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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2011
Maiden World Cruise - part 1

Map Southampton Activities during the 8 days of Atlantic crossing New York - USA Fort Lauderdale Willemstad ( - Curacoa a change from the original scheduled port of Aruba Limon - Costa Rica Transit the Panama Canal Acapulco - Mexico Cabo San Lucas Los Angeles Activities during the Pacific Crossings Honolulu - Hawai Lahaina - Hawai Apia - Western Samoa Pago Pago - American Samoa Port Denarau - Fiji Bay of Islands - New Zealand Auckland, New Zealand
This chart shows the routing at the time of printing of the brochure.

Map

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All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox)

22 January 2011 - The Transit of the Panama Canal

A highlight of the trip - the Panama Canal - came next. First we will give a brief introduction to the Canal history.  

Following the California Gold Rush of 1849, a rail route had been built across the isthmus between Colon on the Atlantic side and Balboa near Panama City on the Pacific. Building a canal was much more difficult. This is in contrast to the UK where the canals were built first and the railways followed. The whole canal is a marvel of engineering and had a whole run of engineering firsts when it was finally completed. The French tried first and failed whilst attempting a sea level canal - it cost them over 20,000 lives mostly to disease. The Americans then took up the challenge in 1904 and after clearing out the swamps and eradicating yellow fever eventually completed the canal in 1914 with 3 pairs of locks each side of the largest ever manmade lake - Lake Gatun. It remained the largest project completed by man prior to the Lunar program. Even now it holds a few firsts including the largest lock gates ever made and most of the structures are original after 80 years. It takes a workforce of 8000 to maintain the structures, dredge the canal and carry out routine operations.

Pictures from the 2008 and 2011 transits

Our first experience of the canal was back in 1999 on the QE2 when we had a partial transit up through the Gatun staircase of locks rising 85 feet to Lake Gatun. Our first complete passage was on the Queen Victoria in 2008. We had also  moored at Christobal with QE2 in 2006 and took a shore excursion to visit the Gatun locks and explore the rainforest where the French canal had been dug. Some of the pictures on this page are from earlier transits.

There are two sets of locks in parallel each consisting of three locks in staircase - where the locks run into each other with only a single gate between each. It is identical in principle to the Grindley Brook staircase on the Llangollen canal, except that here there is oneway traffic, with ships going up the locks from either end in the morning, waiting on the summit, then going down the locks on the other side in the afternoon. At busy times in the summer, Grindley Brook has a system of three up then three down, which operates all day. 

The passage up the Gatun Locks takes several hours as the ship has to first be manoeuvred alongside the entry wharf by tugs and attached to 'mules', heavy electric railway engines with double winches which keep ships central whilst they go through the locks. There were two each side at front and back for a ship our size which only just fits. In addition, it was Queen Elizabeth's first passage through the Canal, so an Admeasurer boards, whose job it is to measure the ship, define its Panama Canal tonnage, and from that calculate the toll for each transit.The Queen Elizabeth is a Panamax sized ship which was designed to just fit the locks and so she has to pay one of the highest tolls of any ship - roughly $360,000 for our passage. In 2008 we were told that the highest ever toll was $313,000 in 2008 so prices are definitely rising - the lowest was 36 cents by a swimmer early last century.

Sailboats are allowed provided they have the mandatory Panama Canal Pilot and a yacht of 50-80 ft pays $500. Container ships pay a surcharge of $48 per container, a small price to save a trip of 8000 miles round Cape Horn. Although expensive, it is still only half the price of transiting the Suez Canal, and that has no locks. The money has to be paid in advance, before the ship enters the Canal. There are a number of very profitable banks in the local area. Booking a timed passage is more expense and a number of ships who had paid the cheaper passage were waiting at anchor. When queues are long they auction places.

Pete went to the gym leaving Pauline to get an early coffee, and by 0615 she was settled in a comfortable chair in the Commodore Club, with excellent views forwards through the large glass windows. The front seats had already gone as some Japanese had slept in blankets overnight to secure the prime seats. It was better than standing on the open decks in temperatures of over 90 degrees, and we could go out to take pictures as necessary. We arrived at the entry to the locks at 0800 and left at about 1000. Even though it was not our first transit it is still impressive. On entry into the first lock there seemed to be a slight nudge and one could feel the lines from the Mules occasionally correcting our position.

