Category Archives: Cruises

A day in Port Lincoln

The first of my 2024 cruises – a seven-day cruise on the Grand Princess from Melbourne to South Australia and back – took me to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island, places I’ve visited before, then to Port Lincoln, a new place for me. Long settled by Aboriginal people, in 1802, Matthew Flinders named the area after his native county of Lincolnshire in England. From Adelaide it’s a 650km seven-hour drive going round the top of the Spencer Gulf, though just 250km as the crow flies. Or you can just arrive by cruise ship!

Port Lincoln is home to Australia’s largest fishing fleet: tuna, abalone, Spencer Gulf prawns, muscles and oysters are the main catches, much of the harvest going to China and Japan. The city, estimated population about 17,000, is reputed to have the most millionaires per capita in Australia.

The port is quite capable of taking a large ship like the Grand Princess. Above the quay one cannot miss the massive grain handling conveyors and loaders. Ashore the grain silos have a total capacity of around 350,000 tonnes. These days all grain arrives by road train; road trains are not allowed in Port Lincoln when a cruise ship is in port. There have been proposals to rebuild the rail line so that it can handle grain traffic but nothing definite.

The last passenger train ran to Port Lincoln in 1968. The ground floor of the former railway station, built 1926-7, is now the Port Lincoln Railway Museum, opened in 1999. It’s open on Wednesday afternoons, Sunday afternoons during school holidays and all day on cruise ship days like ours, a Friday. Obviously, I took the opportunity to visit.

Princess Cruises offered a number of organised excursions. Most looked expensive to me; for example the ‘Rugged Coastal Discovery’ trip, just over four hours, was A$259.95 (£134) per head. For myself, I took the hour and a half ‘Easy Port Lincoln’ tour, just A$74.95 (£38), a drive round the city passing the fishing harbour with a stop at the Winters Hill lookout. The commentary was excellent.

After a wander round the town centre it was back to the ship and on to Phillip Island.


2023 cruise #3: Barrier Reef

My third 2023 cruise started off as a March 2022 Barrier Reef cruise booked in March 2020 then unsurprisingly cancelled in July 2021. In this case deciding what to do next was easy: I rebooked on the same cruise a year later. I visited the Barrier Reef on my first visit to Australia in 1986 but not since then.

This was my first Celebrity cruise and my first cruise from Sydney. For the first time I took the XPT daylight train to and from Sydney, spending the nights before and after the cruise in the Great Southern and Holiday Inn, Darling Harbour hotels respectively, both of which I was very happy with. This was the first time I’d overnighted in Sydney since 2011.

The ship

Celebrity Eclipse is the third of Celebrity’s Solstice class ships, launched in 2010. Her rated capacity is 2,850 passengers and 1,271 crew. At 121,878 GT she doesn’t make Wikipedia’s top 60! I was booked into stateroom (cabin) 8254, defined as a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom with Veranda – by my measuring (using a piece of A4 paper as a ruler!), the room was a spacious 225ft2 and the balcony a very generous 95ft2, both much larger than the quoted size for this cabin class.

Internally Eclipse is a beautiful ship. I’d specially commend Celebrity for the clear signage everywhere, far better than on the Grand Princess or Queen Elizabeth.

The cruise

I was given a late embarkation time which at first disappointed me, but it did mean that from arriving at the terminal to boarding took no more than ten minutes.

On board the crew were without exception excellent. The food was good and on sea days there was a wide range of activities – one, unique to Celebrity (not tried by me), was glassblowing classes. I went to the theatre shows nearly every night – NZ pianist/singer Will Martin was undoubtedly the standout. Several shows included very impressive high wire acrobatics.

One thing that stood out was the passenger mix. Around 1,500 had stayed on board following the preceding cruise around New Zealand and it seemed like the majority were from UK. There were very few solo travellers and most nights for dinner I ended up on a six-seat table with two couples; all good company but it would have been nice not to be the odd one out.

Day 2: Eden

One might have expected our first port call to be Brisbane, but not so perhaps because of wharf availability. Instead, on leaving Sydney we headed south to Eden for our first port day. Most of my time went on visiting the Killer Whale Museum and Mary MacKillop Museum. Two days at sea bound for Queensland followed.

