Washed out in Madeira

Today we woke up in Funchal, Madeira.  We had been here twice before; the last visit was a couple of years ago.  Madeira is a beautiful island, and is sometimes known as the garden of the Atlantic, as its flora is so green and lush.  But today we opened our curtains to grey skies and mist.  We certainly hoped it would improve; we could stay at home if we wanted dull, rainy weather.  🙂

We were due to go on a scenic coach tour and visit to a Madeira lodge this morning.  In the past we had just done our own thing, as the ship docks right in Funchal centre and everything is within walking distance.  So we’d already done the cable car and the wicker toboggan run; this time we were going on an organised excursion.

We left the ship about 9.30am and there was a light shower, certainly nothing much.  We boarded the bus and off we went to the Blandy’s Madeira lodge, to try the different Madeira wines.  They were very palatable; there was a nice medium one we started with, which tasted similar to sherry.  Then there was also a dry one and a sweet one; I wasn’t too keen on the sweet.   The wine lodge was fairly crowded with tourists, which meant you had to queue up at the bar each time to get your sample; you could also purchase bottles of Madeira at the bar.  When I say “queue up” however, I mean that’s what the British visitors did.  The Japanese absolutely did not seem to have any idea of the concept of queueing!  There was one lady in a stupid baseball hat with a massive peak, who was just determined to squeeze in, even though it was apparent that people were waiting to be served.  When I pointed this out to her, she glared at me then moved to push into another part of the queue, until she was sent packing by the person there!  Is queuing just a British phenomenon?

We bought some Madeira to take back home, and also some Madeira cake.  When we came out of the lodge it was absolutely teeming with rain!  I mean, the skies just opened and it was torrential.  The bus was parked a good five minutes walk away, but that is all it took for me to become soaked through.  If I’d jumped in the ship’s swimming pool with all my clothes on, I could not have been wetter. 😦

It was a very uncomfortable journey on the bus, particularly as they had the air conditioning on full blast and you couldn’t turn off the blowers.  So there I was, soaked to the skin, getting cold air blown onto me.  Furthermore, the windows inside the bus steamed up inside and had water pouring down them outside, so you couldn’t see anything!

The rest of the tour just consisted of the bus going up the winding streets, all the way to the top.  Normally this would have given us spectacular views and fantastic photo points, but there was just nothing to see except clouds and water.  At each of the stopping points no-one got off the coach to take any photos, and I just got the impression everyone just wanted to go back to the ship – I certainly did!  On the way back down we could see torrents of water pouring down the hillside, and manhole covers were lifting up with the force of the flood waters beneath them.

Eventually we did go back on board, by which time my teeth were chattering.  As we dripped our way up the gangplank we heard an announcement over the tannoy to say that due to “inclement weather” (understatement or what?!) all further excurions would be cancelled, and even the shuttle bus into town would be cancelled.  I don’t really blame them.

I had a good, long hot shower and changed into some clean, dry clothes – sheer bliss to get out of my damp things.  No sitting out on the balcony for us today then!

For the rest of the afternoon we just pottered around the ship as the rain continued to bucket down outside.  At least there is always plenty to do on the ship, so we weren’t bored at all.  We got ready to go down to dinner at 6.00pm as usual.  Someone on our table said that a dog had been washed into the sea in the floods and had had to be rescued by one our the Queen Elizabeth‘s crew in the pilot boat!  They couldn’t tell us any more though.

Once we had finished dinner we wasted no time in going to the Royal Court Theatre, and managed to get seats in the centre, in the second row.  Tonight we were in for a treat – Lulu was performing, along with her guest Kiki Dee.

