened. There were many long sea passages which we quite like with many excellent speakers covering the areas we visited giving us a much better understanding of a large area of the world. We also had local winemakers come on board including from Valdivieso from Chilefor wine tastings and wine dinners which have opened up new areas to us.
This cruise, which will take 75 days is termed an Exotic Voyage by Cunard as it cannot strictly be called a World Cruise as it does not go right round. It does have all the other advantages of their World Cruises such as included gratuities, special lounges areas with a concierge, extra parties, various other perks and a special cruise dinner ashore.
We stayed overnight in a Novatel in Southampton to ensure we were not caught up in bad weather, as nearly happened to us one year. We also made a quick visit to town to see if we could get any Cholesterol reducing yogurts and to buy an orchid for our room. Both proved more difficult than we expected but we did get finally find a lovely little orchid in M&S. In the Evening we met up with friends going back to College days at the Gate House Grill on the Town Quay.
We got to the terminal the next morning at 1130 and got checked in fairly quickly as we get some priority as regulars and then through the security inspection and on-board by about 1230. We found that we had been allocated a table that we like in the Britannia Restaurant which is on the up level but looking down onto the doubledown staircase and the entry area where the string quartet and harp player are on formal nights. it also looks down onto the 'hosted tables' where the Commodore or Senior staff have their tables. We then found we had an invite for a Full World Cruise/Exotic Voyage Welcome reception from 1300 - 1500 so we did not get to do our regular activities at the Purser's office such of booking boxes and the Verandah Restaurant ahead of everyone else. We did meet up with several of senior staff who we know and were plied with far more drinks than we usually have at lunchtime - The Cunard own label Chardonnay is very drinkable at present! In fact we had very little time to start unpacking the 6 suitcases (one for Pete and five for Pauline before it was time for the Lifeboat drill.
We set off from Southampton shortly after he drill was finished and at the same time as the Queen Elizabeth, she was at Mayflower Terminal while Queen Victoria was at Ocean Terminal. There was a magnificent Firework display to speed us on our way. The plan was to run across the Atlantic on a Southerly course to Bermuda to miss the worst of the Atlantic storms and with the two ships alongside all the way - we got some excellent pictures especially when the two closed up for the ceremonial interchange of Whistles (Horn blasts) at Noon but we were already suffering High Seas and big swells which are clearly visible in the pictures. We started putting out our non-slip matting and the plants were moved to floor level. We usually buy an orchid to take with us on long cruises, but also Cunard had given us another much taller plant because we were on the full Exotic Voyage, we have not found out what it is called yet. It made the Formal Cocktail Party to meet the Commodore in the evening interesting and the special evening meal which followed was not as well attended as usual.
Then we noticed the next morning that the Queen Elizabeth was no longer alongside and shortly after there was an announcement that we were going to have to slow up for bad weather and there was no chance of making it to Bermuda on time. We were told both ships would be stopping at different ports in the Azores where we would arrive mid afternoon and have an overnight and morning in port in relatively calm conditions before the rough weather arrived. There is now very good forecasting of weather for maritime purposes and Cunard use a specialized weather service to advise on routing and our route had already been well south of the shortest 'Great Circle' passage to avoid the forecast storms taking us close to the Azores. In fact, as the journey unfolded and the weather turned out to worse than initially forecast, the Commodore had checked that berths were available in the Azores although the final decision was only taken at 2100 the previous night when it became certain that there was no way that time could be made up to reach Bermuda on time. In heavy seas the ship can lose up to a couple of knots every time the bow drops into a heavy sea and time is taken to get back up to speed. Extra fuel is used and as the sea state, particular the swells, get worse it becomes impossible to maintain speed however much power is fed in.
