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Making Christmas Memories with Cunard

This morning at breakfast I was seated at one of the very best tables in the dining room – it features a sweeping view of the Grand Staircase and is under a dramatic piece of art-deco art that is the focal point in this beautiful space. I rekindled some childhood memories on this cruise as I have been enjoying wheatabix for breakfast. I enjoyed this healthy cereal as a child. I top it with hot water. The pastry tray arrived as soon as I sat down. The selections change from day to day which is nice but I do my best to say, “no thank you” to the morning sweets. The Britannia Dining Room is such an elegant spot to enjoy a very relaxing breakfast. It’s where I like start to write my blog post. I then head to the royally Christmas decorated atrium to finish it.

Last night we all went to the Queens Ballroom to see Cunard’s Christmas Production Show. I have been on many cruise ships during the Christmas Season and this is the first time that a ship has produced a special singing/dancing show for the holidays. Overall it was extremely well done. I think everyone appreciated the effort that they put forth to create this festive show. Sadly it lacked secular Christmas songs as they were probably worried they may insult someone in this politically correct World.

Four of my passengers were so excited as they booked one of the showroom boxes for last nights Christmas production. They enjoyed a champagne and dessert reception prior.

Dinner was Formal and the menu matched. I selected the Lobster Tail which was accompanied by jumbo shrimps. The Baked Alaska was probably the best I’ve tasted on a cruise ship.

The seas continue to be smooth and are expected to remain that way for the duration of the cruise. We soon pass through an area which can sometimes be rough as deep waters meet much shallower ones, but we have been told that this is not going to be an issue for us.

Many of us started packing yesterday. After a cruise of this length the Queen Elizabeth certainly feels like home so it will be sad to depart. We have been treated so well.

Today all my passengers will gather for a farewell luncheon. I’m so lucky to travel with such wonderful people. This group like all of my groups, are so happy to spend time together. Even though I state that this is an optional event we have met for lunch on every sea day. The staff just assumes that I am going to bring in a big group so they reserve the Captains table and the smaller ones surrounding it, especially for us.

Todays sea-day is filled with activities. As I write my blog I am enjoying the Christmas music that playing in the background.

I just had a charming gent sit down next to me for a visit. He chatted for 45 minutes. He wanted to hear about my travels and we talked about our Christmas traditions in the UK and Canada. They have a son and 2 grandchildren who will gather with them on Christmas Day. He said he has a self-basting turkey in the freezer ready to roast for the big day. Like many on board this is an annual Christmas cruise for his wife and himself. Tomorrow they will travel by train for 2 hours to get to their home in a small rural community near Bristol.

This evening I am hosting a special dinner at the Smokehouse, American Style Steakhouse where my passengers can select entrees like spare ribs, brisket and coconut crusted jumbo shrimp – sides include Cajun fries, creamed sweet corn. It’s a casual venue so we can pack our sports jackets this afternoon instead of tonight after dinner. We’ll also be celebrating 2 more birthdays and a 50th Anniversary so I’ve ordered a couple cakes.

Tomorrow my group will be some of the first off the cruise ship as I’m going to try once again to get us into Windsor Castle. You may recall that when we flew into London the worst snowstorm in years had shut down so many things including the castle. If our disembarkation goes smoothly we should have time to enjoy the castle before continuing to Heathrow for our direct Air Canada flight to Toronto.

What a wonderful festive cruise this has been.

Cunard is a very solid cruise line with a huge following. Last evenings repeat guest cocktail party was loaded to the tilt. I can certainly understand why Cunard guests return time after time. I know some of you hesitated as you thought Cunard would attract a little high brow cliental. As one of my passengers stated this departure is filled with hard working people that saved so they can now afford to enjoy cruises as Grand as this one. For many on board, this has been a cruise-of-a-lifetime. Some of the local men told me that they bought a suit especially for this cruise and they will probably never wear it again but their wives beamed and were so proud.

The Cunard staff works extremely hard to please every guest. It’s a tough life to be away from home especially this time of year.

