Time to Go Home

We had to get up early this morning as we always do on disembarkation day.  The Balmoral was due to sail at 6.00pm tonight on her return journey to Southampton; quite a lot of the passengers (at least the ones that don’t have to go to work on Monday!) who had been on this voyage were also returning to Blighty by sea.  However, we were due to fly home tonight from JFK Airport at 7.30pm.

We ate our final breakfast in the Palms Café before returning to cabin 4170 and collecting our bags.  After a last look round to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, we vacated our cabin and went along to the reception desk to post our completed Customer Satisfaction questionnaire.  No sooner had we done this when we heard the announcement for our group to disembark.  We had received notification that we would be taken by coach to the Milford Plaza Hotel in the city centre until our transfer to the airport at 3.00pm.

We disembarked the Balmoral and joined the growing throng of people milling around on the pavement near the bus stands at the pier.  We were able to get a last couple of photos of the Balmoral moored up, but it was utter chaos as a Carnival ship had come in overnight and her passengers were also disembarking.

We had to wait a full hour and a half before there was any sign of our bus.  We fought our way through the crowds of people, luggage and wheelchairs, loaded our cases into the bus and finally boarded the vehicle, a bit disgruntled at just being kicked off the ship so early.  Ah well, at least we’d have the relative comfort of a hotel, hopefully with snacks and tea and coffee, until it was time to go to the airport.

The bus battled its way through the Friday morning New York traffic and eventually pulled up outside the Milford Plaza, a fairly average looking hotel in the Hell’s Kitchen district of the city.  Our suitcases would remain on the bus, and indeed we could leave our other bags on, but I didn’t fancy leaving my carry-on bag unattended so I took it with me.

When we went into the hotel, we asked where the Balmoral passengers had to go.  The concierge (English was not his native language) looked totally blank.  We rephrased the question, speaking slowly “Can you tell us which room the Balmoral passengers are in please?”  He still looked blank, and asked us whether we had a reservation.  “No, no” we said, “We’ve been sent here to await our airport transfer at 3.00pm.  Can you tell us where we have to go?”

To cut a long story short, it turns out the hotel staff had no knowledge at all of us; they were not expecting us.  Incredulous, we realised that the hotel was literally just a drop off and pick up point; we’d effectively just been dumped in  New York!  Maybe the organisers thought they were doing us a favour, giving us another four hours to look around New York city, but Hell’s Kitchen is a bit of a shabby area (although it’s being done up) and we weren’t happy at having to lug our bags around with us.  😦

We spotted a pub over the road that was open, so we went in and had a couple of drinks each before going to McDonald’s over the road for our lunch at 12 o’clock.  They have free Wi-fi in Maccy Dee’s so I was able to check my emails and do some of this blog while drinking my coffee.

After we came out of McDonald’s, we found another pub and went in there.  There were one or two other people from the Balmoral, all of whom were complaining, saying that they could have let us stay on the ship a bit longer.

Eventually it was time to go back to our bus outside the hotel and set off for the airport, which was just over an hour’s drive away.  It is a massive airport with a lot of terminals.  We pulled up outside the British Airways terminal and went inside to join the check-in queue.

Check-in was fairly quick and efficient; then it was through security and into the Executive Lounge for a couple of hours.  🙂  We enjoyed a few drinks and nibbles then went to Gate 3 to board our flight BA176 Boeing 747 for our seven-hour flight back to Heathrow.

And so ended an absolutely unforgettable cruise; it was a complete one-off and one in which we felt so privileged to have taken part.  God rest RMS Titanic and her passengers and crew – she will never be forgotten.

So Good They Named It Twice

Woke up at 5.00am this morning; we didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of getting back to sleep again because the Balmoral had taken the pilot on board on her approach into the Big Apple, and she was revving her engines with a vengeance.  This caused quite a lot of noise and vibration, so we just decided to get up and watch the approach from our cabin window rather than brave the early morning cold up on deck.  In any case, it’s our fifth visit to New York, so it’s not as if we hadn’t seen it all before.

We always laugh at the line “New York, New York, so good they named it twice” because we could say that that applies to Durham – we live in Durham City, County Durham, so it’s the same thing.  🙂

We watched the Balmoral go under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and sail past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on her way into Pier 88.   We then went up to breakfast early and went out on deck, where we could see the WW2 warship the Intrepid moored up.  There was a retired British Airways Concorde on the deck of the Intrepid; we noted that it was G-BOAD (Alpha-Delta).  We felt quite sad seeing Concorde sitting there; she should still be flying.  😦  We have had the privilege of crossing the Atlantic in three and a half hours; now it takes us seven hours.  Technology has taken a step backwards.

After breakfast we went along to the Neptune lounge as we were due to go on a full-day New York City and Titanic history tour after we’d been through USA immigration.  However, when we got there, we learnt that there should have been two tour buses leaving, but the guide on one of them had had an accident and was in hospital.  They therefore said they needed 47 people to go on the afternoon tour instead i.e. when the first bus-load returned, or else the whole thing would have to be cancelled.   Therefore Trevor and I volunteered to go on the later excursion, which would now give us the morning in New York to do our own thing.

When passengers on Deck 4 were called to disembark, we left the Balmoral and showed our passports, visas etc at port immigration, as well as having our photos and fingerprints taken.  Then the morning was ours.  🙂

It was bright and sunny, and warmer than we’d imagined.  We found ourselves on 48th Street and decided to head into the centre of Manhattan and have a look around the shops.  When we got to Times Square the place was fairly crowded; people hurrying here and there, the famous yellow taxis hooting their horns and the frenetic hustle and bustle you get in New York 24 hours a day.

