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The Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 Liner
An Introduction to Cruising
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The tea ceremony in the Mediterranean 1998We have now been on many cruises, fourteen of them on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2. Many of our friends ask why we enjoy cruises so much, especially as they do not seem to match other more active activities such as basic camping, sailing and our narrowboat. We do not see it as inconsistent - as with our other activities we like to keep on the move and quickly found we got bored in a hotel in one place - most of the time on a cruise you are moving overnight and moored in a new place every few days. The other side of the coin is that whilst cruising one lives in a style which is almost impossible to find (or afford) these days - perhaps in a few hotels and certainly on trains such as the Orient Express but even then they are transient and impersonal experiences. In the case of the QE2 there was a continuity - when we came back on board we are recognised and greeted by name by an increasing number of staff from Captain to waiters. Sadly after 41 years the QE2 ended her illustious cruising career and become a floating hotel in Dubai but her staff found homes on the Cunard Queen Mary 2 and the then new Victoria.

New York at it's best - World Trade Buildings in 1999 Our first cruises were in places like the Caribbean on ships such as the Cunard Countess where most days were in a different port and the ship was a first class floating hotel. QE2 overshadows a traditional dhow at Dubai - 2001 Now we have the time to take the longer passages giving us the chance to explore the world, with stops every few days. Our Panama Canal Voyage in 1999 took us across the Atlantic to New York and Miami and into the Panama Canal and back via the Caribbean. Our Voyage of Great Discoveries was part of the 2001 World Cruise which we joined from Singapore to England via the Suez Canal. The Cape Town Line in 2002 took us down Africa and on round to Mauritius and back. The a South American Adventure in 2003 gave us our first look at South America and on to the Falklands. The Land of the Midnight Sun in 2004 gave us a magnificent trip in and out of the Norwegian fiords and up to the North most point of Europe to catch a glimpse of the midnight sun. The Canadian Crossing and Mediterranean Adventure in 2005 were two back-to-back cruises totaling a month from Southampton to Newfoundland, down the Canadian Atlantic Seaboard to the USA, Boston, Newport and New York then back across the Atlantic and finishing with a fortnight in the Mediterranean including Gibraltar, Greece and Dubrovnic.

Southern Delights in 2006 took us for a month from Southampton to the Azores, the Everglades, New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and back via Madeira. We joined the Silver Jubilee World Cruise in 2007 from Hong Kong to the UK via Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, India, the Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia, The Canaries and Madeira. QE2's 'Mediterranean Splendour' and 'The 40th Anniversary' Cruises 2007 were two consecutive but very different cruises, the first a typical cruise on the QE2 that took us to familiar and new places round the Mediterranean. The second was not only a journey round Great Britain but also a nostalgic and often emotional trip in time commemorating the 40th anniversary of the World's Greatest Liner. The Christmas Markets Cruise (2007) ended 2007 with a short cruise through the North sea as far as Oslo where the destination was of secondary importance - it was booked as an indulgence to try the Queen's Grill Restaurant and Accommodation after we heard she would be retired to Dubai. Our last two cruises in 2008 both took us to the far north, firstly to The Land of the Midnight Sun, Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen, Tromso and Gravdal in the Norwegian Lofoten Islands, the fiords and down Norway, an extra special cruise as we were invited to join the Captain's table for the cruise for the first time. The last cruise of all The Lands of Fire and Ice took us to Iceland for the first time to see the thermal ares before returning down the fiords. There was a spectacular send off in Stavangar where we were accompanied out by a huge fleet including all the old steamers from the Nordsteam Festival.

We saw the QE2 a number of times after that, some from Southampton then for 10 days we travelled alongside on the Queen Mary 2 during a Tandem Crossing of the Atlantic to New York and back. Our Last sighting and final goodbye was in Malta - we had been on board during her first visit when we had received a memorable and very emotional welcome from thousands of Maltese, most with Union jacks lining the battlements. It seemed appropriate to take a holiday there which coincided with her final visit, her last but one stop on her way to retirement in Dubai.

