White Star Service logo

Cunard Ambassadors

Queen Elizabeth: Voyage to the Holy Land

November 24, 2011

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Cunard Ambassadors

Hello All

I hope all is well – and a special Happy Thanksgiving to our friends in North America. I write this on Thursday morning having just been down to wish Queen Mary 2 well as she sets sail for her refit in Hamburg. The ship was already busy taking on contractors, supplies and preparing for a very busy period ahead. We have a very special blog today – from one of our Cunard World Club Ambassadors Ciaran Ward. Ciaran enjoyed a long career with Cunard line and I was privileged to see him off at a special retirement gathering on the bridge of Queen Mary 2. Happily his son is still with Cunard Line as one of our officers. I also remember sailing into Cobh a couple of years ago on the bridge of Queen Mary 2 – close to the home town of Ciaran and his family – and it was very special to have both father and son on the bridge together. Anyway – enough from me – enjoy reading from the man himself;

Guest Blog: Ciaran Ward, Cunard World Club Ambassador

Day 1: Embarkation Day – Southampton

It has been almost a year since I retired from life at sea as Chief Electrical Engineer on Queen Mary 2 and it was with considerable excitement that my wife Caroline and I approached Queen Elizabeth at Southampton docks in the newly created role of Cunard Ambassador for the upcoming Cunard World Club voyage. It was inevitable that comparisons in size would be made with Queen Mary 2 however from the outside Queen Elizabeth looked equally impressive and huge. Check- in and embarkation were very quick and free from bother of any kind. The small map provided with the embarkation tickets spared us the embarrassment of asking for directions when on board and we found our stateroom easily which was in a superb location and close to all amenities.

For many years I had ‘talked the talk’ of Cunard’s White Star Service now it was time to ‘walk the walk’ and  I was really looking forward to living the guest experience having been on the technical  side  of our ships  throughout my career.  After a quick familiarisation of the on board layout we attended guest boat drill which I found very interesting due to the fact that I had not witnessed it at first hand for so many years, even though as a member of the ship’s company we always had our own separate weekly drills . We set sail at 1630 and having participated in some meetings about my role on board, it was time to unpack and prepare for the voyage ahead.

Day 2: At Sea

The Bay of Biscay provided us with moderate seas, which Queen Elizabeth coped admirably with throughout the day. After breakfast we caught up with long time friends and Cunard travellers Mr & Mrs Spence having met them first on QE2 15 years ago. We looked in on the line dancing classes; however, a suspect knee prevented me from participating. The singles party in the Garden Lounge provided an opportunity to meet Mrs Agrafiotou, who  is a very loyal Cunarder and who was a personal friend of many past company Presidents. We also met Mrs Dyer who until 2 years ago did not dance, but finally decided to try to learn after many requests by the on board  gentlemen hosts. This proved so successful that she now participates in dancing competitions shoreside with her husband.

The Grills cocktail party had the customary ‘formal but very friendly ‘feel about it and afterwards we had the honour of hosting the Captain’s table with eight guests in attendance.  Both company and food over dinner were of the highest quality, we were the last to leave the restaurant after a most enjoyable evening.

Day 3: At Sea

A bright and sunny day and seas much calmer. 11am saw us at the croquet  competition where the added feature of a croquet playing area which rolls and pitches with the swell,  provided a shock result whereby an experienced player lost to a lesser  experienced one. Controversy also arose  later  when the playing of a crucial shot was deemed to have been spoiled due to the sudden and booming sound of the ships noon whistle, however  Shan from Cruise Staff  decided against a call to the video referee and played on!!

Around mid afternoon we attended a training session for our upcoming roles as Tour Escorts on the ‘Panoramic Gibraltar with English Tea’ excursion tomorrow.  Both Britannia cocktail parties were very grand and most entertaining.

Day 4: Gibraltar

Arrived  Gibraltar at 0730 and departed on our respective tours at 0830. After a brief drive though the town to view the main sights, we stopped at Europa Point  but were unable to see North Africa due to mist but our guide did assure us, it was definitely there the previous day!  After a traditional English Tea of tea and scones at the Caleta Hotel we returned to Queen Elizabeth and departed on schedule. We visited the ‘Three Lives’ darts competition in the Golden Lion where there was  some strategic juggling for position with the ladies being heavily outnumbered by the men but nonetheless they acquitted themselves admirably.