I spotted Sephora, which is a massive cosmetics emporium you only find in the USA and Canada; they don’t have them in the UK more’s the pity.  For makeup fans it really is a treasure trove; just about every well-known brand of cosmetics, perfumes and toiletries under one roof.  As I am a Benefit cosmetics freak I was pleased to see a huge Benefit stand; much bigger than the one we normally see in Boots or Debenhams.  The stuff was cheaper than it is in the UK too.  So I bought some foundation, blusher, an eye-shadow palette and a mascara, saving 20 quid overall on what it would have cost me back home.  🙂

We had a good wander around; it’s surprising how many miles you end up walking when taking in the sights, sounds and smells of New York.  After about three and a half hours we decided to go back to the Balmoral for some lunch, as time was getting on and we needed to check in for the afternoon excursion at 1.50pm.

After lunch we were fairly tired as we’d been awake early, but we only had time for a half-hour power nap before leaving the ship once again to commence our tour.

At the dockside we gathered into a meeting room for a presentation by Paul Kurzman, who is the great-grandson of Isidor and Ida Straus, the famous Macy’s owners who perished on the Titanic.  Ida Straus was offered a place in a lifeboat, but refused to leave her husband, telling him, “We have been together many years.  Wherever you go, I’ll go too.”  Paul told his great-grandparents’ story and answered questions.  Apparently Isidor Straus’ body was found and identified, but they never found Ida’s body.

After the talk we got on the bus and were taken on the grand tour of New York.  The guide pointed out the new World Trade Centre being built on Ground Zero, as well as other famous sites such as the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Dakota Building, where John Lennon lived and outside which he was shot dead by Mark Chapman in 1980.

We also went to see a memorial to the victims of the Titanic disaster; the guide also pointed out what used to be the White Star Line building.  We then went along to the Chelsea Piers to see where the Titanic would have come in at Pier 59, had she successfully completed her maiden voyage.  Chelsea Piers is now a maritime museum as well as a sports centre, and there were many cyclists, roller bladers and joggers on the specially-allocated track outside.

We were taken next to Pier 54, where the Carpathia had docked on 18th April 1912 bringing with her the 705 survivors of the Titanic sinking.  Quite a lot of floral tributes had been left at the pier gates along with personal messages.

We continued our tour of the Big Apple; as the sun went down and dusk descended, the lights of New York started to twinkle and the theatres on Broadway erupted in a blaze of neon.  We then went to the South Street Seaport where there was a large shopping mall and fast food emporium.  Our guide said we had an hour to spend here if we wanted to get something to eat and/or use the restrooms.

We had a look around the different food outlets before deciding to go Mexican.  Trevor had beef tacos and I opted for a plate of nachos.  We washed our food down with a cold Budweiser each.  The nachos were quite disappointing actually; there was no meat at all, just a few kidney beans, and there were no jalapeño peppers, which I love and which form an integral part of nachos.  Also, there was no guacamole.  Nonetheless, the food filled a hole and we were fairly full when we got back on the bus for the return journey to the Balmoral.

It was about 9.15pm when we got back on board, so I went and got showered and changed and we started to pack up a few of our clothes and things, in readiness for putting our cases out later on, ready for disembarkation tomorrow morning.  😦

We then went along to the Neptune lounge for the late show.  This evening it was the Balmoral orchestra, giving their tribute to the “Big Band” era.  They are an excellent orchestra and their concert was superb.  It’s just a pity that the show lounge was only about a quarter full; most of the passengers were either making the most of their evening in New York or had gone to bed, anticipating an early start in the morning.

Afterwards we went back to cabin 4170 and finished our packing, only leaving out what we would need tomorrow morning.  Then off to bed for our last night on the Balmoral.  As the ship was moored up it was nice and quiet, and we both slept well.

All at Sea

Woke up early to a bright and sunny day and, guess what? That’s right, tonight is formal night so that meant free ‘champers’ at breakfast time again. 🙂

We hot-footed it up to the Palms Café and once again I enjoyed some fresh fruits, smoked salmon, coffee and a couple of glasses of the gratis champers. As it was such a lovely morning we took the glasses outside on to the aft deck, by the swimming pool, and enjoyed them sitting in the sun. We also each indulged in another couple of glasses. 🙂 People walking past did a double-take and asked where we’d got the champagne or some made comments like “It’s a bit early for that, isn’t it?” When we told them that it was a traditional Fred Olsen touch to have champagne breakfasts when it was formal night, they went into the Palms Café with a single purpose. We’d set the precedent. 🙂

At 9.30am we went along to the Neptune Lounge where Susie Millar was giving a talk with a difference; this time about the last remaining White Star Line ship, the SS Nomadic, which is currently on display in Belfast. The Nomadic had served as a tender ship to the Titanic and was just like a little scaled down version; in fact it was known as Titanic’s “little sister”’. When the Titanic went down, Nomadic had continued to serve as a tender ship to the Olympic and then had been taken to Paris and moored on the Seine, where it had its funnels and engine removed and had been changed into a floating restaurant and bar, and eventually fell into disuse.

However, the city of Belfast had been saddened to see what had become of one of their ships that had enjoyed such as illustrious history, so they arranged for the Nomadic to be towed back to Belfast, where she is currently being refurbished to her former glory and once again has the White Star Line pennant flying high from her masts. Next time we go to Belfast we’ll definitely have to go and have a look.

