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Trains and Boats and Planes

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Trains and Boats and Planes

Who did the hit version

Whilst you have been reading my cunningly prepared “Blogs” on this website I have been swanning around on 2 Planes, a Boat and 2 Trains traversing over 15,000 miles in the process. You may remember during my last cruise I blogged direct from the ship about our experiences. I got into serious trouble with my son who inferred that I was telling all the numpties in the area of our absence opening up untold opportunities for them. I said that my readers were not remotely in that category but he ganged up with the missus this time and insisted I maintain a low profile. Hence the Blogs which appeared over the last four weeks were pre-prepared and by the mysteries of high tech were released at pre-determined dates to create a smoke screen around our activities.

 

We are now home and I am wading my way through 273 emails with some requiring pretty quick actions. My Blogs from now on will look ahead to the 2012 season with excitement and I suspect as we get nearer a touch of nerves. We now have two grandchildren in the system and have high hopes for them. I have been around long enough to know the pressures ahead for them and for the family. In cricket at the highest levels you need ability but you also need a little luck from time to time. Fingers crossed for all our young players as the season approaches.

 

Now those of you who were bored rigid last October with my Blogs from the Queen – switch off now. The actions of my son and wife may have been instrumental in me not blogging whilst away BUT I did make some notes which I now fully intend to share with you if you can hang on. I will try to be briefish, but I think I might fail. So here goes.

 

Just short of a month with the Queen.

The good ship Queen Victoria, pride of the Cunard Line, was due to dock in Los Angeles on Tuesday February 28th and we, the missus and me, were due to occupy cabin (sorry Cunard State Room) 4187. Our travel arrangements were a mixture of our own and Cunard’s. Our own got us from home base to Heathrow on Sunday February 26th and after an overnight with Lenny Henry’s mob at the airport we boarded British Airways Flight 283 to Los Angeles on the 27th. This was actually our ?? Anniversary. Imagine spending a bumnummingly 11 hours on a plane on your wedding anniversary. Actually the service and food was excellent, so well done BA. Transfer arrangements in LA were rather fluid but we did make it to the Marriott Hotel for early afternoon. We had gone back eight hours so our body clocks were haywire. It was also seriously fleeing.

 

Anyway we made it to the ship the following day and our luggage followed safely. By then there was a little more warmth in the air.

 

Now to my Blog Diary, or the random jottings of a seafarer, attempting to maintain his equilibrium, and his weight, but failing.

 

A couple of days at sea heading towards Mexico.

We often get asked what we do when the ship is at sea. Simples !! Not a lot !! We have gone through the alternatives and enjoyed them but we much prefer the exercise of doing as little as possible. Sunbed  - snooze  - sun -  food  - read  - have a noggin – snooze etc etc. Newcomers to the cruise life have a whole host of activities all day long to select from. We had umpteen lecturers, dance specialists, napkin folders, bridge card hosts and there was the Royal Spa where all sorts of creatures were prepared to massage, peel, scarify and stick stones, both hot and warm, all over you.

 

Most of the activities are free but the Royal Spa has invented all sorts of ways of getting you to use your On Board Credit Card to their advantage.

 

You do not use cash on cruise ships today. At embarkation you give them the details of the credit card you wish to use and just sit back until the day of judgement. This is usually the last morning when the On Board Statement appears under your cabin door with the inevitable reaction of “How Much !!!!!!”

 

There are some important people in your life on a cruise. The captain is of course high on the list and “she” definitely earned her salary on this trip which had more days of having to “batten down the hatches” than our normal. Captain Inger Klein Olsen is the very first lady captain in Cunard’s long history and she was superb in every way on our long voyage.

 

Your State Room Steward is a key player and Richie was a star – Cunard call them State Rooms and not Cabins. The Dining Room is a vital cog in the whole process and Nikolas from the Philippines, and Alejandro his assistant from Peru worked miracles delivering food when at times walking was not an easy exercise. The ship’s crew of today is a United Nations of people but I must say in all our journeys we have not come across anyone from Lima in Peru before.

