Well I really must learn to read my travel information more carefully - though even though the man who checked us in for the coach transport to Southampton agreed that the ship transfer information was written somewhat ambiguously. I found that other people also experienced the same confusion regarding where to go, so it must be partly the way the Cunard documentation is written.
Basically the transfer details state: meet the Cunard representative at the Information desk at Victoria Station and they will direct you where to go to get the coach. Then it says that the coach will leave from the Victoria Coach Station between 11 and 12, and gives the address.
What it does not say is that the information desk to which you must go is at the Victoria Coach Station. For foreigners who have not done their advance research and who do not know that Victoria Station and Victoria Coach station are two separate locations, that is a problem as they are more than two very long city blocks apart.
Continuing on from my visit to London 2010: For Restaurants, Theatre and Shows, the adventure at sea begins.
Courtesy of Cunard, the map shows the clockwise route for the cruise round the British Isles from Southampton, with 10 nights at sea. First we cross the English Channel to visit Cherbourg, then travel through the Celtic and Irish Seas, stopping at Cobh, Dublin, Liverpool and Belfast; then on to to Glasgow. With a full day at sea we sail through the North Sea round the Northern tip of Britain to Edinburgh, followed by another full day at sea before reaching Southampton again.
Coming from London, I had booked a transfer to Southampton with Cunard. Re-routing to avoid congestion from an accident, and an additional delay at a rest-stop, significantly increased the stated journey time.
The bus from Victoria Coach Station pulled into the Ocean Cruise Terminal at Southampton two hours late around 3:30. With only 45 minutes left for check-in, most passengers were already on board. It took only a few minutes for me to have my ticket and passport checked, register a credit card for on-board purchases, and get my key card for the cabin.
The first thing that struck me on walking into the welcome cocktail party, was that apart from Wendy, how many of the other dancers I knew from my previous cruises with Dancers At Sea. From my first West coast Wine Tasting and Dance Cruise, there was Raoul, one of the hosts, and guests Nancy, Dean, Bruce, Dr. Bill, Ginny and Bill. On the Labour Weekend Getaway Dance Cruise I met Bill C, one of the dance hosts.
Since the first port of call for the Queen Victoria was Cherbourg in France, the clocks were set forward an hour at midnight on Thursday. When I woke around 7 am I was feeling quite weary. Five nights of less than 6 hours sleep does have a compounding effect.
For this cruise I had not booked any of the official excursions, having learned from previous trips that it can be more fun just going ashore with a group and walking around or getting a taxi to drive to selected spots. The downside of not booking an excursion is that it makes it a lot easier to opt out of going anywhere.
I had debated with myself whether to join one of the groups from our dance crowd, but in the end I decided that Cherbourg had no special appeal for me and I really needed to use the time to catch up on housekeeping details like a week's laundry, and finding my way around the ship.
The Queens Room was glittering with guests in formal wear. The men looked elegant in black or white tuxedos and there was a array of beautiful dresses everywhere. The champagne and wine fueled an animated level of conversation.
Some of our group were gathered together chatting on the dance floor, when a visibly upset Bill, one of our dance hosts, joined the group. The mystery of the missing Karen began to unfold. Here is the story from Bill's perspective.
Apparently after a relaxed and enjoyable day sight-seeing, Bill, Karen and Gordy, another of Wendy's four dance hosts had returned to the port area. There had been an earlier discussion about the time that the ship was sailing and somehow they had the idea that they had to be on board for a sailing at 6. They were making their way leisurely back to the ship when Bill went to look at something in one of the shops, and said he would catch up to them. Bill found his way back to the ship and at the check point, realized that he had Karen's Cunard card with him. At that point he realized they had not boarded the ship and alerted the ship's crew.
The voyage around the British isles is a new itinerary for the Queen Victoria and several of the destinations are maiden ports of call for this ship. Today we were stopping at the seaport of Cobh, one of the Republic of Ireland's major transatlantic seaports. Cobh is the place where the survivors and victims of the 1915 Lusitania sinking were brought ashore; commemorated by a Lusitania Peace memorial in Casement Square.
From a historical interest perspective Cobh is like a reverse Ellis Island in that it was the port from which 2.5 million Irish emigrants left for North America between 1848 and 1950. Cobh Heritage Centre is a genealogical resource with a collection of old photos and letters, as well as passenger lists.
While Karen got ready for dinner, I heard the start of the missed sailing story from her perspective, as well as the key saga. When Karen first boarded she was given a key to another cabin - that was number one. Then when the confusion about who was rooming with whom was sorted out she got a key to our cabin. However it did not open the door so she went to the Purser and had the key reactivated. We joked about a keycard jinx on our cabin. Little did we know.
Later when Karen was getting ready to go ashore in Cherbourg her key was missing. (I later found it on the floor under the bed between the centre bedside table and her suitcase).
When I was considering booking for the cruise around the British Isles, one of the things that tipped my decision towards going was the fact that the Cunard liners are one of the few among cruise lines that have a regular Dance Host program. This means that if you are travelling without a dance partner, you can still get an opportunity to enjoy some ballroom dancing on the excellent Cunard ballroom floors.
I first learned about the dance hosts on the Labour Weekend Getaway Ballroom Dance Cruise that I took on the Queen Mary last fall. I had noticed several gentlemen impeccably dressed in dark blazers, and wearing badges identifying them as hosts on the ship but I was not sure what their jobs actually were. During the four evenings of the cruise I had the opportunity to dance with three of them and found them to be really good social dancers and interesting to talk to.
As a medical student in the pre-clinical years when we still got much of the summer off, I travelled on one of the old Union-Castle passenger liners from Cape Town to Southampton. It was the year before I got married,and my fiance was on a year's work assignment in England. He met me at Southampton and we spent several weeks driving around England and Scotland. I still had relatives of my maternal grandmother living in Glasgow, and we drove up to Glasgow to meet them. One of the images that has stayed with me was the beauty of Loch Katrine, a freshwater lake that provides drinking water for the city of Glasgow.
Today the Queen Victoria has sailed up the River Clyde and berthed in Greenock, the port that is approximately 30 miles from Glasgow. This is another maiden call for the Queen Victoria - the newest Cunard ship to sail up the Clyde.
When our group convened to go shore it was larger than usual. There was me, Karen D and Karen R, Gordy, Bill, Raoul, Nancy and Melissa. Raoul worked his usual organizational magic and we hired a van driven by Danny, an affable man who talked just like my late granny used to despite her living for more than 60 years in South Africa.
Together with Danny we figured out an itinerary that would last about three hours. Then someone pointed out that in Scotland they used Scottish pounds not the GBP. So our first stop was at the supermarket Tesco where the group gathered around an ATM. In the meanwhile, I sat and chatted to Danny who regaled me with the story of how he and his wife met in a Tesco store.
They all piled back in the van and off we went.
First stop was Newark Castle, a well preserved Renaissance Castle. According to the local guide it was built in 1597. And still looks amazingly intact. It has a glorious location on the south bank of an estuary of the Clyde.