The nine Portuguese islands of the Azores are 800 miles west of mainland Portugal, in the Atlantic ocean. The first three islands were discovered by the Portuguese around 1427, and the third of these, called Terceira, was planned to be our final destination on the route back to Southampton in March. The change of routing means we now visit Praia da Vitoria in Terceira twice on our voyage giving us a chance to have an initial exploration and follow up places of interest latter. We had already booked to have lunch in the Verandah restaurant but still had plenty of time to get ready for our arrival in Praia da Vitoria. The winds dropped dramatically as we got into the shelter of the Azores and it turned into a pleasant evening - people wondered what the issue had been.
The Queen Victoria arrived at 1530 and the intention was to stay overnight and then depart at noon on 11 January. The Queen Victoria had recently visited the port of Praia da Vitoria on her voyage back from the Caribbean in December so the local administration knew the ship and quickly organised a row of shuttle buses to take everyone from the container berth to the town. Everyone seemed to want to disembark and there were some queuing problems which the staff controlled well and soon everyone was heading towards the town.
The capital of Terceira is Angra do Heroismo which is 25 kms from Praia da Vitoria. Praia da Vitoria is a pretty town on a wide bay with a marina and overlooked by green fields with dry stone walls. The Mirador do Facho looks down on the town from the top of a hill on the northern end. Our mooring was about 3kms to the south and although there was a marked pedestrian path to leave the docks it was still a long walk into town. The shuttle buses were essential and very efficient, and the bus passed a small shopping centre with a supermarket before reaching the main Lago Conde da Praia va Vitoria. The square was named after the Count of Praia who was an important political leader and led the successful liberal party in the island during the Portuguese Civil war of 1828-1834. When we arrived there were already hundreds of other passengers exploring the shops and collecting euros from the ATM, to the surprise of locals who had not expected a cruise ship to visit.
After admiring the Justice Building, our first target was the Mercado Municipal where we bought local cheeses from nearby Pico island, and a cheap bottle of Portuguese red wine which we were advised would go well. The market was built between 1870 and 1882. The Jardim Municipal was directly opposite and contained a statue of Joao Silvestre Ribeiro, a local counselor who was responsible for the rebuilding of the town after the earthquake of June 15 1841.
The Rua de Jesus then became pedestrian and led down towards the marina but there were lots of interesting side roads, including the road up to the main church, the Igreja Matriz de Praia da Vitoria/Igreja de Santa Cruz. Although it was late in the afternoon the shops were open and at the church there was a representative of the Tourist Information Office who explained the history of the church and handed out free information maps of the island. The church was established in 1456 and consecrated in 1517, and was reconstructed in the 19th century preserving the same style. There was an interesting 18th century grandfather clock, a gift of the British, in the sacristy. The inside was decorated with Christmas trees, each one from a school class. Historic buildings are more interesting than shops so we explored the narrow street above the church, passing the Ermida de Sao Salvador before turning towards the distinctive blue and white Igreja e Hospital de Santa Casa da Misericordia de Praia da Vitoria/Igreja do Senhor Santo Cristo. It was built in 1521 and then destroyed by fire in 1821 before being rebuilt in 1824. On the other side of the square was the Biblioteca Municipal Silvestre Ribeiro.
The bright lights along the waterfront beckoned. This road is also pedestrianised and has many pavement bars and cafes and the Casa Silvestre Ribeiro/Antiga Alfandega at the roundabout. After purchasing a bottle of local red Merlot/Cab wine and we were ready to climb back up the hill to the shuttle bus. It was getting dark and people who had climbed the 290 steps to reach the top of the Mirador do Facho were having a difficult scramble back down in the dark, using the light from their mobile phones or small torches. We planned to climb the hill the following morning if the weather stayed dry.
The path led back to the Praca Francisco Ornelas da Camara square with the statue of Joao Silvestre Ribeiro. Along one side was the Pacos do Concelho, the City Hall. It was open to visit and there was a guide who explained the purpose of the building. The City Hall was destroyed in the 1614 earthquake and rebuilt on the present site in the 17th century. It has an unusual facade with a pair of staircases and a porch and an interesting bell tower. The guide also talked about places to visit in the town of Angra do Heroismo. We plan to take a tour there in March.