After the talk we spent some time wandering about on deck before going up to the Observatory for a light lunch of soup and sandwiches, and listening to the Captain’s noon announcement.

Apart from that we spent the day in our usual leisurely sea-going way: attended the talks, had an afternoon nap, enjoyed a couple of drinks and just relaxed. I did a bit of kumihimo braiding to pass the time, then went up to the salon to get my hair put up for the final formal evening.

Once we’d got all dressed up in our glad rags, it was time to go along to the Neptune lounge once again, this time for the Captain’s Farewell cocktail party. One thing we’ve always appreciated about Fred Olsen cruises is that they always give away a fair amount of free booze. If it’s not champagne breakfasts then it’s deck parties with prodigal quantities of rum punch. 🙂

Captain Robert Bamberg did a really good speech; at one point his mobile phone went off and he removed it from his pocket, looked at the display and said “From the bridge, all is well” to tumultuous applause. He then echoed the thoughts of all of us when he’d said it had been quite some voyage, and one that we’d never experience again. He touched all our hearts when he said that, in 16 years of being at sea, this was the best cruise he’d ever had the privilege of sailing on. 🙂

The Captain thanked us and left the stage; it was a pity he left a bit too quickly to see the standing ovation all the passengers gave him.

Then it was off to the Ballindalloch restaurant for the “last supper” as it were. Tonight was a sumptuous meal of mixed seafood platter of salmon and herring, followed by fresh lobster tails and vegetables. They did the traditional baked Alaska parade and we took some photos of our table mates; David and Joanna and Donny and Barbara. As a memento, I gave each of the ladies a kumihimo bracelet I’d braided during the cruise. 🙂 We also left them our calling cards and we promised to keep in touch.

The entertainment this evening was hilarious; it was the Balmoral Crew Show and featured crew from the housekeeping department, purser’s office, restaurant staff, deck hands and guys from the engine room. There was quite a lot of talent among them; some of the did traditional dancing which was superb; others sang and some of them did comedy dancing. The engine room guys had dressed up by putting their overalls around their hips and shortening the arms and legs; they then had their bellies painted to look like faces and they’d covered their arms, uppers bodies and heads with black bin liners to look like “hair”. The overall effect was of a very short man with a big face and big afro hair. They danced around to the “Crazy Frog” theme and it really was very funny.

We ended the evening as we usually do; going up to the Lido lounge for the music quiz; we got 16 out of 20 and still didn’t win. Then one of the singers, Gavin Murray, did a Queen and Freddie Mercury tribute; I really enjoyed his show as I love Queen music.

We then went along to the Morning Light pub for a nightcap before turning in for the night. Tomorrow morning we were due to wake up in the Big Apple.

Halifax – The Titanic Connection

We got up early this morning and looked out to a very grey and foggy Halifax. We were due to go on one of the excursions this morning; to the Titanic cemeteries. It might seem strange to come on holiday and spend half a day looking at grave stones, but there were 300+ victims of the Titanic disaster whose bodies, a lot of them unidentified, were brought to Halifax.

We visited three cemeteries in total; a Jewish one, a Catholic one and an inter-denominational one. They looked a bit like war graves with the identical headstones laid out in serried rows. Some of them had names on them, but a lot of them just had “Died 15th April 1912” followed by a number. This was the number they were allocated when they were pulled from the water. Some of them had been identified many years later and their names had then been added to their headstone. All of the graves had flowers put on them; there had been a memorial service in the cemeteries on 15th April 2012 and roses had been put on every single grave, showing how much the Titanic disaster continues to affect the people of Halifax a century later.

In the cases where the bodies were known and claimed by relatives, larger and more elaborate head stones were in evidence, with touching epitaphs. One of them was the grave of John Law Hume, who had been one of the heroic bandsmen. There was a gorgeous floral tribute with a violin set into it and his photograph at the base of the tribute. It had the words “He played on as the ship went down” and a note was left from a Yvonne Hume, obviously a descendant. It was really lovely.

After our visit to the cemeteries we returned to the Balmoral for lunch then went back ashore again; our purpose was to explore the Maritime Museum. This museum contained all sorts of nautical stuff; not only about the Titanic but lots of other ships as well, from both the merchant and the Royal Canadian Navy. There were full scale models of the ships as well as artefacts from them and it was all very interesting. We spent a good hour and a half in the museum, which was fairly crowded, mainly because of tour parties. We still managed to see everything we wanted to see, however, including part of the Titanic grand staircase and an intact Titanic deck chair, the only one in the world.

When we came out of the museum we went to find the post office to get some stamps to post our cards back to England. They had some special Titanic commemorative stamps which were massive, about 1” wide by 3” long. They took up a lot of space on the back of the postcards! We found a bar nearby and went in and ordered a beer each which we enjoyed while writing out the postcards. Then we posted them and decided to make our way back to the Balmoral.

We got back on board around 4.30pm. I’d already made up my mind that I was going to give dinner a miss tonight so we had a nap as we’d had a fairly busy day. At least it was smart-casual again so it didn’t involve getting my hair put up; I was able to get ready fairly quickly.

While Trevor went to the Ballindalloch restaurant I just went along to the Morning Light pub for a drink, before going up to the restaurant around 7.45pm. I was just in time to have some cheese and biscuits, as well as coffee and an after-dinner liqueur.