All the journeys we took on the QE2 needed a different ship to those which only cruise in sheltered waters. The Atlantic crossings which occupy a significant part of the QE2's time are across unforgiving seas, as are many of the original Liner Runs which have returned to the program by popular demand. For a long period the QE2 was the now the only atlantic liner in operation, now joined by the new Cunard Queen Mary 2 (QM2). There is a big difference between a ship built for the Atlantic and those cruising in warm sheltered waters and one only has to look at the lines of the QE2 to see the difference and it goes a lot deeper - a much stronger hull, with fine lines under water and the matching power to ignore gales and punch through hurricanes. The Atlantic heritage means she is the fastest civil ship of any significant size and far faster than any other current cruise ship. She operates normally through weather which sends others fleeing for shelter. We have met winds of over 55 knots giving 80 knots "over the deck" and seas well over 8 meters without slowing down. The QE2 can maintain speed until the winds rise to over 80 knots - a true hurricane. We have watched people swimming in the pool during a gale! Cruising considerations limited her size to fit through the Panama canal, which she does with two feet to spare (and the dismantling of a part of a building every transit).

The overall standard is now very high, only at the time when Carnival Dinner, a typical starter -1998 were taking over Cunard we were ever slightly disappointed, it is now even better than we first experienced. The ship is classed only to the extent that there are different restaurants depending on the room booked. The daily menus across the restaurants are similar and even in the simpler restaurants the food is good and in several cases the best examples of a dish we have ever had. We have always been very satisfied with the food in the Mauretania, and it is not unusual to have several courses which give ideas which one would wish to use when entertaining at home. In 2003 our cabin was linked to the Caronia restaurant. Because the Caronia restaurant is single sitting, meals are unhurried, and service seems to be more attentive. There our waiter Sibo was from South Africa, having been trained and studied in Durban before joining Cunard- very attentive and a perfect example of Cunard service at its best - we were glad to see he has stayed with QE2, and was not poached by Queen Mary 2 ! The following year we returned to the Mauretania but took the late sitting which was equally relaxed and service equally attentive and entertaining from Biju and Phil as there was no rush. Phil has now risen to be an Assistant Maitre D' .

The wine list is comprehensive but expensive so we check the bin ends list when we get on board. On one occasion we reserved the last few bottles of New Zealand Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 1997 - an excellent Chardonnay which was priced, as a bin end, at little more than in the UK. The classic Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is usually available but is quite expensive. Normally you pay prices matched to the American market - they find it cheap but many others find the mark up on basic wines high. You can take your own wine in but the corkage is $13, and there are cheap wines (Mateus Rose, for example) which cost little more than basic corkage. Although we did not drink a lot of wine we did indulge in the special Cunard bottles of "Port for 2" (200ml). The port was from Calem, a supplier which we did not know, and was very pleasant and good value.

The service in the restaurants has been excellent and the staff bend over to be helpful and mix and match to provide what one wants. The alternative informal Lido buffet service restaurant is again a very different experience. On entry one is given a tray and a waiter adds the cutlery - you are then allowed to move it as the initial dishes are added but then a line of waiters are hovering to carry it for you whilst you add extras such as fruit juice and then take it to your chosen table to lay it out.

This section was first written many years ago whilst waiting to indulge in the tea ceremony - delicate sandwiches, scones full of cream and jam and kilo-calorie cakes served every afternoon by precisely orchestrated staff in stiff starched uniforms and white gloves. We were technically in gale force conditions and I looked out at rainbows in the spray lifting off the tops of the huge seas. I could feel the ship gently moving and occasionally felt her shake herself free of a bigger sea and a few seconds later saw the spray thrown up from the bow disappear past the picture windows of the Queen's Room. Meanwhile the final inspections and adjustments to the angles of the spoons and cups had been completed, the piano had started to play, the cups clink and the muted hum of conversation drowned any other sounds as we slipped along at 25 knots under slowly clearing skies. The tea ceremony had started.