Day 5: Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach was the first of our three Barrier Reef port calls. In each case water depth dictated that the ship had to be anchored a long way off shore with passengers being ferried to shore on tenders. The trip took 30-40 minutes. Here the organisation of the tendering was abysmal; by the time we got to Port Douglas things improved significantly.

I didn’t sign up for any excursions, instead just looking round the town and visiting the seafront market. The huge seawater lagoon was being well used: in these parts no one with any sense goes in the sea during the summer months: marine stingers (box jellyfish) are active and in extreme cases their stings can be fatal.

Day 6: Cairns/Kuranda

The next day we anchored at Yorkey’s Knob, just north of Cairns. After taking the tender to shore I joined a group tour going to Kuranda by bus. After spending the morning in town I made my way to the station for the Kuranda Scenic Railway two-hour trip down to Freshwater. The railway was built in the 1880s and is an extraordinary feat of railway engineering.

The train stops at Barron Falls overlook, where we were able to disembark for several minutes and further down passes just in front of the Stoney Creek Falls.

Then back on the bus to catch the tender back to the ship.

Day 7: Port Douglas

Port Douglas was our last port of call. As before we anchored in deeper water, tenders providing access to the town.

After looking round the main street I climbed up to the lookout, passing a wedding chapel, formerly the 1914 St Mary’s by the Sea RC church, rebuilt here 1988.

The last tender was timetabled for 5.15p.m. but long before this the heat and humidity had got to me, and I was glad to go back to the ship.

Day 8: Willis Island

Our last ‘stop’ wasn’t a stop, rather a sail-by. Willis Island (450 km/280mi east of Cairns) is home to a weather observation station, population 4. Cruise passengers on ‘journeys to nowhere’ (voyages that depart from an Australian port and return to Australia without making landfall at an overseas port) do not qualify for duty-free purchases. Under a longstanding concession, a ship that making a notional stop in Willis Island waters is treated as having visited an international port, thus allowing cruise passengers to purchase duty free goods.

No Barrier Reef?

You may be wondering as to why I haven’t mentioned visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Special excursions were available for those who wanted to spend a day at the reef. Instead of taking a tender to the shore, those going on the reef tours ($$$) were collected from the ship by large catamarans which took them out to the reef. I’ve pencilled in a winter  holiday to these parts for 2025 and if this happens will revisit the reef then.

Day 9: Behind the Scenes tour

Expensive (A$186=~£100) but I enjoyed it. This small group tour took us round parts of the ship that passengers usually don’t see: the galley, stores, laundry, engine control room and bridge. A similar tour on the Queen Elizabeth also took in the theatre backstage, print shop, anchor room and medical centre – that was pre-Covid, so perhaps all or some of these were omitted as a safety measure.

Day 11: Sydney

Up super early to watch our final approach to Sydney. I was one of the last to disembark but this didn’t matter as I wasn’t in a hurry.

As if ten days cruising wasn’t enough, I dropped my case at the hotel and spent the day riding Sydney ferries to Parramatta and Manly!

Then up early next morning to get the XPT back to Melbourne and reality.

My favourite YouTube cruising channels

Emma Cruises
Tips for Travellers
Paul and Carole love to travel
CruiseTipsTV
Life Well Cruised

2023 cruise #2: Burnie, Tasmania

My second 2023 cruise started off as a 2021 cruise on the Queen Mary 2 from Fremantle to Melbourne, booked in  May 2019 – I like to book as soon as cruises go on sale. With Covid it was just a matter of time before it was cancelled: I was given the option of getting a full refund or carrying forward 125% of the deposit paid as a future cruise credit (FCC). I chose the latter course and booked a similar cruise for March 2022. This in turn got cancelled, with the FCC rolled forward again.

With two longer cruises already booked I settled on a three-night cruise from Melbourne to Burnie and back on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, treating myself to a Princess Grill suite. I’d previously enjoyed an upgrade to PG so knew what to expect. Burnie is on the north coast of Tasmania, approximately 500km/310mil from Melbourne by sea.

The day before the cruise I was surprised to get an email from Cunard saying that although the cruise would be going ahead, we might need to skip visiting Burnie as further hull cleaning was required before the QE’s New Zealand cruise which was to follow ours; if this was to happen we would each receive 100% FCC and $150 onboard credit (spending money), a more than generous offer.

What happened? The hull cleaning had to be abandoned because of rough seas, we did go to Burnie (to the regret of those hoping for the FCC) and those who joined the ship on Feb 14th expecting to go round New Zealand found themselves on a cruise to Queensland and back! If you’re interested, read the story on Cruise Critic.