 

The other important people are those you share your table with you. We have had our own table for the two of us on a few occasions but normally you will have companions. On this occasion we had two lovely Geordie ladies, Win and Pat. They were very good company indeed up to New York except that Pat had some problems with the dreaded norovirus which kept her confined to barracks for a few days.

Now we talk about what to do on a ship during sea days but remember that for almost all cruise days other than when the ship stays late at night or overnight that almost all evenings from 6.00pm onwards the ship will be at sea anyway.

 

What do you do?? You get ready for dinner, have a little “tiffin” prior, have a leisurely dinner with the odd glass of wine, head off to a show in the ship’s theatre, return for a night cap in your favourite bar(s), and so on and so on. The evening would draw to a close with a competitive game of brag in our cabin encouraged along by some special “moments”- usually Teacher’s. It can be very challenging. Just imagine repeating that for 24 nights.

 

A little word here about “tiffin”. This is a Heaton Thing which has developed over the years and become a Tradition now. A little glass of what you fancy to tickle the taste buds in the fifteen minutes or so before heading down to dinner. It is at its best when you can sit on your stateroom balcony looking over an azure sea watching the sun set in the distance. A thing of beauty or that’s our excuse.

 

What about Mexico then??

Manzanillo was our first call followed by Huatulco. Lovely warm weather and clear blue skies greeted us in both ports. The walk ashore was much longer in Manzanillo and there was more of a town with a rather garish funny shaped monument on the main promenade. In Huatulco you literally walked off on to a beach. We had five pennyworth of that and the good lady had a paddle. I tried a beer. One interesting point was that the locals were not “in your face”. In some places the locals, especially taxi drivers can be quite fierce when you say “No, I do not want to go on a full day tour with you.” In both calls in Mexico the “No” was quietly accepted.

 

The day at sea between Manzanillo and Huatulco and the Dolphin Experience.

Our captain made us aware early doors that we might well see some sea life whilst heading down to Panama. Indeed we spotted whales and turtles, and the occasional dolphin pod. The officer of the watch was our information manager in this process and during the afternoon between the two Mexican ports he alerted us to a pod of dolphins. As usual we arose from our supine position on the deck recliners to stroll to the deck rails. As if by magic the sea surrounding the ship on all sides became jam packed with dolphins. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of them, all doing their thing. Guess where the camera was. Almost as far as the eye could see were dolphins cavorting about with great gusto. I had determined I would rush off to the cabin in the hope of a snap – when just as quickly as the Great Dolphin Event began – so it finished. We had never seen anything like it.

 

En route to Costa Rica and “Batten down the Hatches”

When a captain comes on the tannoy direct in to your cabin (I mean State Room) during tiffin time you know there could be trouble ahead. She advised us that the seas might become problematic overnight. My word she was spot on. The ship tipped and tossed from mid-evening onwards and during the night made staying on the bed very dodgy indeed. Sleep was a no-no for a while just in case we were tipped off the bed. Eventually the seas calmed down and we could look forward to Puntarenas in Costa Rica.

 

It was here that the Queen Victoria was joined by a Princess – The “Coral Princess” herself. Two ships in port on a very windy day with the longest pier I have seen for some time. They even provided a toy train to transport from one end to the other. What was there at the end? A sort of hippy market and dump of a town. The only saving grace the place had was that we were able to replenish our tiffin and late night moments stocks at very reasonable prices. This was a port of call where the ideal solution would have been to enjoy a ship’s excursion to the Rain Forest.

 

We often get asked what is the best method of enjoying the ports of call. Is it better to do your own thing or book a ship’s excursion. Your own thing can involve quite a walk or the adventure of hiring a local taxi. This is by far the cheapest alternative but one which can prove quite dodgy. It is always worth doing some internet research. The important thing to always remember is that if you book a ship’s excursion and there is a problem then the ship will wait. If you do your own thing and your hired taxi packs in on you and you are late back you may just be in time to see your ship sailing away. Surely you say the ship will wait come what may. The answer is no. It costs to stay in a port beyond the scheduled time and there is a timetable to keep to. We have seen people left behind on more than one occasion. On this trip I saw a couple arrive in a taxi with the ship’s gangway almost ready for pushing on board. Five minutes later and they would have had a problem.