The set on the stage was brilliant; you’d have thought you were in some theatre somewhere, never mind on a ship!  Lulu had brought her own band and backing singers with her, and the show was excellent!  She is certainly looking very good for 61 years old.  She sang her own well-known numbers, such as To Sir, With Love and Shout.  She also did some superb covers of other hit songs.  Then Kiki Dee came on and did her famous ones, such as I’ve Got the Music in Me, and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, with Lulu taking Elton John’s part.  I was pleased to hear her fluff her lines in one part, which is exactly what I’d done in the Golden Lion when I was singing this song with the pianist (I’d had a few drinks, mind you!)  😉

As usual, once the show was finished (to a standing ovation) we hot-footed it along to the Golden Lion.  We could not believe our ears when he overheard some of the old farts moaning about Lulu, saying the music was too loud, the lights were too bright etc.  There’s no pleasing some people!

In the Golden Lion later on, they were looking for four couples to take part in “The Marriage Game” (otherwise known as “Mr & Mrs”) so Trevor and I volunteered.   This is the game where they ask the four women questions about their husbands (while the men are out of the room), then bring the husband back in, ask them the same questions and they have to guess what answer their wives gave.  Then the second round is where they ask the men questions about their wives.  Trevor and I won!  We received a bottle of bubbly as well as some of the ‘wonderful’ prize vouchers.  We felt it was extremely fitting that we won, because three years ago on the Queen Victoria we participated in Mr & Mrs and we actually should have won then, but they made a mistake adding up our score and so we were robbed!

Madeira was our last port of call and we now had three days at sea to look forward to, before our arrival back at Southampton.

All At Sea

After our first comfortable night on board Queen Elizabeth in which we both slept very well, our first day was spent, as is often the case, at sea en route to our first port of call, which would be Vigo in Spain. You will notice how may times I have said the word “first” but this is, after all, the Maiden Voyage in which there is a ‘first’ for everything.

I enjoy the days spent at sea. After the initial excitement of embarkation and the sailaway, it is nice to spend a whole day relaxing and exploring the ship. All around us we could take in the evocative smells of new carpet and leather, and all the gleaming brightness of the paintwork, windows, brass fittings and fabulous fine art on the walls lining the many long corridors of Queen Elizabeth. People often ask us if there is enough to do when the ship is at sea and you are, in fact, a captive audience. There is much, much more than enough. As well as looking around the ship, sitting on deck watching the world go by, and browsing the library or the many shops, Cunard always has a full itinerary of entertainment. You can learn watercolour painting, how to do ballroom dancing, attend presentations/talks given by eminent guest lecturers (more about that later!), have a massage in the spa, or attend fitness classes such as pilates or tai chi. The list is endless and gives you the chance to try something new. On days at sea you will find the time passes much more quickly than you would imagine, and before you know it, it is time to start getting ready for dinner.

The first night at sea on Queen Elizabeth (and indeed most other ships we’ve sailed on) sees a formal night, where guests are resplendent in sartorial elegance before meeting the Captain at his reception cocktail party. Dinner jackets and bow ties for the gents, and long dresses, silken wraps and up-dos for the ladies. I always enjoy dressing up for dinner and I take at least two hours (!!) to get ready, before sweeping out of our stateroom like a movie star. 🙂

And of course there is the free champers (or, more usually, cava). The Captain’s party usually only lasts an hour before it’s time to go to dinner, so Trevor and I (after many cruises and therefore much practice) position ourselves near the doorways from which the waiters emerge with their silver trays of flutes, in order to make the most of the freebies and drink as many glasses as possible. 🙂

As Cunard only has a small fleet of ships (three at the most) it is not unusual to come across the familiar faces of passengers we have met on previous cruises, and indeed this time has been no exception. We’ve already met Thomas, a German guy who we also met on the Queen Victoria’s maiden voyage and also the Queen Mary 2 maiden voyage. It’s almost like greeting old friends. We’ve also seen quite a few of the Cunard staff that we’ve met on previous cruises. Small world.