Back to my cruise: I won’t say much about the ship since I’ve done this before. Day one was spent at sea. Plenty to do, including the Sunday church service conducted by the captain – a Cunard tradition – and a superb lecture given by Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Secretary 2013-18 and now Chancellor of Australia National University – lots of great stories about her meetings with many world leaders.

At the end of day one I fell into bed not knowing what was to happen on day two. I’d assumed that the messaging was to prepare us for missing Burnie so it was a big surprise to wake up, draw back the curtains, and see that we were docked with a huge woodchip mountain in front of my balcony.

So after a quick breakfast I set off on my booked cruise ship excursion, to the Don Valley Railway excursion, Bass Strait Maritime Centre and Home Hill.

The Don River Railway is a volunteer-run preserved railway that runs trains on a 3.1km stretch of track that was once part of the Tasmanian railway system. We rode on a two-carriage train hauled by V2, a 1947 diesel built in UK by Vulcan Foundry, Lancs. Trains are steam-hauled on Sundays and public holidays. I rode in their 1908 ex-Hobart suburban carriage. After the train ride we were given a tour of the impressive workshops. Excellent friendly volunteers – I hope we do as well at Newport.

On to the Bass Strait Maritime Centre, Devonport. Not huge but lots to look at.

Our excellent tour guide, Colleen, had promised us that she’d saved the best till last. And so it was. We drove to Home Hill, the home of Joseph Lyons (1879-1939), Australia’s only (so far) Tasmanian Prime Minister (1932-39) and his wife Enid (1897-1981) who became a notable public figure in her own right after her husband’s early death – she was the first woman elected to federal parliament. After Dame Enid’s death the house was preserved and open to the public. As elsewhere, the volunteer guides were excellent.

The house was built in 1916 when the Lyons married and extended as the family (12 children!) grew. It remains largely as it was when Dame Enid last lived there in 1981, complete with her original furnishings and memorabilia. It was interesting to see these, and I came away with my knowledge of Australian history significantly enhanced.

Then back to the ship for dinner. On my New Zealand cruise solo travellers like me were assigned individual tables at dinner as an anti-Covid precaution; this time I was glad to be put on a shared table with seven other solos who were very good company and we were more than well looked after by our table steward, Thando. Then back to Melbourne. All too soon the cruise was over.

Prev: 2023 cruise #1; Next: 2023 cruise #3.

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2023 cruise #1: New Zealand

Finally I’m back on a cruise ship!

I tend to book cruises as soon as they go on sale, so at when Covid first surfaced I had three booked. After multiple cruise cancellations and rebooks over the last three years, 2023 begins with three cruises in ten weeks.

My first post-Covid (or should this be ‘Covid-era’?) cruise on the Grand Princess and my longest (13 nights, 5 sea days) so far, was from Melbourne, round New Zealand and home again.

Here’s a quick summary: I won’t try and give a detailed guide to each place since lots of other people have done this already. Apart from Napier, I didn’t take any of the ship tours, choosing to do my own thing.

Fiordland

After two sea days we reached Fiordland at the far south west of NZ’s South Island. Several cruise ships have recently been refused entry to these waters because of hull contamination issues; fortunately we were fine.

The highlight of the day (arguably of the cruise) was the early morning cruise around Milford Sound, nominated by Rudyard Kipling as his eighth wonder of the world.

The weather was perfect; friends who have been to the Sound experienced rain and fog. Then on to Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound before sailing for Port Chalmers, the nearest port to Dunedin.

Port Chalmers (Dunedin)

At Port Chalmers I stepped onto foreign soil for the first time since my mid-2019 UK trip. A NZ$35 (return) shuttle bus ran from the dock into Dunedin, conveniently (for me), stopping near the railway station. The station is a spectacular building, unfortunately half-shrouded in scaffolding when we were there.

Then up to the Octagon at the heart of the city, St Paul’s Cathedral, Otago Museum, then back to the Toitu Settlers Museum, before getting the shuttle back to the ship.

Lyttleton (Christchurch)

The overnight sail took us to Lyttleton, the port for Christchurch, 12km away. Another NZ$35 shuttle.

Christchurch has been, sadly, totally reshaped by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes which killed 185 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, including the iconic cathedral spire.