 

Contact with home and the good lady’s zoo.

Now I did mention somewhere that I was doing and saying all the necessary things about leaving the iPad at home – but all to no avail. It came with us – along of course with the Zoo. Now as long standing Cunard veterans we have moved into the top tier of their World Club and have Diamond status. One of the perks of this is that we could use up to 80 hours each of Internet time on the ship. Over the entire period of our journey after initial problems which drove me to distraction the owner of the biggest Zoo on the Pacific Coast and beyond used all her minutes up and pinched well over half of mine. There were times when the stresses and strains of managing this Zoo almost led me to lunchtime tiffin sessions never mind the usual ones.

 

I used my Internet moments to check the footie scores and my emails. We had an on-board mobile phone system which operated when at sea with reasonable costs. Once in a port of call you relied upon the local operators. This sometimes worked and sometimes did not. Quite often we would text the family during tiffin time but with the time differences beginning at eight hours and gradually reducing they got the texts at odd times of the day.

 

The Panama Canal

This was our second time through the Canal but just as amazing as the first.

 

We commenced our transit at 7.00am in the morning and for once I was up and about. We entered the Atlantic Ocean at just after 4.30pm. The locks of Miraflores and Pedro Miguel raised the ship 92 feet and the three locks at Gatun dropped us back to sea level. We made it through these locks with two feet to spare on each side – meaning we were Panamax OK.

 

Many of today’s ships including cruise ships are much bigger and there is now great evidence along the entire Canal of the works going on to enlarge the locks to enable ships Post-Panamax to make the transit from about 2015 onwards.

 

I could wax lyrical about our crossing and bore you with loads of pictures. All I will say is that if you ever get the chance to sail through the Panama Canal do it, but watch out for the heat and keep well protected. The weather for our transit began hot and sunny and stayed that way until we reached Gatun when the elements turned against us and we had rain. Mind you it is that rain which keeps the Canal working so we could not complain.

 

“Batten Down the Hatches” again

The Colombian Barons are next.

 

Yes we had another night of rocking and rolling almost as bad as the earlier one. We are very good sailors but even we had to hang on for a period of time to make sure we stayed in bed. The next morning we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia to glorious sunshine and no winds at all. We had again opted to do our own thing but got no further than the Dock Gates. Both of us had suffered from a rather bad cough and cold and the heat that day was going to be too much. We just spent an hour in the Cruise Facility at the Dock Gates which believe it or not had its own Zoo!!!

 

I was the one to identify the existence of the Zoo as the Good Lady was browsing through the shops within the Cruise Facility. I had gone out of the Main Entrance to investigate the potential. The Taxi Drivers were massed and all looked like Colombian Barons – and probably were. They looked most severe and that “No” was not an answer they welcomed. So I did a little shimmy to the right and found myself in a Mini-Zoo populated by parrots, monkeys, flamingos and other rare creatures.

 

After snapping a few pictures I returned inside to report my findings to the Master Zoo Entrepreneur of the Northern Hemisphere. Now I knew what her reaction would be as the appearance of a pigeon within ten feet of her produces hysteria. I suggested she went out with me to gather evidence to help her future development as an MZE. Well what sort of animals are there she said. Her reaction when I told her was totally predictable. She did look at the flamingos and went very close to a tiny little monkey but never went within miles of the parrots.

 

We did conduct some excellent business in terms of tiffin replacement before returning to the ship. This was just a morning call and by early afternoon we were off to Aruba.

 

Aruba, Caribbean Rain and the Amazing Pigeon Parade

We were looking forward to Aruba as this was one of the ports of call on our first ever Caribbean cruise many years ago. Unfortunately the weather made life difficult. Our arrival was delayed due to strong headwinds and when we eventually got there and got ashore the Caribbean did what it can do so very well. It chucked it down in bucketful’s. We found shelter fortunately in a bar but the roads and pavements were under water. The missus was still suffering from her cold so we abandoned the expedition and returned to the ship. The captain had delayed our departure to compensate for our late arrival. It was here that the couple arrived in their taxi just as the gangway was being stored.