Coming to entertainment it is difficult to know where to start as there is the potential for a rich and varied menu. I will start with evenings as "Entertainment" to many means the big evening shows in the Grand Lounge. This has been variable, sometimes excellent with world class entertainers, other times not to our taste at all. To be fair we have never been ones to go to "shows", but we get the impression that the standard has been falling with less big names and more dubious comedians peddling rag mag humour and viagra jokes, and second class impersonators. One recent improvement has been to have each show combining the QE2 orchestra with two different acts, for example a singer and a comedian, and then there is something for everyone. Fortunately the Grand Lounge is only a small part of the entertainment picture with much else going on in parallel.

In addition to the Grand Lounge, where most of the evening shows take place, the QE2 boasts the largest Tarantella Folk Dance, featuring 'I Sorrentini'theatre afloat seating nearly five hundred people. Most evenings there are classical recitals in the theatre, dancing in the Queens Room and Jazz in the Golden Lion Pub not to speak of harp and piano interspersed in the Chart room and a band/disco in the Yacht Club. If this is not enough to satisfy one there are usually feature or classic films available in the theatre, repeated during the afternoon and evening.

When an evening is spent in port local entertainment is often arranged, for example when we were staying in Naples we were entertained by a Tarantella Folk Dance Show of local song and dance accompanied by tambourines and a novel local 3-piece wooden percussion instrument to beat time. In Salvador de Bahia it was the local Folkoriic Capoeira Show who performed a mix of martial arts and dance. The musical backing included a berimbau - a bow shaped piece of wood with one string and a gourd-shaped resonator. It was simulated fighting and kicks interspersed with somersaults, handstands and acrobatics.

So what is a typical evening for us? When in the Mauretania restaurant we always eat early at the first sitting (1815) and may then go to the first show in the Grand Lounge (2045) or perhaps the parallel movie if something catches our eye - we have seen films ranging from "The Road to Perdition" "Matrix Reloaded" and Tom Clancies "The Sum of all Fears" to classics such as "The Piano" and "Shakespeare in Love". The last had been one Pauline had wanted to go and see ever since it came out - hilarious and enhanced by being preceded by an excellent bottle of Moulin-a-Vent that the Sommelier Tommy had recommended to us (the old vines and lack fining or filtering made a bigger difference than I had expected, to the wine not the film that is!). There are also a series of nautical films. We saw the new film about Samuel Cunard, which included extensive footage taken on board QE2 - interviews with past Captains, views of various Cunard ships, and some of the other special and historical items on board.

Typically we then move on to a classic recital in the Theatre (2145) - one memorable one was by Yitkin Seow who commented about the appropriateness of his first piece of music - Schumann's Finderszehen Opus 15 von fremden Landern und Menschen. The English translation is "Of Foreign Lands and People" - a most appropriate choice for a Singaporean Chinese piano player, who lives in London, playing on QE2 to a multinational audience in the middle of the Arabian Sea. Other excellent classical piano music has been by Jason Ridgway. And during one cruise we enjoyed a classical recital by the baritone William Allenby. It is then on to catch a set of Jazz from the Hot Rhythm Orchestra or the Ray Terry Jazzband in the Golden Lion Pub before wending our way back to the cabin. We rarely make it to the midnight buffet, which starts at 1130, unless it is one of the special gala ones !