When I get home I’ll have a few more gifts to wrap that I purchased during this journey and then I’ll be on my way to Moms. I’m one of the lucky ones that gets to spend Christmas surrounded by an incredible family. It’s a bit of a tradition that we enjoy a fondue on Christmas Eve and of course, Mom prepares a traditional Christmas dinner with Ukrainian specialities for our Christmas Day feast.

My travelers provide me with an extended family. We have spent so much time together over the last 3 decades. How lucky we are to explore this spectacular World that keeps getting smaller and smaller.

I’ve enjoyed some time during sea days to plan new future travel departures. The more I travel the pickier I get when it comes to itinerary planning. Many of you have told me that my latest tours have been your all-time favourites so that makes me happy as I continually work on raising the bar. Lately as you know other tour companies have been following my lead so I consider that a compliment.

I’d like to wish you, my traveling family a joyous Christmas.

Sadly Christmas for some is not a happy time but hopefully the Christmas spirit will still be able to fill a bit of their heart.

I’ll be back to blog posting during the New Years Mystery Journey. That tour sold-out in record time – 3 of the passengers that are currently with me on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will be joining me over New Years too – that is what I call a devoted family!

Wish us a good flight home to Canada.

Merry Christmas – I Appreciate You All,

Bradley

 

 

One of My Fav’s – LISBON, Portugal

As most of you know by reading my blog posts, I really enjoy visiting Portugal. It’s such a beautiful country, the salt cod and custard tarts make the local culinary experience a unique one and the locals are so friendly.

I’ve been to Lisbon enough times that I know my way around quite well. I therefore encouraged my passengers to book a tour that offered free time in 3 parts of the city and I would look after showing them around.

Luckily, the school children are out for holidays so many families have left the city. The streets were therefore easy to navigate and our coach driver experienced no hold-ups.

I took my passengers to the cafe where the famous Portuguese custard tart was created. They serve thousands of them every day – their record is 56,000 in one day and they average over 40,000 a day. This is the first time that I’ve been to this cafe which holds 400 where there hasn’t been a long line of people waiting to get in. We enjoyed excellent service. Our young waiter had an excellent personality. I ordered everyone 2 tarts and a beverage of their choice. The tarts arrive warm and melted in our mouths. Our waiter claims that only 3 people currently know the secret recipe for these tarts. The same family has been operating this business for 5 generations. You can purchased custard tarts all over Portugal but the original secret recipe is for some reason a cut above all the others I have tried – let me tell you I have tried MANY versions.

I also provided another treat later during the tour. While downtown I took everyone to a tiny shop on a busy street corner that only serves homemade cherry brandy. It’s stored in large wooden casks and is poured into glass shot glasses. It costs a bit more if you want some of the marinated cherry’s included but they are a must. I don’t think this shop attracts thousands a day like the custard tart bakery but it certainly gets huge crowds. I haven’t experienced anything like it anywhere else in the World. Another unique Lisbon offering that warmed our tummies!

I did not bring the tour coach back to the ship as I wanted to spend more time in downtown Lisbon. I’ve been enough times that I know which shops I like to visit. The shops were busy with just a few days before Christmas but certainly not unmanageable.

Meeting a few locals was definitely a highlight of the day. I purchased some street art from a young, trendy looking artist. He spent a long time chatting with me – he is truly passionate about his modern art. I also purchased some jewelry from a middle age couple. I never thought I’d get away from them but I truly enjoyed our conversation. They were so excited to hear that I was from Canada and I was buying some of their creations. Their English was often difficult to understand but we managed fine.

When in Lisbon I always stop at the same stand to purchase a couple FADO music CD’s. FADO is the local music and I am a big fan. I can always trust the shop keepers recommendations.

It’s a must that I visit the Salsa jeans shop – this is a chain store. The young salesperson told me that she is saving so she can visit her relatives in Toronto.