 

The following day was another sea day and it was when we had the amazing Pigeon Parade.

 

We had retired for the afternoon as the temperatures on deck were nudging 35 plus. I was testing the comfort status of our bed and the Good Lady was outside on her iPad. She interrupted my slumbers screeching at me that there was a bird on our balcony. She had retreated inside immediately. The said bird was a pigeon. It was joined fairly quickly by two, then three and finally four mates. The screens dividing the balconies do not go down to floor level, and this family of pigeons were waddling along having a good nosy. In fact one pecked on the balcony window. I hustled off to get my camera but when I got back they had moved on to next door.

 

“Go and get my iPad before one of them does a poo on it”, were my immediate instructions. Now to be absolutely fair she did not say “Poo”!!!

 

This event occurred just in the lead up to tiffin time. This evening was another formal one with the added bonus of another Cunard Cocktail party with lashings of champagne. I have mentioned earlier that Cunard keep tabs of your journeys and this places you in different categories of their World Club. We have contributed enough to have become Diamond members. At the event this evening the individual or couple who have made the most journeys will get a bouquet and a picture with the Captain. We have done fifteen and will be a long way from the winner’s total.

 

Now I know you will not believe this but just after preparing our glasses of tiffin and venturing out onto our balcony to drink them – guess what – that family of pigeons waddled back across our cabin balcony and to where they had come from. Needless to say I had my glass of tiffin on the balcony but someone else did not.

 

Remember we were at sea pretty far from land so where had the family of pigeons come from?

 

By the way the winner of the bouquet of flowers at the World Club party was a lady who had completed 84 journeys with Cunard.

 

US Immigration, St. Thomas and on to New York, New York

The following day we were due up with the larks as we had to attend US Immigration before we could go ashore in the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas. Now we have attended some horrific such events. I once vowed I would not set foot in the USA again. On this occasion it was a dream and we were back in bed by 7.00am.

 

The main aim of this port of call is to try and separate you from as many dollars as they can in as quick a time as is possible. The centre of Charlotte Amalie, the main town, has more jewellery shops per square mile than anywhere else in the world. We had our targets for the day but had one added by our son who required some Burberry Body perfume for his Mother’s Day pressie for his wife. This provided a challenge which we met comfortably. We rounded our visit off with a glass of beer at the same bar we have now visited five times over the years.

 

I know this is getting boring but El Kapitano was on the blower again before dinner advising us that tomorrow would be seriously dodgy. This was the first of three days at sea to the Big Apple. She was spot on. In fact dinner time was a very rocky affair. Our man from Peru was green around the gills but Nikolas, our waiter skipped around with great skill. Crockery went crashing and one had to keep a careful eye on the wine glasses. Attendance levels around the ship were rather low.

 

The next two days were much better and rather warmer than we expected and the forecast for New York was encouraging.

 

As we looked ahead to the next week and a half we had to acknowledge we had a major problem. When we booked this journey we were pleasantly surprised at the large amount of On Board Credit we had been given by Cunard. I dare not tell you what it was but it was huger than anything we had had before. These Credits can be spent anywhere other than the casino or at the doctor’s. There was no way we were going to drink our way through what was left but I was determined that we would not leave anything in the bank.

 

A Taste of the Big Apple – in the Gloom

Friday March 16th early in the morning the good ship Queen Victoria sailed under the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, past the Statue of Liberty into the heart of Manhatten before berthing at Pier 88 alongside the USS Intrepid. This is an event not to be missed – it stills sends shivers up and down your spine. The weather promised was calm but rather gloomy and misty all day long. We had booked a morning excursion which took us out to the Statue of Liberty and gave us great views of an eerie Manhatten in the mists. There was time for a bit of retail therapy before the coach returned us to the ship past a number of New York’s famous sights.