Sunset at the Great Pyramids Entertainment during days obviously vary depending on whether one is at sea or moored when one is most likely to go ashore, either independently or on an excursion. We have seen many more places we could have done without cruising - from Petra to the Pyramids, from Suez to Panama and from slave ports to sugar plantations. When at sea then usually there are many activities running in parallel. There are always guest speakers on board, some will be speaking on the areas one is visiting with talks ranging from scenery and wildlife to culture and political background. There would usually be two or three talks every morning which are also recorded and played back continuously on the TV channels for those who miss them. There are often better known speakers such as Bernard Ingram who gave some fascinating insights into Maggie Thatcher's time. We have had a range from cricketers to forensic scientists and from Concord Pilots to Titanic divers. One of the more memorable was Captain David Leney speaking about his experiences as a Concorde captain as he had flown some of the set piece events - with QE2 and the Red Devils aerobatic team, and formation flying with other Concordes. He had also flown with the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, and had some unique insights and anecdotes.

Another highlight was Denis Cochrane's talk about his dives to Titanic with lots of unpublished pictures and some moving video, especially of the bow portion of the ship. The wreck is buried 2.5 miles below the Atlantic Ocean, and to visit the remains he had been invited to use a Russian submersible. More recently we have been entertained by the well known photographer Derry Brabbs who is perhaps best known for his photographs for Wainwright's famous series of walking books.

Sir Rex HuntAnother fascinating series, whilst on our way to the Falklands was by Sir Rex Hunt, the past Governor, talking about the invasion of the Falklands in 1982, and discussing some of the current issues. He was very popular and the theatre was full so we had to sit on the steps in the Gallery. He used his book as the basis for the talks, and then he signed copies of the book outside the library. Many people bought his book and the queues stretched into the distance, and on several different days. We already had a copy and he was happy to sign it for us.

Many of the Cunard cruises have a theme such as the "Classical Music Crossings". On one of those "Classical" cruises we were entertained by a series of talks by John Suchet - a historian, writer and expert on Beethoven as well as television celebrity. These were most entertaining and gave considerable insight into Beethoven as a person and his life in Vienna - stories of how the young Beethoven established his reputation in the live variation "contests" until there was no competition possible. John Suchet was supported by a Pianist or Quartet during many of his talks to demonstrate the points he was making.

The Gym We did not 'discover' the gym until fairly recently when we were rather forced into using it because Peter had suffered a fractured arm and damaged shoulder following an accident. He was determined to continue his Physiotherapy program, and perhaps improve his general fitness which had deteriorated seriously when he was partially immobilised. QE2 has a gym and a spa, both run by Steiner. The gym is on 7 Deck and has lots of equipment; it is open from 7 in the morning to 8 at night, and there are 3 professional trainers there to give advice. Throughout the day there are classes: In the morning Total Body Conditioning and Fitball conditioning, and in the afternoon Aqua Aerobics and Balance/Stretch and Relaxation. In addition to the free group training sessions, there are also personal sessions. The first time it seemed important for Peter to have some professional instruction so we committed to 3 hours of Personal Training with Kristy.

This was all a bit of a shock to the system as we had never been in a gym before. On our first session we were shown the equipment, used the bike and treadmill, and Kristy promised individual training programs, which responded to Peter's shoulder problem, to be collected on the next session. The second session was much more hard work. The warming up with treadmill and bike was OK but it was followed by a cross trainer which was harder. The aim was to use up 100 calories before being allowed to stop in a target time of 7.5 mins! There was restricted work on the machines with weights for Peter, but there were lots of stretching exercises. We had 'homework' to do in the cabin, and extra material to read before appointments. We were however benefiting so much that he booked another set of 3 classes. By the end of the cruise we had a regular morning routine of cardiac work and exercises before breakfast and we subsequently bought ourselves a cross trainer for Christmas.

Communications from the QE2 are now much better than ever. There is satellite phone which is expensive ($5 a min) and faxes can be sent and received from the business centre, outgoing charged by minute at the same $5/min. Incoming email can be sent to qe2@cunard.com with your name and cabin number in the title line - simple emails are printed and delivered free to your stateroom and short attachments are probably OK although longer ones may need to be negotiated - they used to cost 50c a page with a minimum of $5 but that is often waived for short ones. The computer centre allows internet access at 50c/min and hence email via a WebMail interface if your ISP provides one, otherwise one has to set up a Hotmail or Yahoo account for the journey.