I was a back on board the Queen Elizabeth in enough time to enjoy the Afternoon Tea. Most of my group was also in the Queens Room for this wonderful tradition. One of the two piano players that I have got to know on board provided the entertainment. He plays by ear and in honor of the season was playing Christmas medleys like the Nutcracker Suite.

My date for dinner last night was Gloria. She has traveled with me more than anyone else, traveling on this departure so I wanted to treat her. We tried the, “Smokehouse” – an American Steakhouse experience. The menu was appealing – food was scrumptious – a relaxing evening filled with wonderful conversation.

Afterwards I decided to invite everyone to the Smokehouse as a, “Travel With Bradley” surprise on the last night of the cruise. Gloria agreed that everyone will enjoy it.

Last nights entertainment in the showroom featured 2 brothers (23 and 24 years old) from Scotland. They were so polite on stage and what an accent they had. They played a few instruments and sang everything from the Everly Brothers to Celtic Hits. Once again there wasn’t a single seat available in the showroom. When talking with my passengers this morning everyone really enjoyed their show – possibly a future Walters Theatre act?

Today the seas are smooth, the skies blue – we are very fortunate. On my morning walk I noticed a few people already in the pool.

We are all going to gather for lunch again today in the Britannia Dining Room.

Tonight is the final Formal Night followed by a Christmas Production Show in the Main Theatre. Four of my passengers have blocked one of the box seats for tonight’s festive occasion and are so excited. They have reserved Box #15. I told them to practice their royal waves.

A few have said they are going to start packing today and I want to do the same.

I’ve arranged our disembarkation and have all our tags to distribute at todays lunch.

Sadly this cruise is quickly coming to an end. The final couple days will fly by. It’s been a wonderful experience cruising with Cunard but Christmas is around the corner so we are all anxious to get home for the holidays.

 

My CUNARD Experience

We are sailing North towards Lisbon – sea conditions are fine – temperature is a little cooler but still comfortable at 65F.

During breakfast in the Britannia Restaurant my passengers were saying there is so much going on during this sea day they will have trouble fitting everything in that they want to do.

Last evening, Dinner in the speciality restaurant was a 3 hour affair but everyone agreed that it was a wonderful experience. Three hours sounds like a long time but it just flew by. Service was excellent and the cuisine was of a high quality and extremely delicious. Of course presentation was impressive too. On land it would be difficult to find a comparable restaurant unless you were dining in a large city and paying a big price.

The Verandah restaurant faces a beautiful mid-ship atrium area that is tastefully decorated for Christmas – so beautiful. Last night while we were dining in the Verandah there was Christmas carol singing in the atrium which attracted hundreds of passengers. There was also a large number of crew dressed in Christmas garb who organized themselves behind the grand piano. Everyone was given song sheets so they had words to follow. The maitre d in the Veranda decided that he should open the restaurant doors so we could all enjoy the beautiful Carol singing. As we dined, the Carol singing added to the atmosphere – it was just perfect. I just missed not having the opportunity to sing with that large crowd.

It’s been wonderful sailing with the Brits. I know some of my passengers were nervous thinking that the atmosphere on board the Queen Elizabeth was going to be very stuffy and high brow – the opposite is true – the Brits have just been so friendly and love a good conversation. Of course they just assume we are American but we soon set them straight.

This Cunard ship is unique because evening dress is either Informal or Formal – there are no casual dress nights on board. This means that gentleman are required to wear a jacket every night. Most of the men traveling with my group hardly ever wear a jacket at home but they haven’t minded slipping on a jacket during this cruise and everyone has enjoyed the evening atmosphere on board the vessel.

During the day and even during the afternoon high tea casual dress is fine, this includes wearing shorts in the dining room.

Cuisine is consistent excellent on board. Variety on the dining room menu is good – food arrives hot and is always very tasty. Even room service arrives hot like it should – including the toast. Service is consistently good too – our waiter has had no problem handling our table of 10. His personality is a little dull but he is not there to entertain us.