For the first time this voyage we were able to sit out on our balcony in the evening, and this gave the opportunity to taste our Azores cheese with some serrano ham from the Lido buffet. This snack was followed by an excellent and spicy Indian Buffet in the Lido.
We planned a very early morning start the next morning with Pete skipping the Gym so we could be queuing at 0700. At 0600 the shuttle buses started arriving and soon we could see 13 buses waiting although we could also see the winds were now very high and there was horizontal rain past our balcony.We put on full waterproofs and Tilley hats and we were numbers 3 and 4 in the queue at 0700 . However there was an announcement weather was deteriorating and that the ship needed to leave immediately and the conditions ashore were very wet and windy in any case. Unfortunately the squalls were already 50 knots and more and the side winds were such we could not get off the dockside even with a tug. Weather conditions were very difficult and it was the only time we have seen a full size shipping container blown off the top of a stack, although it was empty and not heavy. The Commodore even reported losing deckchairs overboard on his first attempt to depart. Pete went to the Gym
Eventually the wind direction changed slightly and it reduced slightly and at 1435, just as the concert pianist reached a crescendo in her final piece, the ship slowly moved off. The Commodore reported losing deckchairs overboard on his first attempt to depart. Eventually the wind direction changed slightly and it reduced slightly and at 1435, just as the concert pianist reached a crescendo in her final piece, the ship slowly moved off. Conditions remained difficult for a couple of days with 50 knot winds (Force 10) and swells up to 9 metres making writing up difficult as she dipped into the bigger seas the mouse could jump half a screen width.
Our route passed very close to the islands of Sao Jorge and Pico, hoping to benefit from their shelter against the wind. We would have had an excellent view of the south coast of Pico if it had still been daylight. Pico's volcano is the highest mountain in Portugal at 7,713ft and we hope to see it properly in March. There were few people who managed to get to the restaurant for dinner and several of the staff there did not look well with the motion due to the heavy swell. The best place was in the middle of the ship and after dinner we listened to the Adagio string quartet for the last part of their classical performance before going to our cabin in the front half of the ship where there is always a lot of noise as the waves crash against the hull.
We have been working steadily East so the clocks went back an other hour so there was extra time to doze between the ocean thumps and bangs. It was sufficiently rough that Pete could not go to the Gym which is high and very far forwards so any movement is amplified and it would have been difficult to hang on to the cross trainer leave alone getting any exercise- serious weights would have been lethal.
In fact the modern cruise ships handle such weather well as they have very powerful stabilisers and we never had any significant rolling - they also have the ability to move water ballast around to keep level even during manoeuvring out of a port. The Commodore told us that the roll had never exceeded 3.5 degrees and he had to report if she ever reached 5 degrees. This a real contrast to the early Liners - the Old Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary without stabilisers used to often be rolling 15 degrees the whole way across the Atlantic although with leaner lines they could maintain higher speeds! There is nothing however that can be done about pitching in swells other than slow down - this ship was in 13 metre swells a couple of years back but had to slow to 7 knots to avoid disturbing the comfort of passengers - the ships can take far more than they can!
After a couple of days it was back to normal. By then we were starting the day laying in the sun at 0830 as we were down only 32 degrees from the Equator and into the Sargasso Sea, the only sea not bounded by land, and known for its brown seaweed and very clear waters and we were getting close to the Florida Coast and Cape Canaveral.
The original schedule was to have two days in Fort Lauderdale, and not visit Port Canaveral until the last leg home to Southampton. Port Canaveral is in Florida and just 18 miles south of the Kennedy Space Centre, a unique visitor attraction and famous as the site of the Apollo Space missions. Other tours from the ship went to Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld Adventure Park. We had no interest in visiting large theme parks at great expense and with hundreds of people and families. The best option would be to purchase a multi-day entrance ticket and spend a full holiday here, not try and rush around in the 5 or 6 hours available.