In contrast one is well provided for now if you have a laptop with WiFi as there are now Hotspots in the Computer Learning Centre, Boardroom, Lido and Pavilion and some other limited areas in public rooms. You first have create an account on machine in the computer centre using your usual ship's pass swipe card after which you can log in and be billed to your ship account at $0.50/min or cheaper if you buy a package. Collecting email can be kept to under a minute if you are prepared and efficient. Diamond Cunard Club members also get 8 hours each free for every sector on the computing centre machines or Wifi.

As well as activities which take place on a daily basis there are others which occur on a "sector" or "cruise" basis, where I am loosely defining Sectors as the periods of 5 to 10 days between each port where passengers embark and disembark and Cruises as a round trip back to Southampton. There are also a number of traditional activities which tend to be on an annual basis or at some particular location.

Each sector will start with a cocktail party for new arrivals where one is introduced to the Captain (and photographed with him) - this is on the first formal evening and most evenings at sea are formal. When the ship is very full this may occupy several formal evenings, with each restaurant dealt with separately. We usually home in to the corner where the officers hover, and expect to find a number of old friends.

In addition, there is always a Cunard World Club cocktail party. Over half the passengers are regular passengers, and even limiting the party to those who had cruised several times meant that the Queen's Room is always full. In the past, passengers who have traveled for 100 days get delivered a nice discrete gold pin, and those who have traveled 300, 500 and 1000 days get awarded special pins in person during the parties. The Cunard World Club has changed this year and because we have cruised over 8 times we received new top-of the-range "platinum" pins - a pressed white metal brooch shaped like a lion with a chip of glass glued on. The new format had no presentations, and the pins were just left in an envelope in the cabin. It is a pity that the traditional recognition rituals seem to have been abandoned.

As well as the normal program of parties there are always a number which are by invitation only. Wine tastings used to take place periodically and were again by invitation. We have also been invited, on occasion, to the Hotel Manager's Party, held in the Yacht Club. In 2003 there have been a lot of staff changes, as some experienced staff have moved across to make sure that Queen Mary 2 is of the proper Cunard standard. The hotel manager is John Duffy, who has been on QE2 for many years and hotel manager since 1981. We were happy to circulate, and spent a happy hour nibbling hors d'oeuvres, sipping champagne and chatting to staff. Some were due to move across to QM2 in December and were looking forward to the move. We will miss the familiar smiles next year.

There is always the possibility of getting to know the Officers well enough to get to the Wardroom receptions; we have been to a couple. We have also once had the privilege to be invited to one of the the very select cocktail parties held by Captain Warwick in his quarters. He has now moved to Queen Mary 2, and we have not yet decided when to be tempted by a cruise on her.

At least one person now lives permanently on the QE2 and there have always been several who have been on board for over 1000 days at every party we have been to. The QE2 has gained a special loyalty from passengers and the Cunard World Club now has over 1 million members world wide. To both crew and regular passengers it is more like a family and at the end of shore excursions you find most passengers refer to it as going home rather than back to the ship. When we went on board the first time it seemed unreal that people would travel regularly enough to complete hundreds of days but we have ourselves now done 190 days and there are still huge areas of the globe waiting to be explored. The QE2 has just completed 5 million miles.

Captain Warwick and the Crown PrinceAs an aside the QE2 also gets a tremendous reception where ever she goes. We had the privilege to be on board when she first visited Malta and the reception was unbelievable - it still seems unreal now. The entry to Valetta has steep sides with level upon level of ramparts and ever one was lined 4 or 5 deep with people cheering and waving, almost every one with a Union Jack. We just kept passing more and more people - there must have been many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. It was extremely moving and it was one of the few times recently that one has felt proud to be British.