The entertainment in the Neptune Lounge later on was a variety show, featuring snippets from all the main cabaret acts that we’d seen this cruise. It was excellent as usual. Then it was up to the Lido lounge for the quiz and the late night cabaret, which was called “Boys’ Night Out” and starred all the male singers and dancers from the Balmoral show company. It was brilliant, as well as being really funny.

Then it was off to bed again after a fairly full day. We had one final day at sea to look forward to before our arrival in New York.

En Route to Halifax, Nova Scotia

Got up fairly early this morning to bright sunshine and a calm ocean. After a good breakfast in the Palms Café we went out on deck; despite the sunshine however there was still a bit of a nip in the air. Well, it is still only April after all, and you know the old saying “Cast ne’er a clout until May is out”.

Our lecture this morning was given by the marine historian Peter Boyd-Smith and discussed the immediate aftermath of the Titanic disaster; what happened once the Carpathia arrived in New York and the initial enquiry into the cause of the catastrophe, as well as the various early (and , at the time, inaccurate) reports in the various newspapers of the time. As a souvenir, we’ve been given a replica front page of the Daily Mirror showing the headlines and news dated Tuesday, 16th April 1912.

Peter’s talk also touched on the ship, the Mackay Bennett, that brought the bodies to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we are due to arrive tonight at about 8.00pm.

Once again we went up to the Observatory for a drink and a light lunch and enjoyed looking out at the sea. We noticed quite a few birds today, indicating that we are getting closer to land. Indeed, Captain Bamberg in his noon announcement informed us that the ocean depth was only 75 metres; really shallow compared to the 3,800 metres depth at which the Titanic lies.

Our afternoon lecture was given by Charles Haas and Jack Eaton and talked about the New York connection with Titanic and White Star Line; they showed slides of what New York was like in 1912 and what it is like now, and if any of the buildings still existed. As with all the talks we’ve had on this trip, it was very interesting.

When we came out we saw a huge queue and realised it was for a grand afternoon tea being given; you have probably never seen so many cakes and pastries displayed together in your life! There was probably about six cakes per passenger and there are 1309 of us on board. The chefs had really done a great job as ever. Trevor and I didn’t indulge however; it’s not as if we don’t get enough to eat on a cruise, ha ha. 🙂

Later that afternoon we looked out of our cabin window to see “land ahoy”; our first sight of land for a week. We watched the Balmoral slow right down and then the pilot boat came up alongside, the pilot boarded and guided her gently into her berth at Pier 21, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The dress code tonight was smart-casual and it was hardly surprising as everyone had one goal in mind for after dinner – going ashore. The Balmoral was due to stay in port overnight so it would give us a chance to spend the evening on terra firma. I felt sorry for the entertainment troupe who would probably be performing to a near-empty Neptune lounge later on.

We enjoyed a good dinner again; I started with soused herring and salad, then I had lamb cooked in strawberry and mint, with creamed potatoes, parsnip puree, carrots and peas, a dish which had been served to 1st Class passengers on board the Titanic. Against my better judgement I enjoyed crème caramel for dessert plus a glass of amaretto then, leaving the table fit to burst, we returned to cabin 4170 to change into warmer clothes for venturing ashore.

We disembarked the Balmoral around 8.30pm and took in our immediate surroundings. There were the usual shops and stalls set up at the wharf side selling souvenirs and postcards. We had docked at Pier 21 which is Nova Scotia’s version of New York’s Ellis Island, that is, it was the main immigration processing pier in days gone by, when there was mass immigration in the USA and Canada.

We bought some postcards then took a walk along the street, experiencing that usual phenomenon we get after days spent at sea (particularly rough sea) of still feeling as though you are moving, even when standing still. At this time of night all the shops were invariably closed, but we saw some pretty little bistros and wine bars along the harbour front and it was nice to be able to stretch our legs.

Eventually we decided to go into an Irish bar, similar to the “Scruffy Murphy’s” bars we get back home. It had a nice atmosphere and played rock music in the background. I wanted to write out my postcards but the light was too dim to allow this, but my Android phone indicated there was free Wi-Fi. 🙂 As I had my Netbook with me I was able to check my emails; in addition, we went onto the BBC News website and it allowed us to see the television coverage that our Titanic Memorial Cruise had been given by the BBC, as we’d had one of their cameramen on board with us all week. There was some great footage given of the Memorial Service the other night which allowed us to see the bits we’d missed. 🙂

We stayed in the Irish pub for three drinks each; by this time it was 11.00pm and time to make our way back to the Balmoral. Once back on board, it was nice to return to a cabin into unaccustomed silence as well as to get into a bed that wasn’t moving. We both slept soundly.

The Rest of That Day

We woke up late this morning as we’d gone to bed so late; a luxury that had been denied the passengers of the Titanic. The sun was shining and the sea was much calmer. I didn’t go to breakfast but instead made use of the tea and coffee making facilities in our cabin.

We spent a lazy morning pottering around the ship, walking around on deck and enjoying a drink or two in the Observatory lounge, where the large windows afford fantastic views over the deep blue sea. We listened to the Captain’s announcement then decided just to have a light lunch of a mug of soup and a couple of sandwiches; it is far too easy to eat too much on a cruise, particularly when it is a long voyage of many sea days.

You would think it would be quite boring spending day after day at sea, but in fact the time passes surprisingly quickly. We crossed the Pacific on the Volendam in 2009 and spent nine full days and nights at sea, but we never find it boring at all. Even just standing at the railing, looking out to sea and thinking pleasant thoughts is an enjoyable way to pass the time. 🙂

The afternoon talk today in the Neptune lounge was given by Philip Littlejohn who, like Commodore Warwick the previous day, was talking about his dive down to the wreck of the Titanic. As ever, it was a fascinating talk and it is so interesting to be able to hear anecdotes and snippets of information from someone who actually had a grandfather on board Titanic.