Showroom Entertainment is comparable to other lines – its fine but I think they could do a better job. Dancing is a big part of the Cunard Experience – especially Ballroom. Even if you are not a dancer its fun to watch. For those looking for an alternative to Ballroom, there is a band named Synergy that plays live music nightly and that dance floor is packed too. There is also a quartet, harpist and 2 piano players on board.

Cunard also has on board – a watercolour expert, bridge instructor, Apple product expert, fencing instructor and 4 dance hosts.

On this cruise a big variety of reasonably priced Shore excursions are offered even though a very small number of passengers book them.

The Brits travel to the Canary Islands like we travel to Florida. Many of them have been to the Canary Islands many times so they are not interested in shore excursions. A number of them remain on board for the entire cruise – not getting off at any ports of call.

If a passenger wants to remain on board for the entire cruise in true Cunard fashion the Britannia dining room remains open for breakfast, lunch and dinner even while in port – this is not common with other cruise lines but is a huge perk.

There are just as many activities on board during port days as non-port days. Once again this is not common with most lines but another Cunard perk especially for those that are not interested in visiting a port of call. The ship is the experience for most Cunard cruisers.

I feel Cunard’s highly regarded high tea is the best I have experienced afloat. Once again it is offered daily and attracts hundreds of passengers. As you know the Brits love their tea so kettles are provided in every stateroom. I have sipped more tea that I can remember while on this cruise.

If my passengers had a complaint it would be that alcohol beverages are pricey on board. I’ve heard that Cunard has been allowing passengers to bring on 2 bottles of wine per person at every port. This isn’t published but everyone that has told me about this has had no issue bringing bottles on the ship. If they want to bring those bottles to the dining room there is a 20.00 corkage fee.

In comparison to many ships speciality restaurants are reasonable on onboard. The high-end, Verandah French restaurant is a bargain at 35.00. During the evenings a section of the Lido restaurant turns into a sit-down menu restaurant with a cuisine theme that changes every few days – Indian, Italian, American Steakhouse – charge is 20.00.

I haven’t eaten at the Lido Buffet but have walked through a few times to check it out. I’d say its comparable to other lines – decent variety.

I have enjoyed the outdoor grill a few times for a late lunch – the burgers are homemade and I especially like their turkey burger – they grill the bun and top with fried onions if you wish. Onion rings are available if you wish along with fries.

The pub is also available and no charge for British specialities such as a Ploughmans lunch or English style, Fish n Chips.

Room service menu is varied – many hot entrees – all complimentary.

The pursers office (front desk) is very professional. It’s not a big staff but they are extremely well trained. I had trouble with my television one morning, they sent up a repair man and called shortly afterwards to make sure the issue was resolved.

There isn’t an official cruise director and I have found that a refreshing change.

No announcements are made unless they are an emergency – I prefer this and think that most others do too.

On embarkation staterooms are ready by 1130am – this is another wonderful perk.

I can truly say that Cunard has exceeded my expectations. It’s an excellent product – its obvious why this cruise line has so many loyal cruisers.

 

 

Volcanic Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Today we visited Gran Canaria – one of the most popular islands in the Canaries – temperatures reached 24C.

This volcanic island has many deep valleys, volcanic cones and a very picturesque landscape. We docked in the cosmopolitan, historic and prosperous port city of Los Palmas.

This is where Columbus stayed on his way to and from discovering the New World.

Although the islands scenery is less dramatic than that of Tenerife it has beautiful sandy beaches in the South which makes it a favourite of holiday makers from all over Europe.

Almost my entire group booked my suggested 930am Island Highlights tour. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Once again our guide was a true expert.

We stopped at a very scenic observation point before continuing to the picturesque town of Teror where the homes impressively have ornate wooden balconies. The town church is recognized Worldwide. There are a few locally own shops that line the narrow streets.

Our next stop was at an impressive botanical garden where we strolled and sampled the local banana liquor, honey rum and a variety of preserves.