After walking round the city centre I went on to the Quake Museum where I spent a couple of hours taking in the horror that Christchurch residents lived through (and still do to a degree). Then a walk through the Botanic Gardens and past the Arts Centre buildings to get the shuttle back to the ship.

At Christchurch my one and only credit card stopped being accepted by card readers which left me with a just small amount of cash – I know to be better prepared next time!

Wellington

On to North Island. Our third port day, Sunday Jan 15th, was spent in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. The shuttle bus was free this time. Yet another beautiful sunny day.

Before it got too hot I climbed to the Mount Victoria lookout (196m) with its stunning views over the city then back down to the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. The Gallipoli gallery reminded me of the huge sacrifices made by NZ troops in WW1. In total I walked more than 22,500 steps.

Napier

Another, day, another port: Napier. This was the only place where I took a ship tour, and I am glad I did: an hour’s coach tour followed by a visit to the Art Deco Centre then an excellent guided walk around the city centre.

On the morning of 3 February 1931 Napier city centre was destroyed by a massive earthquake and ensuing fires. Within a few years it was largely rebuilt and now has one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Art Deco buildings.

After the walk we were left to explore on our own. The seafront with its beautiful floral displays brought back memories of happy childhood seaside holidays.

Tauranga

Port five, Mount Maunganui/Tauranga, was a bit different: no sightseeing, rather a chance to meet up with friends of 40+ years, who emigrated to NZ in 1996. Tugs pulled us off the quay: large ships aren’t allowed to use bow thrusters as they could damage the quays.

Soon after departure the captain made a somewhat opaque announcement re increasing respiratory infections (carefully not using the ‘C’ word), warned us that the programme might need to be changed, and reiterated that we were required (not requested) to wear masks in public areas except when eating and drinking.

Auckland

Last stop before sailing home. Just six hours in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city: we had to sail at 1500 so as to leave the harbour clear for commuter ferries.

I enjoyed more sunshine walking round the city centre, finishing up at the New Zealand Maritime Museum. Nine days later Auckland experienced unprecedented rain and massive floods.

The unexpected

The voyage back from Auckland to Melbourne took three full sea days. It was a little choppy along the way which upset my system – so sad not to be able to enjoy all the good food on offer.

Not on the schedule was a helicopter medivac on the last full day. The helicopter was at the end of its range so after dropping two paramedics had to return to the mainland to refuel, then returning to the ship to collect the paramedics and patient. Hopefully he/she has made a full recovery and had travel insurance.

Life on board

With the veiled Covid warnings I decided to play safe and gave most of the mass entertainment a miss. I did though go to the sea day Bible studies – it’s left to those attending to decide how these are run and the ones on this voyage were not as good as some I’ve engaged in previously.

What gave me particular joy was listening to the recitals given by the Amethyst Duo, two young women from Ukraine, Varvara (piano) and Valeriia (violin). For them, a world away from home in more senses than one.

The pre-destination lectures given by tour manager Sue Beard were truly excellent. I had a Club Class cabin so ate in a reserved area of the Da Vinci dining room. My waiters Rommel and Nishi were outstanding. Across the board, the crew members I met could be not be faulted.

In summary, since I was a solo travelled and opted for a mini-suite it wasn’t a cheap cruise, but for me the experience more than justified the cost. But currently two people sharing an interior cabin can do an identical 12-night cruise for just A$1198 (~£700) – cheaper than staying in a cheap hotel and that’s before you factor in meals, entertainment etc.

Now to 2023 cruise number two!

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Cruise map (from Princess Cruises)

Grand Princess

Grand Princess

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Maori canoe, Toitu Museum, Dunedin

Maori canoe, Toitu Museum, Dunedin

Picture of Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake

Picture of Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake

Christchurch Arts Centre

One of the Christchurch Arts Centre buildings

View over Wellington from Mount Victoria

View over Wellington from Mount Victoria

Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Art Deco Centre, Napier

Art Deco Centre, Napier

Daily Telegraph building, Napier

Daily Telegraph building, Napier

Making a new friend in Tauranga

Making a new friend in Tauranga

Auckland

Auckland

Auckland Ferry Terminal

Auckland Ferry Terminal, 1912

Medivac helicopter

The sight you don’t want to see

Beautiful music from the Amethyst Duo

Beautiful music from the Amethyst Duo

Melbourne from Station Pier

Home!