The welcome was fantastic when we went ashore - it all goes back to the days of WWII of course. We were also on board when she was invited to be the ship which opened the new Dubai Cruise Centre and again the festivities and reception was memorable with Crown Prince Mohammed Al Maktoum visiting the ship after opening the terminal.

Coming back to the routine, the last Venison Wellington but one evening of each sector usually has a special Formal Rotisseurs dinner with the traditional Jose and Louise Baked Alaska Ceremony firework lit parade of the Baked Alaska under the flags of all the nations present. (It should be noted that we were absolutely and definitely not responsible for persuading the staff that the EC flag was upside down and caused them to hastily take it down and re-hang it the other way up in the middle of dinner !) Typically during such a dinner we may enjoy salmon and caviar followed by Beef Wellington or possibly be tempted by a half Lobster rounded off by fresh strawberries or even the Baked Alaska. This is also the time for other special dishes such as fresh Espada fish from Madeira. Similar Formal Dinners are also laid on for occasions such as Halloween or any other good excuse.

Ice Carving at a Midnight Buffet Decorated Salmon - Midnight Buffet To finish things off there is always a magnificent Midnight Gala Buffet or Midnight Dessert Fantasia with spectacular huge ice carvings and elaborate decorated displays. The Gala Midnight buffets are so sumptuous that they are normally opened 30 minutes early for photographs to be taken. As well as ice carvings there are sculptures in butter, fruits and chocolate, elegant displays of cold food, beautifully decorated cakes and hundreds of marzipan animals. The exhibits take many hours each to create and often are signed by the chefs who created them. It pays to go down very early with a camera as the work involved is tremendous.

It is difficult to do justice to such a feast, especially after a Formal Dinner so we try to concentrate on one aspect, for example on one occasion we decided Halloween Midnight BuffetGala Buffet marzipan frogs to concentrate on strawberries. We started with a bowl of fresh strawberries, then a little strawberry custard tart, a whole strawberry dipped in white chocolate, poached strawberries in brandy (really superb), strawberry crepes and finally a slice off the strawberry puff.

There are always special celebrations for Halloween. The Chocolate QE2 chefsQueens Room was decked with black and orange balloons and paper pumpkins. There was a special Halloween Ball with a Costume Parade for those who decided to dress up. During dinner some of the waiters rushed through with sparklers and wearing tablecloths, and in costume. All good fun. The 2002 Halloween Gala Buffet was one the best we have seen on the QE2 and I spent some time talking to Reinhard, the pastry chef and some of his staff who had created some of the displays. We congratulated him and he modestly attributed it to his staff although he did take credit for inspiring them - most of the displays are made in their own time and he now encourages them to sign their works in the icing. One example which stood out was a special cake with dark chocolate heads, each a caricature of one of the contributing chefs

Whilst on the subject of Chefs at workcooking one of the highlights is a fascinating cookery demonstration by the chefs showing some of their secrets, and how their specialties are prepared. These are done in the Grand Lounge and big mirrors are used so the work can be seen. The recipes are distributed and sometimes the dishes are available to try during the following days. For example Nizam Nor of the Mauretania Restaurant and the Japanese Chef Thure Shwe prepared salmon fishcakes, tempura and sushi and they were on the lunchtime menu in the Lido.

They have also, surprise, surprise, produced a Flowers carved from vegetablescookery book for sale in the Library shop. We bought one of the new Queen Elizabeth 2 cookery books and the Maitre D' arranged for all the Chefs to sign it making it a nice souvenir as well as providing some good recipes to buffer our return to reality.

The chefs also periodically demonstrate some of the techniques used for their displays - we watched a fascinating butter, vegetable and fruit carving demonstration by Chefs Ashis Kumar Chitrakar and Eric Yoong. There were two swans made from butter, starting with a foil base and pressing the butter onto it which took nearly an hour to complete. In contrast the range of decorative flowers carved from vegetables and melons were each much quicker to make but dozens, maybe hundreds are used in each Gala Buffet.

