A Day of Days

April 23, 2008 -

John Heald

Yesterday there was a board meeting where God made an executive decision and directed Mother Nature to send the cold and miserable damp weather to that had been hovering over us for the last three days to where it belonged……………France. ………and replace it with the most beautiful of spring days.

So it was that Southampton awoke to clear blue skies and shirtsleeve weather which set the scene for A Day of Days.

My drive from Essex to Hampshire started at 8 am and I had given myself extra time to arrive at the docks because I would have to travel along the most notorious motorway (freeway) in the UK…………a road called the M25. Usually this is nothing more than a parking lot as there are always road works and accidents and lane closures……….however yesterday it was as though someone had told every other driver in Britain to stay at home…………John is coming and he has a Royal appointment………because the M25 was empty. As I sped along in my Ozone-killing machine of a Range Rover listening to the radio I was excited to hear that the BBC news mention what was about to happen on their hourly bulletins. During the three-hour journey I had lots of time to think, not just about the event itself but also about my life and the journeys I have been on since the blog started.

Before my thingy hit the world wide of web I was just a Cruise Director……….I guess I still am……….just a Cruise Director ……….yet, here I was heading to one of the most important events of the year………….and at the personal invitation of the President of Cunard…….Miss Carol Marlow. I contemplated pinching myself but considering I was doing 90 MPH (my apologies to any Police Officer reading this blog) I didn’t think that was such a good idea. However, it did make me realize how lucky I am and what a privilege it was.

When you arrive on the busy road that takes you to Southampton Docks there are large billboards in the center reservation. These huge boards advertise ………stuff………..and the companies that pay huge sums of money to advertise their products must be absolutely stark raving bonkers………………..what a total waste of money. Ask anyone , myself included, what those boards say and nobody ……….nobody will be able to tell you………because…………….when you drive down that road and there is a Cunard ship in town………….nobody has eyes for anything except the famous smokestack…………so you can imagine what it was like with three of the famous Cunard funnels on display.

As the traffic crawled along I watched as young and old pointed through their car windows at what they saw…………those Billboards could have advertised “Today Only, Free Aston Martins with a trunk full of Gold”…………………nobody would have seen it…………the people had seen the three Queens……………nothing else mattered.

The only time I have ever seen the Queen Mary 2 is when she docked with us in Cannes two years ago. I was on the Carnival Liberty and I remember the awesome sight as I stood on the bridge and watched through powerful binoculars as she dropped her anchor.

This time though I was up close and personal and like many before me and many who were doing the same now I stood there, my mouth wide open in pure astonishment.

You know, it is at times like this that I wish I was a skilled professional travel writer and properly describe how mighty this vessel is……………ok, you can use words such as massive, huge, gigantic but for me……….I stood on the quayside…………none of those words seemed appropriate. Those metaphors seem to make The Queen Mary 2 sound……well…….cumbersome………overweight……..a big lump of a thing. Those words may describe me but it does not seem right to describe her like this. Yes she is a towering 150,000 tons of Ocean Liner but there is something else…………think of her not as a bulked up huge bodybuilder but a fully loaded, Triathlon athlete who is all muscle and zero percent body fat able to run a marathon or the 100-meter sprint.

I walked into the Cunard Terminal looking resplendent with the Union Jack flags and bunting and before I walked onboard I was immediately struck by something else…………something very strange…………everyone who was checking in…………..looked very strange……….this couldn’t be correct……….the people checking in looked just like……………you and me.

I couldn’t believe it …………where were the Rolls Royces and Bentleys with their Chauffeurs opening the door for Lord and Lady Moneybags – Smythe …………where were the Butlers carrying the rich and tanned’s Louis Vitton cases?

Instead of Rolls Royces there were Fords and BMW’s…………….instead of Lord and Lady Money Bags Smythe there was Mr and Mrs Smith from Birmingham England and Mr and Mrs Smith from Birmingham, Alabama……………these people could have been boarding a Princess, Carnival or any one of our sister vessels…………in fact many of them have I am sure. These people were sailing on a Trans Atlantic voyage for prices starting at £799……and that includes a return flight……………….that’s me and you prices.