Afternoon Tea found us in the Lido where Mr Webb and I exchanged some salty tales of our life on Port Line ships however his experience was earlier than mine as he was only six years old at the time.

We later had a leisurely Irish Coffee with Mr & Mrs Bartle in Cafe Carinthia both of whom 2 years ago were very reluctantly introduced to cruising with Cunard, and have now become avid devotees.

A late afternoon visit to the short mat bowls competition and a chat with the participants convinced me that it is definitely a pastime which my aging bones can stand. The ship has been expertly decorated for tonight’s Halloween fun by Thomas Quinones.

We hosted the Hotel Managers table again for dinner and the company and conversation were excellent and most enjoyable only to be interrupted by the terrifying arrival by a marauding band of ghouls and the living dead, admirably played by the Cruise Staff.

Day 5: At Sea

Major emphasis on developing sporting skills today.  The mid morning Croquet competition saw the Cunard Ambassador’s wife on the winning team due mainly to the expertise of Steve, her playing partner, rather than any deference by the other participants to her elevated position on board!  This was followed by a lively and well attended game of deck quoits where I was unceremoniously dumped out in the semi finals. In the afternoon Caroline participated in the darts game known as ‘Golf’ and gave a less than commendable performance.  We have been speaking to a large number of guests since joining and despite us requesting details of any issues they may have, everyone appears very happy with all things Cunard and one guest remarked that he feels so much at home on board that he expects his slippers will be waiting for him at the gangway when he returns from ashore.

Dinner tonight was at the Hotel Manager’s table where we were joined by loyal Cunarders and good friends Mr & Mrs Yates.

Day 6: At Sea

Today is to be a cultural and educational day.  After breakfast we discussed some tour options in Israel with Mrs Yates. We sat in on the excellent Haifa port lecture which proved to be as much a lesson on history as a lecture on the points of interest. Caroline managed to sneak in the table tennis tournament while I attended the ‘Suez Crisis’ lecture by modern historian Derek Fraser which provided a superb and concise insight into this troubled part of the world. After lunch the classical concert harpist Fiona gave an excellent (virtuoso) performance of works by among others Beethoven, Zabel, and Rossini.  Our cultural afternoon was complete after a wonderful performance by the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Company of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’.

Tonight we assisted   with hosting the Chief Engineer’s table where Mr Gardiner entertained the table with stories of his voyages to far flung remote islands and Mr Stratton with stories of his newfound career of shipbuilding – albeit in bottles!

Day 7: At Sea

After late breakfast (the hour forward having taken its toll) we attended the morning croquet session which is drawing an increasing number of participants as the voyage progresses, although the genteel play of earlier days has been replaced by more cunning and strategic moves in an effort to win.

We attended the fruit and vegetable flower carving demonstration where the members of the F&B department produced some absolutely amazing flower and creature figures from everyday fruit and vegetables.

The afternoon shuffleboard competition proved to be a very lengthy affair due to the large numbers in attendance where ‘sudden death’ had to be called upon to bring play to a timely conclusion and allow participants to disperse for afternoon tea.

The afternoon was concluded with  a game of  ‘Baggo’ which was expertly conducted by Shan and has been added to the growing list of sports which we are ‘determined’ to take up when we return home.

Tonight we hosted the Captain’s table for dinner.

Day 8: Port Said

Queen Elizabeth arrived in port very early morning and we assembled 0645 as escorts for ‘Just the Pyramids’ tours.  The trip to Cairo was three hours long encompassing a wide range of scenery including a drive along the banks of the Suez Canal.  Not often do you find yourself in a coach, in the middle of the desert, overtaking a very large container ship! The Pyramids themselves were fantastic and we spent almost an hour and a half in the area with my wife Caroline actually venturing inside one of the smaller ones.