We berthed at CT1, next to another Queen – the Queen Flower from Panama and close to the 7 storey Exploration Tower which has a viewing platform at the top. Port Canaveral was our entry port into the USA and everyone had to be inspected by the Immigration officials in the Terminal Building. In addition there was a full emergency drill ‘for the benefit of the US Coastguard’. We were welcomed by several pair of pelicans inspecting the top decks. Tours departed the ship between 0700 and 0830, after which the system for disembarkation independently was by ticket. It was very similar to a tender operation. At 0830 there were few people waiting to leave but by 1015 there were hundreds waiting and eventually we went along for our ticket just before 1100. It was expected that the final call would be at 1130 but it was later. From when we left the ship until we exited the immigration hall it was almost exactly an hour and there were still people coming to join the queue to be inspected. None could get back onto the ship until all the passengers had been processed.
We caught the free shuttle bus to Cocoa Beach, between Port Canaveral and Cape Canaveral. The shuttle bus went to the Ron Jon Surf Shop which is an enormous shop, open 24 hours and spread out over a half-million feet on 2 floors. From the bus park we could see the beach and were soon on the beautiful white sand. We passed a fire engine outside Captain J’s which advertised fried gater tail and then the Sundeck beachfront restaurant which also had fresh gater. It would be nice to taste it on our next visit.
The target was to walk to the Cocoa Beach Pier which was only 10 minutes walk along the beach. It was established in 1962 and is described locally as a historic landmark with bars, restaurants and a few small shops. Access to the end of the pier costs $2 which is refunded at the Rikki Tiki Tavern against food or a drink. We choose the local beers : Pier Beer is a ruby colour and was under $4 and Intracoastal was a lager. As we sat with our drinks admiring the coastline we were surprised that a pair of pelicans had settled on the rails and did not mind people coming close and taking pictures. A few people were fishing from the pier and there were others surfcasting. There was no-one swimming although there was a row of huts on stilts with lifeguards. Most people in the water were either paddling at the edge or had surfboards. A few small birds were paddling and more pelicans were diving. It would be a good place to bring a beach chair and picnic and sit by the water.
Our shuttle bus guide had told us about two pharmacies and a Winn-Dixie supermarket near the bus parking, so our last task was to search for Benecol-type drinks and proper cheese. We were unsuccessful but the shop was well stocked and also sold beer, wines and alcohol.
It was not far along the coast from Port Canaveral to Port Everglades at Fort Lauderdale. In 2017 we flew directly to Fort Lauderdale to join the Queen Victoria and there had been no chance to explore the area. On previous trips we had taken an airboat ride into the Everglades and handled a baby alligator. Other possible trips were to Miami and its Art Deco District. Fort Lauderdale has much to see on the coast and the beaches, along the waterways and canals and in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Shopping is a popular tourist activity especially at the Sawgrass Mills Shopping Outlet and the ship shuttle bus went to the Galleria Mall. The transfer is free with the Cunard Fare. We hesitated whether to go out because it was so cold and everyone was wearing warm jackets and even gloves.
The Galleria Mall had 4 department stores and over 100 smaller shops and has a useful location on Sunrise Boulevard. From here there are alternative transport options, including the yellow HopOn HopOff water taxis which have a stop under the road bridge at the Hilton Marina near to the berth, and near the Galleria Mall at the Galleryone DoubleTree Suites. There is also the cheap yellow and red Sun Trolley with its BeachLink service from the Galleria Mall to Port Everglades and the Broward County Convention Centre, connecting with the Las OlasLink Sun Trolley at Beach Place and at Vistamar Street. We departed the ship too late to go by that route to Las Olas Boulevard but that will be our target for the next visit.
The shuttle bus route to the Galleria Mall went from the port over the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway and then north along the A1A passing the beaches of Fort Lauderdale to Sunrise Boulevard. Here the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park on the right is between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway and then the main highway continues over a lifting bridge to the Galleria Mall. Bonnet House, described as an outstanding 1920’s historic house museum on 35 acres, has its entrance opposite the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. These two places, together with a walk along the sandy beach, make a pleasant day excursion.