As I waited for my pass to be authorized I watched and listened to British, American, Canadian and many other accents all expressing their excitement to be boarding the Queen Mary 2. There were young people, middle aged and older passengers and even two dogs…….yep…………two dogs called Bud and Bo. They stood in line with their owners looking excited to sail as the passengers. I asked them if this was their first voyage and I guess I should not have been surprised to hear that this was their fifth Cunard cruise and their third Trans Atlantic. Now, please do not ask me what breed they were. All I can tell you is that they were short and pudgy…………and I have no idea what breed the dogs were either…………just kidding. What I can tell you is that the lovely owners of the pudgy dogs were from Chicago and were waiting for Cunard’s Kennel Master to come and collect them. I found this absolutely fascinating and wanted to find out more but just then the Hotel Manager David arrived so I had to say goodbye to the two dogs and their owners. Right now they are probably having a wonderful time, running around the decks being pampered and groomed and fed the finest food there is……………..I wonder what the dogs are doing.

One other thing I noticed also was how many people were boarding displaying their love and affection for everything that was and is Cunard. There were jackets, baseball caps, tote bags and lapel pins all of which showed not just what Cunard ship they had been on and how many times but what voyage. I had never seen this before…………yes……….a few people will board wearing a Carnival or Holland America T Shirt for example but never had I seen so many people do this ……………and at embarkation. It was as though they looked upon these as displays of mass affection and great pride and they wanted their fellow passengers and the crew to see that they…………….loved Cunard.

David Stephenson the Hotel Manager met me with a handshake that could crush a coconut and as he introduced himself he probably thought I was overcome with emotion at meeting him………………however, as happy as I was that he had taken his valuable time to be my guide the tears were because I had just shaken hands with James “bone crusher” Stephenson. I will describe the highlights of my tour of the vessel in a moment but I want to say thank you to David for showing me the vessel. As I mentioned, Embarkation day is the busiest day for any vessel and nobody is busier than the Hotel Manager orManageress . ……..thanks mate and it was an honour to have my hand broken by a man who obviously has such passion for his job.

Exploring the Queen Mary 2 was like being a time traveler. One moment you are in a beautiful lounge or dining room which transports you back to the Ocean Liners of yesterday and the next minute you are in the future enjoying the latest in entertainment and relaxation luxury. ………………I have quite simply never seen anything like it. Every single lounge, bar, dining area, corridor and cabin would be totally comfortable gracing the front cover of “The Most Luxurious and Best Designed Everything in The World” magazine……………I have never seen anything like it.

There is a planetarium the first and only one at sea. During the day this huge lounge acts as a cinema………….the most luxurious at sea. Then, the ceiling lowers and the guests deep red cushioned seats recline and …………….you can look at all the glories of the stars and planets……………..I have never seen anything like it.

David also took me to see some cabins from a regular outside balcony cabin which oozed luxury and splendor of the massive suites complete with more marble than Julius Cesar’s bathroom. These suites had every luxury you could think of and some that normal people like me would never think of…………some suites had an upstairs and a downstairs and some………….wait for it…………..had their own private elevator…………….I have never seen anything like it.

I could go on and on about the finest dining areas I have ever seen, the Queens Room, The Todd English Restaurant, The Verve Cliquot Bar, The Commodore Club, The Queens Grill and The Princess Grill, The Canyon Ranch Ultra Luxury Spa, The Rada Theatre workshop and Stunning Showroom providing both brilliant shows and entrainment along with guest speakers whose performances will no doubt enhance the passengers experience beyond measure. The art work, the deep and welcoming sofas and chairs in every lounge and then the little things such as tables set with board games and jigsaws………..not still in the box but set up ready to use…………………….I have never seen anything like it.

Now, I could go into more detail about each lounge, cabin and I have not even mentioned the service………………however, here in lies a problem. If I talk about this now then when Cunard invite me to sail on her at the end of the year I won’t have anything to write about…………..see…………….who’s a clever boy then?