We had a most agreeable evening meal once again then went along to see the cabaret, which was a fabulous soprano who sang a mixture of operatic and contemporary songs. I really enjoyed listening to her; she reached the high notes perfectly and didn’t screech. One thing we like about the entertainment on board the Balmoral is that there is something for everyone; pop music and modern stuff, songs from the West End musicals and also a bit of classical and opera, so something to suit all tastes.

When the show finished I was flagging a bit after our late night and my massive dinner, so I decided to go back to cabin 4170 and have an early night, while Trevor went up to the Lido lounge for the quiz and late entertainment. By the time he returned to our cabin I was fast asleep.

Nearer, My God, To Thee

01.45am, 15th April 2012
We adjourned, in silence, to the open decks aft of the Balmoral. Trevor and I found ourselves on Deck 7 near the pool, and we could see the White Star Line pennant flapping gently in the breeze. We positioned ourselves on the starboard side at the ship’s railings so we could look directly into the sea. Two and a half miles below us lay the wreck of the Titanic. The night was cold and dark and, like that endless night 100 years ago, the sky was dotted with a million stars. We could hear the Atlantic ocean washing against the sides of the Balmoral, the only other sound apart from muted voices as we gathered to remember the events from a century ago.

02.10am, 15th April 2012
I looked at my watch;  this time 100 years ago the lights had gone out for the final time on the Titanic; her end, and that of 1503 passengers and crew, was very near.

02.15am, 15th April 2012
At the stern of the ship three deck-hands stood, each holding a commemorative wreath. The voice of Rev. Huw Mosford came over the PA system as he blessed the wreaths and they were cast into the ocean. We saw one of them bobbing on the waves as it floated past us. Gentle organ music played in the background.

02.20am, 15th April 2012
Oh dear Lord, what a moment. The Balmoral gave a single long blast of her foghorn in salute; at this very moment, 100 years ago, the Titanic disappeared beneath the waves right in this very spot. All that was left were a few lifeboats, some of them only half full, along with the flotsam and jetsam of the ship and the mortal remains of people who had frozen to death in the black water. She had gone.

One hundred years later, here we were on the Balmoral, remembering and commemorating those lost souls and the 705 survivors whose lives would be forever changed. What a moment to be here, listening to the sounds of the sea, looking at the brilliant stars above us, thinking and imagining. The organ struck up and we all sang the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” which is the hymn of the Royal Navy and includes the words “Oh hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea”. My throat was so tight I could barely get the words out.

02.30am, 15th April 2012
The band started to play and Anthony Stuart Lloyd, the Welsh singer we had seen earlier in the voyage, concluded this incredible evening by singing “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. There wasn’t a dry eye on the ship; it really was such a poignant and emotional moment. All I can say is that the whole of this night has been so unforgettable; the whole Memorial Service, music, laying of the wreaths and even the flying of the White Star pennant was just so fitting and so dignified; they really did the victims and their descendants proud.

At around 3.00am we returned to the warmth of our cabin, where we went to bed, physically and emotionally drained. One thing is for certain, we will never again experience another cruise like this one.

A Night To Remember

As we had had to put our clocks back one hour and 27 minutes at 2.00am this morning, we woke up very early after a very rough night in which the Balmoral was tossed about the wild Atlantic like a cork. We looked out of our window at large waves, one or two of which, on occasion, crashed against the window. The wake of the ship foamed a pale green immediately below us, but apart from that all we could see was the “big grey widow maker” as we’d heard the Atlantic referred to in Senan Moloney’s talk yesterday.

This morning we went along to the Lido lounge to hear the talk given by Barbara Rusch called “Titanic: From Dreams to Nightmare to Myth”. It was none other than Barbara from our table in the restaurant! 🙂 She was actually a very good, very eloquent speaker and some of the passages she read out brought a lump to the throat. It was impossible to imagine how, for those 2,200 passengers and crew, the voyage of dreams, the voyage of a lifetime, could have turned so quickly and so unexpectedly from joy into utter misery and desolation.

One hundred years ago today, as the Titanic steamed across the Atlantic as the Balmoral is doing now, no-one on board could have had any idea as to how the night would end. That thought was with us quite a lot today as we went about our daily activities around the ship.

After Barbara’s talk we went along to the Neptune lounge to see Commodore Warwick’s presentation about his dive to the Titanic wreck in 2001. Can you imagine how awesome that would be: to actually go two and a half miles down to the sea bed to see the ghostly remains of the Titanic herself? I remember being totally engrossed by the pictures when reading Dr Robert Ballard’s book The Discovery of the Titanic, but to go down there and experience it for real must be something else.

Consequently, Ron Warwick’s presentation was excellent. He had brought with him a piece of rock that he’d brought up from the sea bed; what was interesting about this rock was that it was a reddish colour; it was actually coated in rust that has come from the hull of the Titanic. He also showed us an ordinary polystyrene coffee cup of the type you’d get out of a vending machine; then he showed us a tiny shrunken version of the same cup. Before commencing the dive down to the wreck in a special submersible (a type of bathyscaphe) they had put the cup, along with some other things, in an mesh onion bag attached to the bottom of the craft so that we could see what happened to articles at a pressure of about 2.5 tons per square inch; inevitably all the air was squashed out of the polystyrene and it ended up a hard, compressed plastic. The Commodore also had a White Star Line red pennant of the same kind that was attached to the mast of the Titanic.