Bonnet House Museum and Gardens were gifted to the Florida Trust in 1983. The house is named after the bonnet lily which grows in the lakes but was not in flower when we visited. The flowers are small, round (like a bonnet) and yellow. The house has links to the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park because the land was given to Frederic Clay Bartlett and his wife Helen by her father, Hugh Taylor Birch, as a wedding gift. After Helen’s death in 1925 Frederic married Evelyn Fortune Lilly and the house is now as it was in their time in the 1930s and 1940s. Evelyn lived to be 109 and there is a short video where she talks about the history of the house.
The gardens are interesting and can be visited for $10 but it is better to pay $20 to also visit the interior of the house. Tours are guided and by timed ticket. We arrived just after 1100 and were told to go on the 1130 tour and wait by the front door at the Desert Garden. The house is a two-storey Caribbean-style plantation house with a large central courtyard with fountain and colourful aviary. It is constructed from blocks made on site from local sand and seawater. The floors and the two obelisks outside are from local coral - the whole area is basically a sandbar over an old dead coral reef.
The main rooms were full of interesting paintings and collectibles. The tour began with the Studio which was filled with Frederic’s paintings and some of his early work when he was an art student in Europe. Frederic specialised in internal decoration of buildings including stained glass windows and trompe d’oeuil. Much of this house has trompe d’oeuil painted doors, columns and window moldings. The courtyard accesses the butler’s pantry and kitchen which then leads to the Dining Room. This room has an 8-sided table set with 4 place settings from the extensive collection of 26 sets of china. There are tankards from Germany and British china on display. A number of mounted fish stare down from the panelled walls. The Drawing Room and the Dining Room are connected by a loggia with lots of trompe d’oeuil and inlaid shell wall decoration. The Drawing Room has more large paintings. The Music Room and Gallery are then together, isolated at the end of the house . The floor of the Music Room is interesting because it was painted by Frederic in trompe d’oeuil to look like marble and with a central black and white compass pattern when he was old and he died shortly after its completion. It has been restored and covered with a heavy duty coating but must still be fragile when so many people walk over it. We were unable to take pictures in most of the house but many of his paintings are outside under the sides of the courtyard.
After leaving the main house and visiting the Shell Museum and Orchid House and the Caretaker’s cottage and Museum shop it was finally time to walk around the grounds. The tour was supposed to take 45 minutes but actually lasted for an hour and a half. Having admired it in the distance we were able to cross the Chickee Bridge crossing the ponds and look through the fence towards the A1A and Bonnet House Beach. The ponds were home to a white swan and several plump iguana lizards. Continuing north the path went by the island theatre with its moat which was being used for teaching, the small barn housing the 1935 Case tractor, and two orchid houses. At the southern end the Lily Pond did not have any flowers but there was a family of turtles swimming. The Pavilion, built in 1936, had an excellent example of Frederic’s painting of Evelyn. Nearby the Dry Fountain was built in 1942 from recycled materials from a demolished house. Much of the spirit of the house design involved collecting, recycling and rebuilding.
We left the site through the East gate which was opened specially for us, to save the long walk around the road through the west gate. It was not far to Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard and Bonnet Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The beach was quiet, maybe because it was not good weather. Then it was only a few minutes to the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and back to the lifting bridge and the Galleria Mall.
Once back on the ship we watched the ferries arriving and departing under the bridge as we may use them next time so it was useful to know where they departed from. Then we watched the the Independence of the Seas depart and make the difficult turn into the narrow channel to the sea. The last of the [pseudo] paddle wheel trip boats returned in the evening light as we left past the many luxurious properties - there were many people on the balconies of the big tower blocks waving goodbye, some with Union Jacks. The day ended with a magnificent sunset as we left. There should have been a launch from Cape Canaveral shortly after we left but unfortunately it was cancelled.
The next part starts with Grand Turk