A recent cruise on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 illuminates the unpredictability of travelling by sea, discovers Philippa Walton
Our trip was planned and booked almost a year prior to departure, on what we assumed would be a reliable itinerary. We were to depart from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city and our home, on Cunard’s newly refurbished flagship Queen Mary 2 for a 26-day cruise – part of her World Voyage 2018 – to Hong Kong.
One of the reasons we chose this itinerary was that we would sail out of our home town. There’s something very special – or so I’ve been led to believe – about departing on a glorious cruise ship from your home city, watching the familiar pass by with new eyes as you depart for the undiscovered. However, it was not to be.
Months out from departure we were informed that the QM2 would not be coming to Auckland and instead a coach would take embarking passengers three hours south to meet the ship in Tauranga. Our cruise itinerary also included Bandr Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei and another destination that I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to visit again, but before our departure date we were informed this had also been replaced, with Thailand’s Laem Chabang. It seemed our cruise was destined to be a disappointment before we even left New Zealand.
However, excitement mounted as the departure day dawned and we made the most of the Waikato’s wonderfully-verdant farmlands as we bused south to Tauranga, which turned on a brilliantly sunny day for our departure.
Boarding the stately QM2, with its understated elegance and all the charm of a bygone era, is like stepping back in time. The liner is not flashy like many other cruise ships, but more sedate, with beautifully liveried staff always at hand to help make our trip more enjoyable.
The ship’s old-world charm continues in the lavish dining rooms, where unruffled staff are on hand to make wine suggestions and where silver service was the daily norm. Dressing for dinner each night is an event in itself.
All went to plan for nearly a week, with memorable visits to the Bay of Islands north of Auckland and then across the Tasman in Sydney, Brisbane and Airlie Beach.
However, not long after leaving Airlie Beach we were informed by the Captain that a troublesome cyclone was brewing in the Gulf of Carpentaria and it may prevent our call into Darwin. The next day we were informed that Tropical Cyclone Marcus was due to hit Darwin the very day we would be in port. The ship changed course and headed north to avoid the impending storm, only for passengers to then be advised that because we had not berthed at Darwin we had not taken aboard the immigration officials needed to process the paperwork necessary for our entry to Bali. To compound matters Bali would be celebrating Nyepi Day, the Bali Day of Silence, on the day we were due to arrive meaning that even if we got to Bali, the processing of documents would take all day and not be completed before the ship was due to leave.
Consequently, we headed straight to Singapore, leaving the exotic destinations of Bali and Borneo undiscovered.
After eight long days at sea and a definite feeling of cabin fever at times, we were able to tie up in Singapore a little earlier than planned and enjoyed a two-night stay in the vibrant Lion City. There was little of our cruise left, with a visit to Laem Chabang for a day trip to Bangkok followed by a stop in Phu My, Vietnam before we arrived in Hong Kong.
Our long sea days gave us the opportunity to experience all that the ship had to offer, including a full-scale planetarium, a cinema, an authentic English pub, a dance floor, a well-stocked library, and the glitz and glamour of themed balls. We found it a wonderful way to unwind despite the itinerary dilemmas.
While the constant pre and post-departure changes to the ship’s itinerary were disappointing, we came to appreciate that unexpected weather events and the unforeseen unavailability of ports can play havoc with cruise line itineraries. Safety is of course paramount, and we were lucky to be aboard one of the strongest and most stable ships afloat during the rough weather, with the QM2’s amazing stabilizers ensuring a smooth ride and an experienced crew able to anticipate bad weather and take evasive action.
Despite the disappointment, I still think that if you have the time and a little flexibility cruising is a comfortable and stylish way to travel the world.