Throughout the day we had the benefit of a commentary from the Bridge by a local lecturer and while we crossed Gatun Lake he gave a short presentation in the Royal Court Theatre. Special Panama Canal pilots were also on the Bridge throughout the passage. The channel has steadily been widened in preparation for the new locks which will allow much larger ships to transit the canal and the difference is now very obvious compared with our first transit. There was a lot of work going on and we were slowed to a crawl through parts of the Calebra Cut where work boats were in use preparing for another blasting and dredging operation - that section still seems narrow although hillsides are just disappearing.

We passed under the magnificent new Centennial Bridge which carries the Pan American highway over the canal - it seems impossible that the towers on this suspension bridge are actually 600 feet high. Some of the dredges we passed on approach to the bridge qualify for the term awe-inspiring, one we passed extracts 13 cubic yards every scoop and it takes one every minute from a depth of up to 60 feet. 

We were then upon the next flights of locks taking us down to the Pacific - first the single Pedro Miguel lock then after the short Miraflores lake one is into the Miraflores two lock staircase. Finally we passed under the Bridge of the Americas which gives a fascinating optical illusion from the back of the ship and the clearance looks ridiculously small even as the funnel passes under it. One passes alongside a long causeway to an island which helps shelter the ships entering the canal from the Pacific. Finally on the port side as we left one could see how Panama City has grown and is now a city of skyscrapers. The finale was a super sunset.

Extensions to the Panama Canal

We should not leave the Panama Canal without saying a little about the extensions which are in progress to allow ships of a much larger size to make use of it. This is based on the lectures and has also drawn on the Wikipedia Article so the text and any diagrams in this section are not subject to our copyright but to the usual rules of Wikipedia.

Two new flights of locks are being built parallel to, and operated in addition to, the old locks: one to the east of the existing Gatún locks, and one south west of Miraflores locks, each supported by approach channels. Each flight will ascend from ocean level direct to the Gatún Lake level; the existing two-stage ascent at Miraflores / Pedro Miguel will not be replicated. The new lock chambers will feature sliding gates, doubled for safety, and will be 1,400 ft long, 180 ft wide, and 60 ft deep; this will allow the transit of vessels with a beam of up to 160 ft, an overall length of up to 1,200 ft and a draft of up to 50 ft, equivalent to a container ship carrying around 12,000 twenty-foot long containers.

The new locks will be supported by new approach channels, including a 3.8 mile channel at Miraflores from the locks to the Gaillard Cut, skirting around Miraflores Lake. Each of these channels will be 715 ft wide, which will require post-Panamax vessels to navigate the channels in one direction at a time. The Gaillard Cut and the channel through Gatún Lake will be widened to no less than 918 ft on the straight portions and no less than 1,200 ft on the bends. The maximum level of Gatún Lake will be raised from reference height 87.5 ft to 89 ft to act as an additional water supply.

Each flight of locks will be accompanied by nine water reutilisation basins (three per lock chamber), each basin being approximately 230 ft wide, 1410 ft long and 18 ft deep. These gravity-fed basins will allow 60% of the water used in each transit to be reused; the new locks will consequently use 7% less water per transit than each of the existing lock lanes. The deepening of Gatún Lake, and the raising of its maximum water level, will also provide significant extra water storage capacity. These measures are intended to allow the expanded canal to operate without the construction of new reservoirs.

The estimated cost of the project is US$5.25 billion. The project is designed to allow for an anticipated growth in traffic of up to two fold by 2025. Tolls will continue to be calculated based on vessel tonnage, and will not depend on the locks used.