 

Return of the Cruise Ships

Coral Princess approaches Station Pier

Coral Princess approaches Station Pier, 15th Sept 2022

For those of us in Melbourne who love looking at and travelling on cruise ships it’s been a long time since the 2019-2020 season was brought to a premature end by Covid on March 19th 2020. Then nothing for two and a half years until we had a visit from the Coral Princess on September 15th. She was welcomed with fire hoses as media helicopters overhead reported her arrival. But then nothing ….

Carnival Spendor and Pacific Adventure at Station Pier

Carnival Spendor and Pacific Adventure at Station Pier, 1st Nov 2022

… until this week – the first Tuesday in November being Melbourne Cup day – when the cruise ship season proper restarted, the Pacific Adventure, Pacific Encounter and Carnival Splendor bringing in thousands of visitors to watch the big race – just sad for our visitors that the weather was so cold, wet and generally unwelcoming. But that’s Melbourne for you – we’re now forecast to have temperatures in the mid-20s all this coming week.

Grand Princess leaving Melbourne

Grand Princess leaving Melbourne, 4th Nov 2022

Of particular interest to me, last Friday morning (Nov 4th) the Grand Princess arrived from Sydney. She’ll be based here all season, running thirteen cruises from Melbourne, the most important of which is the one I’ll be on in January, my first cruise since 2020. That evening I watched her sail for Port Chalmers, Dunedin, the first post-Covid cruise originating from Melbourne. After circumnavigating New Zealand she’ll be back here on Nov 17th. Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, which will also be homeported here all season arrives next Sunday Nov 13th. I’ll be there to see her.

Melbourne’s cruise terminal is Station Pier, Port Melbourne. From its opening in 1854 it was linked to Flinders Street Station 3mi/4.5km away, by Australia’s first railway, replaced in 1987 by tram 109. During WW2 huge numbers of troops passed through Station Pier. After WW2 it was the arrival point for emigrants to Victoria: between 1949 and 1966, an average of 61,000 passengers arrived every year, peaking at 110,802 in 1960.

Spirit of Tasmania I and Seabourn Odyssey at Station Pier

Spirit of Tasmania I and Seabourn Odyssey at Station Pier, 22nd Feb 2010

With the development of aviation this trade disappeared and the pier saw fewer and fewer visitors, the main source of traffic being the daily ferries to Tasmania. On 23 October 2022, TT-Line moved its Victorian terminal from Station Pier to a new terminal just outside Geelong, leaving Station Pier as a dedicated cruise ship terminal.

One of my regrets is that cruise ships can’t come up river and dock in Victoria Harbour below my balcony. Why not? Because the 1990s Bolte Bridge was constructed with a clearance of 25m, far too low for today’s cruise ships (the Queen Elizabeth, now classed as a mid-sized ship rises 56.6m above the waterline). But cruising was very much a minority interest then. The Melbourne 2004-05 cruise season (the first for which PoM statistics are recorded) saw just 16 ship visits with 34,839 passengers and crew. Ten years later this had grown to 75 and 242,854 respectively. This season we’ll see more than a hundred ship visits with 120 visits provisionally booked for 2023-4. Hopefully our shortly-to-be-elected new state government will work with all interested parties to ensure that continuing growth is catered for and our visitors enjoy their time here.

2020 cruise – back on the Queen Elizabeth

2020’s cruise was my fifth and longest so far: seven nights from Melbourne to Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Hobart, then home. After last year’s Queen Elizabeth cruise to Brisbane I was really looking forward to being back on board.

No upgrade this year! After two out of two Cunard upgrades it would have been a bit much to expect another one. A couple of days before departure my heart leapt on seeing an email titled ATTN: Anthony Bryer – Upgrade Notice but it was merely notifying me that I’d been moved from a cabin on Deck 8 to a very similar one (grade BB to grade BA) on Deck 6. It suited me well – deck plans

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

With no upgrade, boarding meant joining an unnecessarily long queue (it would have been a lot shorter had people not been allowed to join it until their allotted time) and each night turning up promptly for dinner in the Britannia Room at 5.45p.m. (I chose early dining) rather than any time dining. As on previous cruises, I was very fortunate in my table companions, especially 93-year old Patricia, still enjoying life to the full. Excellent food and top-notch service.