After a lovely lunch at the Meridian Hotel we visited the Papyrus Institute where everyone had a chance to see the ancient craft of papermaking at first hand and a chance to do some last minute shopping. Then it was time to negotiate the busy Cairo streets which seem to contain the largest selection of old VW vans I have ever seen, all in varying states of repair. Many of them appeared to be trying for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for the greatest number of passengers they could accommodate. The long return journey provided some Formula 1 type speeds and manoeuvres by our driver but nonetheless we arrived safely  back around 7pm tired, but feeling  it was all well worth the effort.

Day 9: Limassol Cyprus

After a marathon sleep and an equally marathon breakfast, we caught the shuttle bus into town. We chatted to a large number of guests during the morning including Mr & Mrs Goodman who are first time cruisers and are really enjoying the experience.  We had a very nice traditional pub lunch in the Golden Lion on board (which was a first for both of us in all our combined years at sea). This was followed by a very competitive game of deck quoits where Mrs Stratton provided a shock result by beating the large assembly of very experienced players of both genders. We then tried a sneak practice on the croquet court to try to raise the quality of our game – with very limited success.

Saw a superb evening show with a combination of music and comedy from the excellent Jon Courtney who joined the ship today.

Day 10: Haifa Israel

We arrived in Haifa early morning for a two day stop and departed the ship at 7am for the 9 hour ‘Leisurely Jerusalem’ tour.  We had a 2 hour drive south on the ‘Road of Courage’ and viewed several relics from the 1948 war and also a chance to see the country’s most impressive fruit growing industry with masses of banana, orange, clementine and date plantations which all seem to be so well organised and efficient that we did not see any labourers in the fields. On reaching Jerusalem we visited the area of the Israeli parliament or Knesset together with the site of a huge Menorah nearby, followed by a drive through the Orthodox neighbourhood. It was fascinating to see all local residents dressed in a similar manner.  After lunch at the Grand Hotel we drove around the walls of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives which offered a spectacular overview of many of the main Christian and Muslim holy sites in the city.

The afternoon ended with a visit to the Wailing Wall where the peace and serenity were interrupted suddenly by the arrived of over a hundred Harley Davidson mounted bikers and a CNN camera crew. They also were there to visit this holy site with all heads being covered (albeit in multi coloured bandanas and leather caps)

Day 11: Haifa Israel

We left Queen Elizabeth around 8am on a tour called ‘Easy Galilee’ which proved to be just that. We again saw a wide variety of fruit growing sites before arriving along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We continued across the River Jordan to the Mount of the Beatitudes which offered stunning views over the inland sea before continuing to the Church of the Multiplication where the miracle of the loaves and fishes is believed to have taken place. We then drove to a kibbutz at the site of where John the Baptist was believed to have been baptised in the river Jordan and it offered everyone a chance to wet their feet at the baptismal site or do some shopping for souvenirs.  After a superb lunch complimented by a constant supply of excellent wine we drove through Nazareth, stopping at a site overlooking the place where the Angel Gabriel was said to have appeared to Mary. We travelled back through the beautiful Mount Carmel mountains before a final drive – by the  stunning  Bahai Temple gardens where our coach driver  received  some rude hand gestures from other drivers for driving very slowly around the small roundabout at the entrance  a total of five times, to ensure that all his passengers were able to take good  photos. The ship departed at 10pm after a two day stay which has proved to be a most memorable ‘once in a lifetime’ trip.

Day 12: At Sea

An extra hours sleep was required after our two hectic days in Haifa so after a mid morning breakfast we caught the croquet competition but alas all our practice has failed to make any impact on our playing skills. The deck quoits in the afternoon proved to be an equally disastrous story. We had a very interesting half hour by the pool speaking with Mrs Nuth who was almost hidden behind a very large ball of wool which she was using to knit a shawl for a new arrival in her family.  We also chatted with Mr & Mrs Jackson who told us tales of their early experiences on QE2 in 1971. It was quite a rush to get ready for the first of the three Cunard World Club cocktail parties scheduled for this evening. All three were very lively affairs where I presented Mrs Agrafiotou with the award for top sailor with a total of 925 days sailed on Cunard vessels.  The evening was complete with excellent company again at our table where we had birthday celebrations for Mrs Steadman.