Once the presentation was finished we went along to the Morning Light pub for a pre-luncheon drink and to listen to the noon announcement from the Captain on the bridge. After being assured that “all is well” we went along to have some lunch. 🙂

The lecture this afternoon came from Alan Hustak and was all about the Halifax, Nova Scotia connection to the Titanic. The mortal remains of many of Titanic’s passengers were not recovered until five to seven days after the disaster (some of the bodies didn’t come to the surface straight away) so, while a lot of them were named and given a burial in Halifax, many remained unidentified and unclaimed. It is only now, 100 years later, when we have so much more technology available to us such as DNA analysis, that some of those unidentified unfortunates now have a name, and some of the gravestones have been changed to reflect this. Of course, a lot of the bodies (I believe over 300) were in too bad a condition to identify, and these were given a burial at sea. They are gone but, as this Memorial Voyage will testify, not forgotten.

Following Alan’s presentation we went back to our cabin to start getting washed and changed and ready for dinner. The sea now appeared to be much calmer and the Balmoral was steadier when walking around. A quick look out of deck, however, let us see there was still a brisk sea breeze and we needed to wrap up well if spending any time outside.

On our way to the Ballindalloch restaurant we made a brief stop-off to the Neptune lounge, where they had laid out some commemorative wreaths for committal into the deep later on. The wreaths were absolutely beautiful and so very poignant.

We partook of an excellent dinner as ever; I had a sort of beef ragoût typical of the dish served to 3rd Class passengers on the Titanic; it was actually very good. We enjoyed the usual convivial company on table #61 and left the restaurant just before 8.30pm; in fact we were the last to leave. 🙂

In the Neptune lounge this evening, the Grupetto Ensemble musicians were playing us their repertoire called “Last Waltz on the Titanic”. There were two violin players, a cellist, a pianist and a clarinet player, and they were all dressed in formal clothing with tail jackets. This was their tribute to Wallace Hartley’s band on the Titanic. The band leader read us out the timeline of what happened 100 years ago, and played the same tunes. A lot of the tunes the Titanic bandsmen played were upbeat ones, so we heard “Alexander’s Rag Time Band”, as well as “Shine On Harvest Moon”. Our band leader then turned to the rest of his musicians and said “Gentlemen, it has been an honour to play with you” before they launched into “Nearer, My God to Thee”. It was a lovely, totally fitting tribute to those eight brave bandsmen who perished that fateful night a century ago. 😦

After the show we went along to the Lido lounge for the Titanic Trivia quiz. It was really hard, such as “how many light bulbs were needed on board?” Who on earth would know that?! We didn’t do very well, only scoring nine out of 20.

We stayed a short while afterwards to watch the female singer before going back to cabin 4170 to get changed into warmer clothing as we wanted to be up on deck for about 11.25pm. From this point on, I’m going to write this blog to show the timeline.

11.35pm, 14th April 2012
From our position on deck 11 of the Balmoral, next to the ship’s funnel, we heard Captain Bamberg announce that we would shortly be holding two minutes’ silence to remember the events that started exactly 100 years ago. The silence would commence at the sound of the ship’s whistle.

11.40pm, 14th April 2012
The Balmoral gave a single blast of her foghorn at the exact minute 100 years ago that the Titanic struck the iceberg. Trevor and I stood at the starboard side of the ship, the side that had connected with the iceberg, and we gazed out into the blackness of the night, thinking of the events a century ago that had so shaken the world. After the two minutes’ silence, the Captain thanked us and we wandered around the deck for a bit. We looked over towards the stern and the first thing we noticed was the White Star Line pennant, where it had been hoisted aloft from the rear mast. What a great, truly apt touch.

11.50pm, 14th April 2012
Back in our cabin, we switched on the television where the narrator was reading out the names of all 1503 passengers and crew who had perished that fateful night. 100 years ago it was all happening; how many of those poor people had no idea that they’d never see the next sunrise?

12.15am, 15th April 2012
We went along to the Neptune lounge which had been set out like the inside of a church; the floral wreaths were at the front, as were some candles waiting to be lighted as well as a pulpit set up. On a large screen the names of the lost souls continued to be displayed and read out, one by one.

01.00am, 15th April 2012
Commodore Ronald Warwick was doing our memorial service; in the Ballindalloch restaurant the Balmoral’s padre was conducting another service simultaneously. This was to cater for all 1309 passengers on board the Balmoral. I am not at all a religious person but the service was really good; we sung appropriate hymns like Abide with Me and O God, Our Help in Ages Past. The sermon and the prayers were directly aimed at the victims of the Titanic disaster as well as seafarers in general. The overall mood in the Neptune lounge was respectful and sombre. Three candles were lit, one each to represent love, hope and light. We finished by all of us reciting the Lord’s Prayer in one voice, before being escorted outside to the open decks at the stern of the Balmoral at 01.45am.

On our way out, we were each given insulated mugs containing hot mulled wine, a thoughtful gesture on the part of Fred Olsen, as it was cold out on deck.

Glitz and Glamour, 1912 Style

On waking up this morning to calm and sunny seas we found, once again, that they were serving free ‘champagne’ with breakfast, as tonight is another formal night. We managed to consume four glasses each (!), the last of which we took out onto the deck at the stern and enjoyed outside in the rare North Atlantic April sunshine. The temperature was actually quite mild and the wind had dropped enough for some people to venture into the Jacuzzi and pools.