The new locks are expected to open for traffic in 2015. The present locks, which will be 100 years old by that time, will then have greater access for maintenance, and are projected to continue operating indefinitely. The first phase of the project will be dry excavations of the 715 ft wide trench connecting the Calebra Cut with the Pacific coast, removing 47 million cubic meters of earth and rock. The design of the locks is a carbon copy of the Berendrecht lock in the Port of Antwerp, which De Nul, the lead contractor helped build in the 1980s; the company still has engineers and specialists who were part of that project. Unlike the existing locks, mules will not be used and the ships will be entirely handled by the new breed of canal tugs.

23-24 January - Days at Sea

Highlights included a lecture by John Laverick on the Kennet and Avon and Wilts and Berks Canals, both of which we are members of the restoration trusts, an Ice Carving demonstration, dolphins, sea skimming birds and sunbathing.


25 January 2011 Acapulco, Mexico (from 2008)


After two more days at sea we reached Acapulco. Acapulco is a popular seaside resort with beautiful beaches. The most popular tour is the one we took in 2008 on the Queen Victoria and is a boat trip to see the world-famous cliff divers at La Quebrada who dive up to 110' into water only a few metres deep. A couple of them swam out and joined the boat and came round to chat and for pictures to be taken. We have added some of the pictures from that tour below.


This year we decided to just go ashore and it looked from the maps as if we would be able to walk across to see the divers so that was the plan although it did not quite work out like that. We decided to start off with a walk round to the beach and it all quickly fell into place when we passed the statue on the rocks and the beach proper was accessible. We walked along the sands which was very good exercise as even the wet sand was hardly firm enough to support one without ones feet sinking in. We quickly came upon a stretch where a lot of fishing boats were drawn up well above the waters edge and then reached some which had just returned and were still on the waters edge, just pulled up enough to stop them floating back out. The first had obviously had a good catch of Tuna and they were washing them in the sea and packing them into a box - it looked as if they had been caught on lines. We next reached another boat where the nets had been drawn up onto the beach and the catch was still being removed and sold on the spot. We also noticed there were a number of locals up to their waists in the sea who were fishing with hand lines, again we believe for Tuna.

We continued on down the beach and there were areas where there were lots of loungers interspersed with towers for lifeguards to watch. Not many people were swimming but Pete went in where there were a few people already in the water. It was interesting as there was a swell coming in but it did not seem to break in the usual way but just collapsed as it ran up the beach but one could look down into a trench which at times looked a good couple of metres deep between the wave and the steeply sloping edge of the beach. It needed good timing to come back to sure and we watched a couple of people have an exciting time when they lost there footing trying to climb out before the next wave arrived. We then continued our exercise and must have walked about half way round the bay - probably two and a half to three miles which was quite enough on the soft sand.

By the time we had walked back it seemed time to go back on board for some cold drinks and an ice-cream before we continued. We spent part of the afternoon in the Maritime museum - we looked round on our last visit when it had some special Chinese exhibits include some full size reproductions of the Terracotta warriors on loan from China and also a magnificent funeral robe made out of thousands of pieces of Jade. We were disappointed to find it had been temporary. The rest was still interesting and we learnt quite a lot about the importance of the port in the days of the trade with the Orient and the Philippines in particular. We then had a quick walk down the road outside the terminal to what looked like a cheap wine store but the stock was indifferent and the prices eye-wateringly high.

We got back on board with a enough spare time to get a seat in one of the boxes for an excellent display by a local dance troop who came on board to demonstrate some of the traditional local dances. Cunard often used to have local bands and dancers in the Caribbean but it seems to be rare these days which is a great shame.

26 January 2011 - Day at Sea

The 25th February was Burn's Day and there was a Burn's Night Ball the following night with all th preceding pomp and ceremony including the parade of the Haggis and the Address to the Haggis. This year the address was given by Euen Miller who we had been talking to at the Officers Party which proceeded dinner that night.

Address to a Haggis.
 