I have mentioned the Ice carvingice carvings which grace the Gala Buffets and one of our favourite events on Cunard Countess in the Caribbean used to be the weekly demonstration of ice carving. They happen less often on the QE2, mostly on the World Cruise and other long cruises such as the Cape Town Line. We have been fortunate and watched several. Two huge pieces of white ice, each weighing 150 Kg, arrive on deck, together with a chain saw and a bag containing various chisels and chopping tools ready to be carved into fish, birds and animals. The design and first stage carving is typically (2002) done by Sous Chef Ajid Kadir often with assistance from the food artist Ashir Kurar or others who are under training. The chefs in charge of ice carving form part of the team of over 100 chefs on board and most of the ice carving and decoration is done in their own time.

There are usually many guesses as to the final design, and on completion they are either rushed away for an evening gala dinner or sometimes left on the deck to melt if the weather is too hot to rescue them, and then new ones have to be carved for the evening. It is worth noting that the initial carving has to done to take into account the steady melting of the ice and it may take several hours before the design has the final delicate lines. The carvers have a repertoire of around 100 different designs used through the year to avoid any repeats and the more complex designs may use half a dozen or more blocks combined to give dragons, sea serpents, castles and forts.

Traditional Ice Cream Ceremony leaving Panama There are a number of other traditional activities - I will mention a few. Some are linked to particular places such as a tradition of setting up a big selection of ice creams in the Pavilion restaurant during the slow and hot passage through the Panama canal, or while crossing the Equator. Tug-of-War The crew of the QE2 have traditionally held a number of Charity Events on the World Cruise, including the Tug-of-War. It is held on the Sun Deck, and we were surprised to find 20 teams each of 8 (occasionally 9) people competing, all in fancy dress. The Master, Captain Warwick at the time, was there to cheer people and award prizes. It is one of the few times when staff who usually work in the lower decks are able to be in the passenger areas. Another time is the Crew Show in the Grand Lounge - the one we watched was excellent and the standard of many of the acts was better than the normal evening shows. The Crew Show is usually put on three times during the evening with the final one at midnight so most of the crew can attend - we understand it is often followed by a crew party lasting almost to dawn so early breakfast may not be advisable the next day.

As part of these charity events, there are occasional Maritime Auctions. The items at the one we attended were a mixture of old memorabilia alongside items made specially by the crew. We understood that well over £4000 was raised at the auction. At a similar White Elephant Auction we attended the objects for auction were mixed, ranging from toiletries and toys which went for two or three dollars, up to US$1480 which was bid for the chance to start the engines of QE2. Again all the profits went to charity.

King Neptune Captain Warwick Of course, many trips we cross the Equator. The "Crossing the Line Ceremony" dates back to the 13th century. The excitement of sailing into the southern part of the world became a special event, commemorated in a quasi-religious mythological play involving King Neptune and his court judging those who were "crossing the line" for the first time.

These initiations took on several forms. On QE2, passengers who are Pollywogs are invited to kiss the fish ( a large salmon ) and then step into the swimming pool. Pollywogs and Shellbacks Thomas with the fishThey are then Shellbacks. Staff are dealt with differently, involving spaghetti and coloured sauces, as well as kissing the fish. The Cunard modern day ceremony contains a speech by King Neptune which was originally made in 1393. Everyone is awarded a certificate for crossing the line, and there is a special Ice Cream extravaganza instead of the normal afternoon tea.

Some of the most memorable events are those that are not scheduled or planned - looking up from lunch and seeing groups of small fish being herded together, whilst large groups of flying fish leap out of the water and fly in formation, skimming the surface, before finally plunging into the side of a wave. Perhaps a good memory on which to finish is that of a glorious evening when, after a formal dinner, we stood on deck watching the sun set in a blaze of colour and a group of dolphins swam by, breaking the reflections on an almost still sea with their leaps and acrobatics.

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