Not surprisingly soon after sailing we were told that we would skip Kangaroo Island because of the bushfires, with an extra day at sea being substituted. All us passengers felt for the people of eastern Kangaroo Island who weren’t in the immediate fire zone but lost out on thousands of money-spending cruise visitors – we were one of several cruise ships whose planned visits were cancelled.

But the extra sea day was fine by me: there’s never enough time to do everything on the daily entertainments programme. On this cruise one of the guest lecturers was Dr Richard Harris, a key member of the Thailand cave rescue diver team. Unfortunately due to a programme clash I had to miss his main talk, but his Q&A session gave us all an insight into the massive responsibility he and his colleagues had shouldered, knowing that it could all have ended in tragedy. His recognition as joint Australian of the Year last weekend was all too well deserved.

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

For the first time, I joined the solo traveller group – ‘solo’ not be confused with ‘single’, since some solos may well have left partners at home. On sea days social host Cordelia did a brilliant job organising coffee mornings, a couple of lunches and reserved tables at afternoon tea. Like my dinner table, good company, much enjoyed.

Finally the other first-time experience was to go on the behind the scenes tour, not cheap but a great experience. I’d love to post some pics but it was strictly no cameras, no phones. The tour included going backstage in the theatre, meeting a couple of the ‘Top Hat’ cast, the medical centre, winch room, massive food stores, print shop, galley and, the high spot, meeting the captain on the bridge.

All in all, a brilliant cruise. Read about my day in Port Adelaide.

Queen Elizabeth mini cruise 2019

Main staircase

Main staircase

This year I went somewhere new (to me), Brisbane, getting there in style on Cunard’s MS Queen Elizabeth. She’s one of eleven Vista-class ships, built by Fincantieri in 2010 and accommodates 2000+ passengers .
On the outside QE may look like many other cruise ships, but inside her decor reflects her Cunard ownership: top class Art Deco throughout the main public areas – I’m not known for my life of fine art, but I couldn’t help but enjoy such wonderful design and craftsmanship.

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

The cruise was just four nights: we left a cold wet Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, then spent Sunday at sea, docking at Circular Quay, Sydney on Monday.
After a good relaxing day with a friend – riding Sydney Harbour ferries! – it was back on board for another two nights and a day at sea before arriving at Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

This was only my second Cunard cruise and again I was upgraded to a suite! This meant dining in the more exclusive Princess Grill restaurant instead of the main dining hall. In my younger days I would have been scared stiff at having to dine with a group of ‘strangers’ but now I see it as something to look forward to – the chance to meet up with people I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered, meeting them over several evenings. My dining companions were very good company.
I did sample the famed afternoon white glove tea once, but you can only eat so much!

Music for our pleasure

Music for our pleasure

Filling the two sea days was no problem. As is the tradition, the captain conducted a well-attended Sunday morning service. An ad-hoc Christian Fellowship meeting was held on Tuesday morning which gave me a chance to meet another group of people. The QE has a large theatre used for stage shows in the evening; during the day it hosted a series of lectures. I went to two on whales and dolphins, and one on Captain Cook’s voyage mapping Australia’s east coast. Various types of music were offered around the ship. Much else to do as well, but not enough time. In no time we’d arrived in Brisbane and it was time to say goodbye … until next year’s cruise!

Golden Princess mini cruise March 2018

Year by year my calendar seems to get fuller. When I came to Australia in 2008 the one fixed point was my promise to go back and see family and friends once a year – always, for obvious reasons, during the British summer so as to escape a few weeks of our winter. An annual visit to Thailand to catch up with my brother and family was added in 2014, then a post-Christmas mini-break to somewhere new in Australia, and from 2017 a short cruise.

The Golden Princess at Port Melbourne

The Golden Princess at Port Melbourne

This year’s cruise couldn’t have been more mini – just two nights/one day sailing from Melbourne to Adelaide on the Golden Princess. At 109,000 tons she is a large ship, though not the largest by a long way.

Thursday – embarcation

Boarding took a little while with 800 new passengers joining the ship. Once on board I made for the Horizon Court buffet restaurant for a late lunch and was then on deck for our 4.00p.m. departure (most cruise ships leave at 6.00). At that point I realised that we’d be sailing through Port Phillip Heads (the narrow gap that separates the Southern Ocean from the bay) in daylight … but I’d opted for early dining so would probably be eating when we passed through the Heads.