Day 13: Rhodes

Spent a very leisurely morning strolling around the beautiful town of Rhodes followed by our departure on the ‘Panoramic Rhodes’ excursion in the afternoon. We visited a local gold factory and museum while successfully avoiding any temptation to purchase the many beautiful items on display. We moved on to the beautiful fishing village of Lindos where no development is allowed within 3km of the village and which has successfully retained its character and serenity. We again found ourselves among excellent company at our hosted table and purely by chance, the entire right hand side of the table were made up of people who are, or were, connected to UK law enforcement.

Day 14: Piraeus

7am saw us tied up alongside in Piraeus and at 9am we departed on the ‘Athens Panorama’ excursion. We visited the Temple of Olympian Zeus  followed by the old Olympic Stadium which has not been used for events since 1896 and which has been completely rebuilt entirely from marble to its former glory. The Olympic torch is always brought to this site prior to its dispatch to the host country. We passed many of the famous buildings in the city including Presidential Palace, Academy, and University Library culminating at the Grand Bretagne Hotel in Constitution Square. Staggeringly beautiful is the only way to describe this magnificent hotel, whose interior has not changed since 1840 and which claims Winston Churchill as one of its many famous guests.  After having refreshments in these elegant surroundings we had a photo stop close to the Acropolis. We had an excellent lunch in the Lido in the company of Mr and Mrs Bringham.  Later that evening we met for the first time Mr & Mrs Alfred Hitchcock, whose business card  showed  that the name was indeed genuine.

Day 15: At Sea

Had a leisurely chat with Mr & Mrs Wright by the pool on a beautiful Mediterranean morning with bright sunshine. They are some of the very few 1st time guests currently on board and are most impressed with Cunard and Queen Elizabeth.  Mid morning saw Caroline lose again at quoits while I did some last minute preparation for my Q&A session scheduled for this afternoon. The ship observed a two minute silence at noon for Remembrance Day.  The  Cunard World Club wine tasting session was scheduled for 2pm with a large walkthrough attendance over a period of two hours.  All guests left the get together suitably fortified and considerably more knowledgeable about the world of wines.  I had a Q&A session with the Entertainment Director at 4.30pm in the Royal Court Theatre, which was very good  thanks to a very vociferous band of loyal supporters.  For dinner we hosted the Captain’s table, the evening was complete with a visit to the ‘Chocolate and Ice Culinary event’ in the Garden Lounge where lots of chocolates and  ice carvings provided a superb photo opportunity, not to mention a  very serious source of temptation for those chocaholics amongst  us.

Day 16: At Sea

We had breakfast in the Lido in the company of Mr & Mrs Johnston who are first time cruisers and are loving every minute of their cruise.  A spot of mid morning croquet, although very sociable, did little to raise our reputation as a major force in the game. We were invited  to lunch with our old friends  Mr & Mrs Spence in the Britannia and it was the first time in my 37 years at sea that I had lunch in the main restaurant on any ship. We had a second day of hosting the wine tasting in the afternoon which again was a very jolly affair and later that night hosted a table in the Britannia with our namesakes Mr & Mrs Ward and our new found friends Mr & Mrs Gough. We attended the second show in the theatre which featured the magic of Brett Sherwood and was truly amazing.

Day 17: At Sea/Malaga

We had a most welcome clock change in early morning and later attended Remembrance Sunday services in the Theatre. The room was filled to overflowing for this event where the last post was played and it was very dignified and very moving. We acted as escorts for the Puerto Banus tour after docking in Malaga. The size and spectacle of the yachts in the local marina was amazing and gave a brief insight to a lifestyle which I will never attain. We were invited to the Bridge by Captain Burgess for the departure from Malaga where Caroline sounded the whistle while I tried to reacquaint myself with the operation of podded propulsion systems. Later we had a drink with the Hotel Manager who I have known for many years.