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

27 January 2011 Cabo San Lucas - Mexico

Cabo San Lucas is at the southern tip of a long desert peninsula. It started life about 100 years ago as a fishing village with a floating platform to catch tuna. Tourism grew steadily and then accelerated with the completion of the Transpeninsular highway in an area with little regulation. It popularity comes from its long sandy beaches, scuba diving, whale watching and game fishing The distinctive El Arco de Cabo San Lucas often known as Lands End Arch is the local landmark and it was very spectacular as we arrived and the rays of the sun caught it at dawn. As we came past the arch there was a steady stream of large game fishing boats working their way out to sea. Cabo San Lucas has the largest marlin tournament in the world with prizes up to $4m and the area holds many records for game fishing - it is the number one location in the world for stripped marlin. In the winter, pods of whales can be observed in the ocean. They bear their calves in the warm waters. It is also at the end of the Golden Corridor that stretches down to San José - "20 miles of pristine beaches and craggy coves where exclusive hotels and gated residential communities attract a wide clientele of the rich and famous" as well as visitors and newcomers settling in retirement homes.

It has recently become a popular destination for cruise ships ending their journeys because of its reputation for cheap shopping and relative proximity to Los Angeles and San Diego, a down market Pacific version of St Thomas in the Caribbean where stocks of duty free are bought before returning home. The day we arrived we were anchored alongside 2 other cruise ships - Norwegian Star and Azamara Journey. They have made efforts to make tender operations reasonably efficient with plenty of pontoon space at the cruise terminal and provision of a number of small basic local tenders which we were glad we did not have to use.

We did not see any tours which attracted us so we went ashore by tender. The visit was very restricted in time as it took a long time for the local officials to turn up to clear us and we were due to have the last tenders back by 1330 - in the event the last tender time was put back to 1400 but still a very short time considering how long tendering takes. We went down as soon as the tender operations were announced and waited an hour and our tickets were about half way in the list so the last of those not on tours probably had to wait another hour which would have matched the last of the tour tender times. The tender operations were very efficient although hindered by a swell making loading and unloading at the ship slow on the port side. It takes time to tender 2000 people to the shore and having three ships all tendering obviously causes congestion at the shore side - our lines were however much shorter on our return than the other ships.

The tender quays were in the corner of a huge new marina with the tourist town nearby but a very long walk round the boardwalk to the beaches - we did not time it but it seemed like half an hour. All the way we were being accosted by offers of glass bottomed boat trips and water taxis to the beaches as well as other goods and services. By the time we got there the $2 offered by one water taxi owner began to look good value. The marina seemed to be a mixture of very small boats acting as water taxis and glass bottomed boats and large boats dedicated to game fishing - there were virtually no yachts .Nobody seemed to be swimming and the few people on the beach were mostly in areas roped off from the public and accessed from the fortress like hotels and blocks of apartments through locked doors or guarded gates. We final found a quiet area relatively free from the continual pestering of people trying to sell cheap trash and mexican Silver and sat and admired the sea and watched the pelicans and the parascenders. We saw large gangs of peddlers being organised and briefed as we walked down and it is difficult to see how they make a living as they all seem to have same goods and at the time we were there they were more of them than tourists on the public areas of the beaches - interestingly they all seemed to carry some sort of licence and wear similar 'uniforms'.

We worked our way back through the shopping areas and went into one of the supermarkets in the hope of finding a Cafetiere but everything seemed very expensive - wine were the same price like for like as on board- we bought a cheap local wine to get an idea of what they produce but suspect it will end up as a sangria. On the way back through the marina we stopped to watch a fisherman feeding what looked like seal but could have been a sea-lion whilst a group of pelicans looked on hungrily. There were apparently some upmarket shops offering bargains and we heard of one passenger who bought diamond ear-rings reduced from $23,000 to $8,000 - I think we would need to be very sure of our knowledge before buy any gems like that. The other very favourable reports we heard were from those who went whale watching - they saw many including those with calves. We saw several whales from the ship as we worked our way up the coast and also went through one of the largest pods of dolphins we have ever seen - we are not sure of the type but they were traveling much longer distances out of the water than we have been used to but without any of the acrobatics one often sees. If we return we would be tempted by a whale watching trip although we have seen them whilst sailing in New Zealand, on one occasion much closer than we appreciated.