At 9.45am we went along to the Neptune lounge to listen to Jack Eaton and Charles Haas talking about “Titanic Mythellany”, elaborating, in fact, on some of the dispelled myths we had touched upon in the Q and A session yesterday. As someone who has been interested in the Titanic for many years (since reading Robert Ballard’s book in 1987, in fact) I always get people coming up to me and saying, in a knowing sort of voice, things like “Did you know that the champagne bottle didn’t break when they launched the Titanic?” and other such rumours and alleged “facts”. So it is great when I can hear results of research which sorts out the wheat from the chaff. Just for the record, the champagne bottle did break. 🙂

We spent the rest of the morning pottering around the ship, spending a lot of time wandering around on deck and enjoying the fresh sea air. We tried to imagine how the passengers on the Titanic would have spent the long sea days 100 years ago, when there were no computers, iPhones, PowerPoint presentations and GPS location maps to keep them entertained, facilities we take for granted here on the Balmoral.

At 12.00 noon Captain Bamberg made his usual announcement from the Bridge, starting as always by saying “A very good afternoon, ladies and yentlemen”. Like many Scandinavians, the Captain finds it difficult to pronounce the letter “J” or the soft “G” sound the English way, as this sound does not exist in their language. So it was always “yentlemen”. As ever, all was well on the bridge. 🙂

The afternoon’s lecture in the Neptune lounge was called “The Mystery Ship” and was given by Senan Moloney. It was designed to try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the SS Californian, the ship who had allegedly seen the Titanic fire distress rockets yet failed to come to her rescue. This is a controversy that has raged on for 100 years; Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian was ostracised for the rest of his life, but was he really the “bad guy” that old and new literature about the Titanic makes him out to be? Senan’s talk showed that there even could have been another ship in the area at the time; also, the wreck of the Titanic was found about 13 nautical miles east of her final known position as given in her SOS call. So there were and are many inconsistencies to the story, and I couldn’t list them all here without resorting to pages of writing.

Soon afterwards it was time for me to go back to cabin 4170 to start to get ready for our second formal night. Once again I was getting my hair put up in a glamorous up-style as befitting the occasion. My dress for tonight was a black velvet, lace and ribbon Gothic-style dress, which was shorter at the front and cascaded into a full-length dress at the back. I wore it with black fishnet stockings, black shoe-boots with three decorative buckles, my long black velvet gloves and a black lace and sequin shawl with a long fringe. It wasn’t really a 1912-era outfit, but the overall effect was, nonetheless, very good. 🙂

As the Captain had been absent for his cocktail reception on 10th April, we were having another Captain’s reception tonight. Oh goody – more free champers on Fred. 😉

While in the queue to go into the Neptune lounge to meet the Captain, I looked around at all the passengers in their sartorial splendour. Formal evenings on cruises are always special events, but here on the Balmoral everyone had really pushed the boat out, so to speak. There were many authentic costumes and people had obviously gone to great effort: from the “3rd Class” gentlemen in their rough tweed trousers, cotton collarless shirts, braces and cloth caps to the “1st Class” ladies in their silks and satins, their pearl chokers and big ornate hats, to the gentlemen in their top hats, tails, silk cravats and white gloves, all around us everyone looked superb. Even those not dressed in 1912 costume had either bought or made the most gorgeous evening dresses and it was a sight to behold.

Captain Bamberg made his appearance and introduced his senior officers. As we have been sailing west we have had to put our clocks and watches back an hour each night (as is usual practice) but tonight, the Captain announced we would need to put the ship’s clock back by one hour and 27 minutes, in order that we will have the exact time on the clock, according to our degrees longitude, that the Titanic had when she struck the iceberg at precisely 23:40 hours on the evening of the 14th April 1912.

Once again we enjoyed some canapés and several glasses of free plonk, courtesy of Fred Olsen, before going into the restaurant for our special Titanic dinner. It was the same dishes served on the Titanic and I have reproduced the menu here. The passengers on the Titanic, even those travelling 3rd Class, must have been really well fed and the first class food was superb. I started with quail’s eggs in aspic and caviar – how posh can you get? Even today that menu would be impressive.

After leaving the table fit to burst we went along to the Neptune lounge where tonight the entertainment was a Welsh opera singer called Anthony Stuart Lloyd. We realised we had seen him before, in January 2010 on the Queen Mary 2. He has a rich, bass-baritone voice and is a giant of a man at around 6’ 6” with immense shoulders. He sang all sorts of stuff; some from the musicals, some from the opera such as the Toreador March from Carmen. He is an excellent singer and he told us he would be singing again at the memorial service tomorrow night.

We finished the evening, as usual, by going along to the Lido lounge where the magician we’d seen on Monday night, Mark Shortland, was doing another show. He was very entertaining and his tricks are that little bit different.

Then it was back to our cabin where we knew we were going to be in for a rough night; the wind had got up and the Balmoral was dancing a polka on the waves.

From the Balmoral, All is Well

We awoke around 8.00am and, after a good breakfast in the Palms Café, decided to go out on deck where the weather looked much brighter. We had a good wander along the deck, taking in the bracing sea air and watching the Balmoral as she glided through the deep waters of the north Atlantic. There was not so much of a swell today, so it was much easier to move around and all we could feel was the gentle, almost soporific, rocking of the vessel along with the muted vibration from her engines.