I have never seen anything like it…………….these words were echoing around my head during the entire day and none more so during my visit to The Queen Mary 2. If you love cars, you have to drive a Ferrari…………..If you love planes to say that you saw or even flew on Concord is something that you can be proud of………….if you love ships……….if you truly love ships then you have to………………I mean ……………have to…………..sail on this vessel. There will be bigger, there will be ships with parks and mountains and roller coasters and dinosaurs and who the heck knows what…………….but there will only ever be one Queen Mary 2 and with the pending retirement of her sister Elizabeth…………she becomes the most important Ocean Liner………………..in the world.

You are Mr and Mrs. Smith………..you are Cunard…………..I have never ever seen anything like this ship………………..and when you sail you will see what I mean ………………….do you love ships?…………………..if the answer is yes…………….then you know what to do.

I nearly pinched myself driving to the ship and the next time I nearly did this was when I had lunch in the Queens Grill. Amongst those joining me was Eric and Michael who the head honchos from Cunard’s Public Relations Department. Now, considering all the important people who were here especially from the press this was a very special privilege. We had a wonderful time and like a vaudeville comedy act they kept me entertained and made me feel at home as I devoured my seafood salad and sirloin steak with caramelized onions. Once again, here I was a simple Cruise Director being wined and dined as if I was the head travel writer for The New York Times………………I was Alice and I was in wonderland………………ok………….I have decided that was a bad reference as it conjures up a picture of me with pigtails and shiny red high heeled shoes……………so instead……….lets just say I was ” gobsmacked.”

The gobsmacking continued as after lunch we boarded the Queen Victoria. I had visited her twice during construction as you may remember from previous blogs as well as attending the incomparable naming ceremony. Therefore, as I walked up the gangway it was as if I was coming home to a pair of comfortable slippers and a home filled with great friends.

Here was another pinching moment……………..the Queen Mary 2 to the Queen Victoria. I had left Buckingham Palace and moved into Windsor Castle.

We were heading for the Commodore Club and again my skin was about to receive the good news from my thumb and forefinger as I pinched myself yet again. The Commodore room which by the way is forward of the ship and has stunning views was set up for a private function …………………for the press…………………I was press…………and I didn’t even have a notebook and a pencil or drink scotch.

As I entered I was met by Peter Shanks who is Carnival UK’s Chief Commercial Officer and most importantly one of the nicest chaps you will ever meet and someone who lives and breathes ocean liners and cruise ships. Peter chatted with me and as he did so I looked for a piece of skin that wasn’t yet bruised from my pinching ………………I could not believe that with so many other important press and VIP’s in the room Peter wanted to talk with me………and as he did he was like a kid in a candy store, eyes wide with excitement as he spoke about the forthcoming event.

Oh, just one quick segue here. Peter and Cunard’s President Carol Marlow had just returned from a short voyage on the Queen Victoria. I say short because many of the guests onboard had been there a bit longer…………….three months. They were returning from the Queen Victoria’s maiden World Cruise and Peter told me about the special event they attended.

This was a World Cruise Dinner held in Lisbon where they joined the guests who had been onboard the entire voyage for a special tribute dinner. Peter also told me that the passengers also held Farwell parties with the friends they had made during their extensive time onboard.

I am sure it must have been quiet a shock to disembark after three months, leaving the insulated world of five star service and pampering and never having to look at your watch to the hustle and bustle of everyday life…………………what stories they could tell. I wonder if I could interview one of them………….let’s see.

I also met my old mate Steve Read who is a travel writer for the Sun newspaper as well as his own wonderful cruise website and it’s always a joy to see him.

Steve, Peter and I stood and chatted and not wanting to appear rude I munched on a few of the sandwiches that had been prepared for The Press……………that was me………..the salmon ones were fantastic. As I munched we listened to a welcoming speech from Carol Marlow…………….now, I say speech…………….but that’s not right…………..let me think how best to describe how she delivered her presentation.

Do you remember when you were at school you had something called “show and tell??”……you know ……….some kids would bring a fossil……….a skateboard or a photo of Marcia Brady from the Brady Bunch……………..ok…………that was just me then……….I loved Marcia Brady.

Anyway, this was like adult professional “show and tell” and just like a kid would stand in front of their friends and tell you with such pride that their skateboard was the best in the world………………..so it was with Ms Marlow. She talked to us, it wasn’t a speech it was a……….story………….a story told by someone who wanted to “show and tell” the esteemed members gather in the Commodore Club that they were about to be part of something so very special………………..and so it came to be. I am so impressed with Ms. Marlow and her ability to make everyone feel at ease and express her total passion for Cunard with such grace.