Wente Wine Dinner - 27 January 2011

In the evening we went to a special Wine Tasting dinner in the Verandah Restaurant hosted by Eric Wente who supplies many wines to Cunard including the specially blended Cunard Private Label wines. Eric brought a few of his own favourites to add to the Cunard Private Label wines including his classic Brut which is made in very small quantities and the Wente Petite Syrah Port. The Brut was excellent and it is unfortunate that it is made in such small quantities we are unlikely to ever be able to buy it. The menu was Chef Zimmermann's Degustation Menu which consists of 7 courses giving one a chance to sample some of the best the Verandah has to offer. Chef Zimmermann is the Culinary Ambassador who is responsible for all the Cunard ships and masterminded the concept and implementation of the Verandah Restaurant which is based on the Verandah Restaurants on the original Queens.

Each of the courses were paired with appropriate choices from the Cunard/Wente Private Label Wines which we were quite impressed with. They are blended in conjunction with Cunard - we asked Eric whether he preferred the results of the joint exercise or their own blends and he reluctantly admitted that he had a slight preference for their own blends. It would make for an interesting tasting as the blends are about perceptions of differing tastes rather than any differences in quality. We had an interesting tasting in Australia at Wolfe Blass where we had the chance to do a comparative tasting of local, export and restaurant blends.

This was our second 'Degustation Menu' but it lost nothing in repetition - we have already put up pictures of some of the courses so we will at some point integrate them with this write up. The only difference was that 40 people were having to be served simultaneously with food and wine and before each course we had had a brief introduction to the Wine from Eric and to the food from the Verandah's Chef Miora and from the Pastry Chef Romualdo in the case of the sweets. The only compromise was that it was obviously impractical to serve everyone with cheese choices from the 'Chariot' so they choice was plated - we love cheese and the chariot is, to us, a highlight of Verandah. The overall experience took close to three and a half hours but we were hardly conscious of the time and it all went very smoothly, as always, under the eye of the Maitre D' Laurence Bitout. Each course had a normal size glass of wine served by Laszlo so it was perhaps good that it was spread over time. Overall it was a memorable experience - we asked if we could have a copy of the menu which I have photographed and OCRed - I have added the extra Merlot which was not on the original menu but added at the last minute.

Wente Wine Dinner
Cunard Queen Elizabeth - 27th January 2011

Hosted by Eric Wente

Wente Classic Brut

Petite salade de coquillages et de homard, velours de tomate "grappa" et avocat
Lobster and shellfish Salad with Avocadoéi Vine Ripened Tomato Jelly
Cunard Sauvignon Blanc
----
Torchon de foie gras de canard mi-cuit a la poire, nougat brulé
Duck Foie Gras with Pears, Cooked "au Torchon", Served with Nougat Brulee
Cunard Chardonnay
----
Pigeon roti, enéves, ahatoignes et coings, sauce "Grond Veneur" au chocolat amer
Roast Pigeon Breast, Endive, Chestnuts and Ouince, "Grand Veneur" Sauce and bitter chocolate
Cunard Syrah
----
Poélée de Saint-Jacques et langoustines au beurre de citron vert, pates imprimées d'herbes, emulsion cremeuse de cepes
Scallops and Langoustines, Sauteed in a Lime Butter, with Herb Printed Pasta, Creamy and Frothy Boletus Emulsion
Cunard Pinot Grigio
----
Grenadin de boeuf poelé aux morilles, legumes primeurs a la truffe, pommes soufllées, jus réduit au modere
Organic Beef Fillet Sautéed with Morel Mushrooms, Baby Vegetables with Block Truffle, Soufflé Potatoes, Madeira Glaze
Cunard Cabernet Sauvignon
----
Fromage
Cheese
Cunard Merlot
----
l'Assiette gourmande
Trio of dessert
Wente Petite Sirah Port
----
Coffee and Mignardise

28 January 2011 - A Day at Sea

There was a Flower Vegetable Carving Demonstration by Catalino Paijie and Kristopher Ang where they created some amazing flowers and floral arrangements from simple vegetables held in the Grand Lobby which was packed. They created a few extra flowers for people to take away and Pauline gathered one up which is still keeping well in the fridge in our room when it is not on display. After they were finished they were taken and put on display in the Lido.

 

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