At 9.45am we went, as ever, along to the Neptune lounge to listen to the talk, with was all about the Canadian connection with the Titanic. In 1912, however, anyone bound for Canada (even if they were born there) were referred to as “British subjects” so, technically, there are no Canadians listed as being on board the Titanic. However, the speaker, Alan Hustak, said that there were actually 130 Canadians on board the doomed vessel, 48 of which survived.

He then showed a still from the 1997 James Cameron movie, “Titanic” which showed the fictitious characters Jack and Rose and asked everyone to forget all about that image and that movie, at which everyone applauded. This is because any Titanic aficionados (among which I’d like to include myself) absolutely hate the Di Caprio/Winslet film – why include a fictional sub-plot in a true story that is fascinating enough in itself? Also, there were many elements of Cameron’s movie that were historically inaccurate; but that’s enough about that. As our speaker said; forget this image, forget the movie. He was going to tell us the real love story on Titanic which related the short, but steamy affair between a 1st Class passenger, Quigg Baxter, who was a well-known hockey player from Montréal, Canada and a 3rd Class passenger who was a some-time night club singer (allegedly) called Bertha Villiers. To give us a laugh, he’d Photoshopped their images over the Di Caprio and Winslet faces in the photo. 🙂

We had a good walk around the deck of the Balmoral afterwards, and took lots of photos of her from various decks and angles, which can be seen in my gallery. On the lee side of the ship it was fairly mild and, indeed, some people were even braving the Deck 11 swimming pool. We decided to go into the Observatory and have a quiet drink with our birds’ eye view over the Atlantic.

At 12.00 noon exactly came Captain Bamberg’s navigational information from the bridge. We always enjoy listening to this information and it is interesting that they still say that the ship has “steamed” however many nautical miles since the previous day’s announcement. The captain told us the latitude and longitude, the temperature, the wind speed and how many nautical miles we’d travelled. He then ended his announcement, as he does every day, with “Ladies and gentlemen, have a very good afternoon and from the Bridge, all is well.” One of the unique little quirks we often find on each voyage we’ve done, like the captain on the Marco Polo during our Antarctic expedition in 2006, who always ended his midday speech with a little poem. 🙂

After the captain’s announcement the pianist in the Observatory, who had been quietly playing in the background, introduced Lauren Casey, a singer-songwriter. She sat down at the piano and started to “sing”, or should I say screech. What a dreadful, high-pitched voice. We had noticed that the glass in one of the windows of the observatory for’ard had been smashed into tiny smithereens, and we wouldn’t have been surprised if Ms. Casey’s tortuous high notes had done it. When she commenced singing the dreadful Celine Dion song My Fart Will Go On, we decided it was time to leave. Sorry for the play on words, but I hate this song almost as much as I hate the film it comes from.

We went into the Marquee Bar out of the way, and it was obvious that the other people present had the same opinion of the singer that I did, as we could still hear her wailing and ululating her way through her repertoire every time the door opened. There was a brief respite as she took her break for half an hour or so, before starting again. We decided to go somewhere out of earshot.

We went back to our cabin briefly before going up to the Lido lounge where a lady who impersonates Titanic survivor Mrs Margaret Brown was doing a talk called “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. It was only 1.30pm and she was not due on until 2.00pm but the place was already packed and we could only get a seat fairly near the back, at the left hand side. However, we got the usual supply of extremely inconsiderate and selfish people, arriving late and then grabbing chairs from outside, bringing them into the lounge and then plonking them down right in front of people who’d made the effort to be there in good time. It absolutely infuriates me and we come across this sort of behaviour time after time. It meant that, from where I was sitting, I had gone from an impeded view to now no view at all. Really annoying. I decided to leave as I couldn’t see anything and it just spoilt it for me.

However, we managed to get a good seat in the Neptune Lounge afterwards for the Question and Answer session with some of the speakers we had listened to on this voyage so far. The panel consisted of Philip Littlejohn, Susie Millar, Senan Moloney, Ron Warwick and Charles Haas. It was immensely interesting as the members of the audience were invited to take the microphone and put their questions to the panel. There was a wide range of questions from all nationalities and it really illustrated the panel’s knowledge of the people and the events of the Titanic as there was not a question remained unanswered. From my perspective, I was very pleased to hear the ridiculous myths and conspiracy theories that have sprung up in recent years about the Titanic firmly refuted and dispelled. A few of them: the rivets and steel used were inferior (untrue), an unusual phase of the moon affected the tides (untrue), it was really the Olympic and not the Titanic that sank (untrue). In each case the members of the panel were able to argue, convincingly why these stories were just so farcical.

We passed the afternoon pleasantly before getting changed for dinner and going along to the Ballindalloch restaurant, where we had a full house at table #61. As ever, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal in excellent company; the wine and the conversation flowed until, fully sated, we hot-footed it along to the Neptune lounge for the evening’s entertainment, a comedy pianist called Colin Henry.

The comedian was absolutely hilarious; at least the Brits thought so although I suspect some of our transatlantic friends may have had a little trouble with the Lancashire humour. 🙂 He was also a very talented pianist and his pièce de résistance was standing on his head, back to the piano, resting his legs on the top of the instrument then playing a note perfect tune upside down. Apparently he’s in the record books for this. He also played an excellent rendition of Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, a piece of music which I love and which is completely underrated.

We finished the evening off by going, as usual, to the Lido lounge for a singing quintet who were very pleasant, before having a nightcap and then off to bed. It didn’t take us long to fall asleep tonight, lulled by the Balmoral’s gentle rocking among the vast seascape of the Atlantic.