Port Lonsdale lighthouse

Port Lonsdale lighthouse

I made my excuses to my table companions, skipped dessert, and made it on deck as we just passed through the heads, passing Point Lonsdale lighthouse, somewhere I’d visited on land a number of times. Being tired I didn’t stay up for the late night entertainment.

Friday – at sea

Before breakfast I joined an informal Bible Study group – six of us, three from Melbourne, one each from UK, Sweden and Switzerland. As with a number of other affinity group meetings, the crew has no part in this – a venue is nominated and it’s up to those who turn up to decide what they do. Then – putting diet aside – a full cooked breakfast in the Horizon Court. In my defence I always used the lifts and on Friday, according to my phone, smashed my 6,000 steps a day target, managing 11,046 steps. A good talk by a retired Federal police officer on scams, then lunch, then afternoon tea.

Music

Starlight string trio

Starlight string trio

Before dinner I enjoyed listening to the Starlight Trio. Tonight’s excellent dinner was unhurried, then into a packed theatre for the production show.

More music

Colin Salter, entertainer

Colin Salter, entertainer

My intention was to have another early night but I was attracted by one Colin Salter singing while accompanying himself on the piano. “Just one more,” I told myself, then another and another.

Saturday – back on land

I was awake at six to see us docking at Adelaide’s Outer Harbour. Time for another Horizon Court breakfast, then off the ship for my weekend in Adelaide.

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Two Queens and me

As I write this, the magnificent Cunard flagship RMS Queen Mary 2 is docked at Port Melbourne giving her 2,500+ passengers a chance to sample our wonderful city and surroundings. Her time as the world’s largest passenger ship was short (being overtaken by Freedom of the Seas in 2006), but she still has a special place in my heart.

1959

Between 1957 and 1959 my father worked in the British Embassy in Mexico City – it was a good life in a fine embassy house, two native maids (with whom I could apparently communicate in native Spanish) and a driver. On the outward trip we crossed the Atlantic on the Cunard RMS Media, a 250-passenger/cargo ship, then on by train from New York.

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

Two years later dad’s contract was over. Back then there were no ‘family friendly’ policies so for the homeward trip the British government put him on a plane so as to get him back to work asap, leaving my mum to cope with two small children for the four day train trip to NYC, then a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary.

This is a picture of me with my sister enjoying the crossing. Not so much fun for my mum though: with two small children and no husband to hand she had next no chance to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 1959 was notable as being the last year when more people crossed the Atlantic by sea than by air. By the mid 1960s the writing was on the wall and in 1967 the Queen Mary with withdrawn from service and sold to the city of Long Beach for use as a floating hotel and tourist attraction.

2004

The end of the twentieth century saw cruise ships becoming more and more popular. In 1998 Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard with a view to re-establishing it as a premium brand. In 2000 they placed the order for what would become the  Queen Mary 2, a true ocean liner, not just a cruise ship. For several years she held the distinction of being the longest (1,132ft) and largest (148,528 GT) passenger ship ever built. The QM2 entered service in 2004.

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

At this time I was still living in the UK. My mother held a few shares in Carnival and received an invitation to visit the new ship and I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on a special shareholder open day at Southampton, 24 May 2004. The programme (cover above) is one of my treasured possessions.

2010

By now I was living in Melbourne. I decided to turn my annual trip to visit family into the UK into a round-the-world trip, going on to the Software Industry Conference in Dallas, followed by a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade!

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

It was a wonderful experience, especially being able to explore parts of the ship that would have never been open to passengers during her revenue-earning days.

2017

We get an ever-increasing number of cruise ships visiting Melbourne and I have taken many Sunday afternoon trips down to Port Melbourne (a short tram ride away) to see them sail out. I was thrilled when Queen Mary 2 made her first visit here in 2014. I was even more thrilled to see that her 2017 itinerary included a 4-night cruise from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island and back to Melbourne, both affordable and compatible with work. Needless to say, I booked immediately.

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

And even better, I got upgraded from a balcony cabin to a suite! At first I wondered why since I wasn’t a long-standing customer but I now think that it’s because they were short of single men.  Apart from the suite itself, this meant that I was now dining in the more exclusive Princes Grill restaurant. On my table of six my dining partner was a very pleasant retired woman …. from Twickenham, living not a mile from where I’d spent my first 50+ years! The cruise was a wonderful experience: the ship, the staff, the food and table companions who might have been chosen just for me.