Carol and Peter led a group of about 30 of us off the Queen Victoria and onto a boat. We all gathered on the top open deck and each of us giving silent praise that the sun still shone and the sky was so blue. Amongst the group were professional photographers, local and national press, VIP’s, Travel Agents, Cunards Tope Executives and oh yes………….me and when I witnessed what was happening I knew pinching myself was never going to be enough……………I needed someone to pour an ice cold bucket of water over me and then slap me round the face with a large herring………surely I was dreaming.

There just a few feet in front of us was the Queen Mary 2 letting go her lines and setting sail for her Trans Atlantic voyage…………..but the Atlantic would have to wait because first of all she and her sisters were about to have the world’s greatest ever family hug……………and I had a ring side seat.

Waiting for Mary was Victoria herself ready to sail of to the Canary Islands where by the way you will never find any Canaries………which leads me on to The Virgin Islands ……….. never mind.

So, there she was………….The Queen Mary sailing past the Queen Victoria to complete her turn and then to sail past her one more time before heading to New York. Once past the Queen Victoria her older and much loved sister and role model Queen Elizabeth 2 waited alongside the dock where she is undergoing a period of refitting.

The sight of Queen Mary 2 sailing past the Queen Victoria was astonishing and a feeling of awe and amazement were I am sure what everyone was feeling.

However, those emotions would change when the mighty Queen Mary 2 sailed past the Queen Elizabeth 2nd……………it was as though one was handing over the responsibilities of the family to the other. I have no idea why but as the Queen Mary 2 sailed past Queen Elizabeth 2 I had a strange flashback which I want to share with you……….its from the most unlikely source……………a TV program called…………..ER.

I remember a very heart felt moment when Dr.Greene, knowing that he had an incurable illness and not wanting to say a long drawn out goodbye simply handed his stethoscope to a young Dr.Carter and simply said…………………”you set the tone”………….and in a way as one sailed by the other and their ships horns sounded ………it was as though the Queen Elizabeth 2 was simply saying to The Queen Mary 2…………”I will be gone soon……..and when I am………….you set the tone.”

There will be time to honour the retirement of the Queen Elizabeth 2 this autumn but for now with the Queen Mary 2 at the head of the family and her gorgeous sister Queen Victoria and the new addition in 2010 Queen Elizabeth Cunard will have the grandest and…………newest fleet of ships………………in the world.

Pomp and Circumstance…………nobody does it like the British and as the Three Queens were together again hundreds of people lined the dockside cheering and waving flags and a large flotilla of private boats followed Queen Mary and Queen Victoria out to see sounding their ships whistles and in proclamation and homage to the these magnificent ships who proudly carry with them the historical name ………………of Cunard.

I wonder where Cunard would be now if Carnival Corporation had not breathed new and exciting life into them ……………..I wonder if Mr. Arison and his colleagues realize that what they have done is to allow future generations to experience a Cunard voyage.

I would never dare to second-guess our Chairman and C.E.O. but something tells me that rejuvenating Cunard by building the magnificence that is Queen Mary 2 must surely be one of the greatest achievements of his professional life and all of us who stood and watched yesterday thank him so very much.

The title of today’s blog is………….A Day of Days…………….where does that come from?

Well, a few days ago I watched a program on the Discovery Channel about a surfer who had waited for 3 years for the “perfect surfing wave” on a beach in Hawaii. Well, he finally got his wish and rode this giant wave while his friends filmed it……………the sight was simply awesome. The interviewer asked him to describe the feeling of what he had just seen and done…………….pausing…………….he thought for a moment and simply said………” \today, was a day of days.”

Well, for me, visiting the Queen Mary 2 and seeing her and her sisters together gave me……….”A day of days”…………….and one I will never ever forget.

Here are some professional photos from the event


 

 
Goodnight

Your Friends

John and Heidi

PS -I will publish all my photos tomorrow………….there are lots of them so look forward to that.

PPS – Just to see how important this event was have a look at the front page of one of the most viewed websites in the world…………….www.bbc.co.uk/news

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.