Day 18: At Sea

There was a significant downward change in the weather when we re-entered the Atlantic, which made participating in any sports activity somewhat challenging. I attended an excellent lecture on the Cutty Sark and later were invited to a lovely lunch with our old friends Mr & Mrs Yates in the Verandah Restaurant. The food, ambience and company were all 5 star – it really was most impressive. A brief respite in the weather allowed us to attend the shuffleboard competition where we met Mr & Mrs Hockin who were most upset that they had just found this excellent outdoor activity for the first time. During early evening we met friends Mr & Mrs Steadman in the Commodore Club for farewell drinks before attending the Senior Officers Cocktail party.  Afterwards we co-hosted the Hotel Manager’s table which sadly was the last of what has been a very memorable series of  dinners throughout the voyage.

Day 19: At Sea

The notorious Bay of Biscay is nice and calm this morning although somewhat overcast with rain again making outdoor activities somewhat difficult. We had breakfast with Mr & Mrs Paterson who recall seeing the QE2 when it was launched in 1969.  I then made a long planned visit to the Engine Control Room with Chief Electrical Officer Martin O’Rourke  where we exchanged stories of technical ‘challenges’ we have faced in our respective careers and I also dispensed some first- hand advice on the benefits of retirement! Afterwards it was time to ‘assist’ Caroline with packing our bags so I left her to it! After lunch we had a final visit to the Baggo and deck quoits competitions primarily to say goodbye to all our sporting friends. Our final evening on board was  spent visiting all the bars and public rooms in turn to say goodbye to all our friends both old and new .

Day 20: Southampton

We had a very smooth and unhurried disembarkation in Southampton, the logistics of which are something to behold.  Our stay on board has been most enjoyable and rewarding and we can honestly say that the White Star Service we have experienced  throughout  is indeed,  Legendary, Elegant and  above all Memorable .

We would like to thank all the Officers, Crew and of course the loyal Guests of Queen Elizabeth for making it so,  and Louisa Gould for her excellent  help and assistance with all the arrangements .

 

Thank you so much Ciaran – great read – and of course it would have been even better if we could have heard it in your marvellous Irish accent. That’s all for now.

Best Regards

Peter

.
  1. Michael says:

    The refit is very exciting and so looking forward to being on board again and also being on the 1st trip after the re fit.

  2. paul clayson says:

    Thanks Claran for your great summary of what was a fantastic cruise. We were lucky enough to meet you on the Gib tour when you joined our table for cakes and scones, loved the accent.
    Beryl & Paul Clayson
    Toronto, Ontario

  3. Ian, Alistair and Susan Gillone says:

    What a change for you Ciaran and Caroline to see things from the passenger’s point of view, and what a great blog. Delighted you are enjoying your retirement. You are certainly looking well on it. Excellent pictures Caroline! Maybe we will meet up again on a future voyage.

  4. A great blog Ciaran and it was a delight to meet you both.

    Every Cunard voyage is special in its own way and the many memories that we have shall remain with us a lifetime but this definitely ranked among the highlights (so far). Crossing the full length of the Mediterranean, the voyage struck an ideal balance with 7 ports in 6 countries, interspersed with sufficient opportunity to relax during the 11 sea days. Oh, and two Captains for the price of one (as Capt Burgess put it!)

    The journey to Cairo and the pyramids, though long and necessitating a very early start, was an amazing experience, while the journey through the Holy Land and visiting places one had only read about previously was a particularly humbling experience, whatever your belief.

    Ciaran and Caroline were excellent Hosts, keen to meet with as many guests as possible and taking a genuine interest whenever our paths crossed. Without doubt they helped ensure this was both an enjoyable and particularly memorable voyage for us and embodied everything Cunard stands for. I’m sorry that we didn’t get an opportunity to catch up with you both again on the final day as hoped but very much hope we shall have the pleasure of sailing with you again at some future stage.

    A selection of images from the voyage can be found by clicking or copy/pasting the link below but do check back from time to time as more will be added as and when time permits!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyfitzsimmons/collections/72157628117223629/

    With kind regards

    Andy & Ann-Marie Fitzsimmons
    Somerset, UK

Leave a Comment