Dinner, as ever, was sumptuous and was accompanied by fine wine and after dinner port or liqueurs. After only two nights at sea I was feeling decidedly heavier. 😦 We often joke that you have to arrange all of your clothes in order so you wear all the close fitting things at the start of the cruise and leave the loose items until later. I think I will have to miss out a few dinners and/or stick to salads. 🙂

So after dinner we were treated to a 45 minute show in the theatre of a singer who has appeared in the West End in London, before we adjourned to the Golden Lion to take part in a game called “Majority Rules” which, in fact we won. Our prize was a couple of Cunard vouchers, which you save up and trade in for prizes at the end of the voyage.  Usually these are fairly rubbish, but we’ll see.

Then off to bed to end the second night on board Queen Elizabeth.  We were due to arrive in Vigo tomorrow to our maiden port of call.

Long May She Reign!

At the first stroke of the alarm clock at 4.30am on Tuesday, 12 October 2010, we leapt out of bed… strange how it is so much more difficult a feat to accomplish at 6.30am on a working day 🙂

Our journey by coach to Southampton was, thankfully, uneventful; no traffic jams, no bad weather, no roadwords or any other eventuality which might have delayed our arrival. Sipping a champagne and waiting to embark the ship, whilst surreptitiously examining fellow passengers-to-be is part of the excitement of the impending voyage. 🙂

We boarded the Queen Elizabeth at around 2.30pm, and proceeded to our stateroom, number 6179. As we opened the door, the afternoon October sunshine streamed through our balcony doors and glinted off the steel champagne bucket, where a chilled bottle and two flutes awaited us. 🙂

We cracked open the bottle and took it out to our balcony. Eight decks below us we could see the frenetic activity of passengers embarking, and supplies being loaded onto the vessel; barrels of beer and cases of wine, fresh fruit and vegetables and the plethora of other items intended to make our voyage a comfortable one.

We made our way to the pool deck at the stern in order to procure a good vantage point for the first time the Queen Elizabeth would slip her moorings and sail off into the sunset. Below us, a brass band played “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Jerusalem” and other rousing, patriotic tunes. All around us the passengers waved their arms or their Union Jacks, then, with three deafening blasts of the ship’s foghorn, we were off!

For me, those three blasts herald the symbolic start of any voyage, and particularly the Maiden Voyage. It is so reminiscent of old film footage of famous ocean liners leaving, destined for foreign shores and hopefully better things.

As the Queen Elizabeth glided majestically away from the Southampton shoreline and along the Solent, a flotilla of smaller ships and boats followed alongside us, the air filled with a cacophony of hoots, blasts and whistles.  Occasionally the QE gave a mighty blast back, as a forest of waving hands and flags accompanied us.  Another thing that made this Maiden Voyage so special was that we were sailing the same route that the grand old lady of the sea, the Queen Elizabeth 2, had taken on her maiden voyage way back in April 1969.

Tired, but excited, happy and so privileged to be part of this, we changed and made our way to the Britannia Restaurant and the first of many sumptuous meals.

The voyage had begun. 🙂

Almost here…

It is with great excitement that we are counting down the days to the arrival of Cunard’s new luxury cruise ship, the Queen Elizabeth, as we are among those lucky enough to have procured a place on her Maiden Voyage on 12 October 2010.  The QE’s maiden voyage is the fastest-selling cruise ever in Cunard’s history, selling out in a record 29 minutes 14 seconds, so we are indeed lucky to be one of the chosen few.  🙂

Queen Elizabeth was officially handed over to Cunard White Star line on 1 October 2010 and she is, at the time of writing, on her way to Southampton from Fincantieri yard in Italy.  She is due to arrive in her home port tomorrow morning at around nine o’clock.  I have been looking at her bridge cam every day to see where she is: you can watch her arrival in Southampton by going to:


On Monday 11 October, Her Majesty the Queen will be doing the official naming ceremony in Southampton by breaking a jeroboam of champers on the Queen Elizabeth’s bow.  Let’s hope the bottle smashes; it has long been considered bad luck in nautical tradition if the bottle doesn’t break. 😦

I shall be doing a daily blog to mark the Maiden voyage for posterity.  It’s the first cruise I’ve done since I set up this blog so I will actually have something to write about for a change!  🙂

Anchors aweigh!