 

Whilst we were away the ship disembarked over a 1,000 passengers and embarked a replacement set. Delighted to say we did not have to go through immigration again. At 5.30pm the Queen pushed away from Pier 88 and headed off down the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty and out into the Atlantic Ocean. The next time we were to see land would be in eight days’ time. We had said goodbye to our table companions to New York and now had our own table to ourselves. Still pleased to see Nikolas and Alejandro were looking after us.

 

Across the Pond to Blighty

We now faced eight days at sea as the Queen Victoria crossed the mighty Atlantic. There were two potential routes – the Great Circle up past Newfoundland and down to the UK, or the southern crossing to the Azores. Captain Olsen had clearly chosen the latter as we headed off on a true easterly course for six continuous days.

 

What do you do when faced with sea, sea and more sea. Pretty much what you have been doing so far only possible even slower. We had a new group of lecturers including ex-Yorkshire CCC veteran, Mike Cowan. There was a new set of entertainers including David Copperfield – not the magic man though. This one we had seen many times before. He was a fruit and nut case of a singer / comedian.

 

So we gradually settled into Transatlantic Mode – possibly less time in the great outdoors as temperatures began to settle. We still adhered to our daily tiffin, read a lot more and visited the shops on a regular basis as we hatched our plans to see off the On Board Credits remaining. Being as this was a new journey so to speak we had to face even more Cunard champagne.

 

In a way one day just simply merged into another. The only real inconvenience was that we had to lose four hours over the period. Plus the sea conditions as we approached the Azores once again reached the level where the captain had to warn us to “Batten Down the Hatches” and “Please use the rails”. For a period of 36 hours the open decks were closed as we were buffeted by very strong winds. The ship took all of this in her stride and as we neared Southampton the weather perked up and the sun came out again.

 

Our final formal night at sea saw us practice our ritual of tiffin, then devour lobster (Mrs), steak (Me), a bottle of Beringer North Reserve, then off to see the show “Dance Passion”. This was followed by a couple of glasses in the Golden Lion Pub, a pause at the Queens Room to listen to the Dance Band before sauntering to our cabin for some Teacher’s Moments and the deciding game of brag. Guess who won??

 

One last day at sea before docking we entered the English Channel whilst seeing to our final On Board Credits with a treat for Tom and Sophie, and a little one for the good lady. Our reckoning must have been spot on because when THE ACCOUNT arrived on the final morning we had an overall Bar Bill of 72 dollars. I had not explained earlier that Cunard’s on board currency is the dollar reflecting the fact that many Americans have taken a great liking to what is offered. So in pound sterling that equates to about 50 quid. That is not the all-time record for the Heaton’s but certainly is one over the past 15 years. Our great thanks must go to whoever in the Cunard hierarchy was so generous with their On Board Credits. I dare not tell you how much. By the way the all-time record was around £15 – but that was way back in 1968 on our first ever cruise when the value of the pound was far less than today.

 

Back home by the Trains

We had some problem deciding how to get back to Manchester and on the cost basis we plumped for a) Train 1 from Southampton Central to London Waterloo followed by b) Train 2 from London Euston to Piccadilly – all for under a 100 notes of the realm in total and first class to boot. The only downer could have been if Train 1 was late and that the Taxi across London was held up. Missing our connection at Euston would have been costly. None of this occurred and we were in Piccadilly just two minutes late. I must say the journey from London to Manchester is a whizzer. The Virgin Train didn’t half rattle along. PLUS believe me or believe me not the good lady discovered that she could hook up her iPad to the onboard Wi-Fi free of charge so was able to spend the last few miles of our trip piddling about on her Zoo.

 

So – by Planes, a Boat and Trains - we had spent four weeks covering almost 15,000 miles – with the good lady and me being fed and watered appropriately as we now prepare for the 2012 cricket season which will no doubt have the same sorts of highs and lows. As we meet up with many of you during the season please do not ask “How Much”. I would encourage you to enquire with the missus about the Zoo and to mention the new Village being constructed alongside. In my case let me know about any new medication which will combat acute nervous breakdowns at cricket matches.

 

Let the season begin – but not before we have finalised all the grounds, booked the umpires etc etc.

 

All the months of Winter Coaching will soon merge into the trials period and then into the Match Programme. I cannot wait.

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