When we arrived back to the ship at 130pm I walked to the modern shopping mall that was next door. There were not too many shops that interested me but McDonalds provided complimentary internet so I took advantage of that.

The pool deck was packed with sun bathers this afternoon.

I joined a packed ballroom for Cunard’s high tea – I’ve noticed that they change the petite sandwich and dessert selections but the traditional scones are a daily occurrence.

We start our journey North in a few minutes – tomorrow is a sea day and then we arrive in Lisbon, Portugal one of my favourite European cities.

Tonight my entire group will be dining in the elegant French restaurant on board the Queen Elizabeth which is called the Veranda. I’ve invited Sam, the young gentleman from Vancouver that is traveling on his own to join us. My female passengers have adopted him – its been a coincidence that he has joined every tour we have been on – mind you I am teasing him as I expect he could be a spy from another tour company!

I hear the weather has improved at home and maybe the snow will melt before we get home – that would suit all of us just fine.

I shall close as I want to get this post off before we start our transit of the Atlantic and we still have decent wifi connection.

Bon Voyage!

A Few Canary Island Pictures

Thanks to McDonalds Free wifi on Gran Canaria, Canary Islands here are a few pictures from our time in the Canary Islands.  We depart soon for Lisbon, Portugal – hate to leave 23C weather.  We are all enjoying this pre-Christmas cruise on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.

 

Cunard Britannia Restaurant Incident – Shower Anyone?

 

‘WATER” EXCITEMENT on board the QUEEN ELIZABETH

At 815am or so while sitting in the dining room enjoying a relaxing breakfast a loud sound similar to a whistle filled the room for about 10 seconds or so and then ……….
the fire sprinkler system came on in the middle of the first sectioned the dining room and those sitting under the sprinklers soon jumped to their feet while others that didn’t move as fast ended up getting their morning shower – a “drenching” shower as the longer the sprinkler system was on the more powerful the jets of water were….

I was quick enough to get a bit of video – my nephew, Schyler would be proud of me.

The area of the dining room where the accident occurred is where the Captains Table is located – maybe the beautiful flower arrangement on his table needed some water?

They moved those of us that were in the “Shower Area” to the back of the dining room. The Maitre D’ then treated me like Royalty – he even served me personally and stopped by a number of times to make sure all was fine.

It was interesting hearing the British passengers talking afterwards – one couple said, “well at least we know the sprinkler system works” (true but there was no fire) – and another lady said she felt as though she was on the “Titanic” – that was a bit of a stretch as we were tied to the dock and the Titanic had no sprinkler system.

In Cunard fashion – nothing closes and they continued to sit people for breakfast in the dining room even though everyone had to walk over the wet carpet in order to get to the dry section of the Dining Room.

EXCITING!

 

Tenerife – Thrilling Day Visiting Volcano Teide

The Canary Island named Tenerife attracts 6 million tourists a year. Tourism is the #1 industry here. This island is just a 4 hour flight from London, England.

Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth docked here at 8am this morning. After we docked the Horizon a cruise ship that Celebrity Cruise Lines owned a few decades ago passed us. I was so excited to see her – I first spotted this ship as it was sailing into port and even from a long distance away I knew it was the Horizon. The Horizon was a sister ship to the Zenith and I hosted groups on both of them at least 20 times. Back then those ships were pretty prestigious and were considered large. Of course the Queen Elizabeth towered over the Horizon today but seeing her brought back so many amazing memories.

Tenerife is the largest and most populated Canary Island. It holds one of the world’s largest carnivals in February and Carnival Santa Cruz de Tenerife is working to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Agriculture is important here too – bananas, chestnut trees, avocados and 20 varieties of potato’s are grown here (producing 3 crops a year).

The North Side of the Island is Green and the South Side is Dry.

There are 321 volcanos on this island and today the majority of us traveled 1 hour and 40 minutes to Volcano Teide. The scenery was spectacular the entire way – as we started to climb elevation soon were surrounded by Canary Pine forests but at 7000 ft and higher there was next to no vegetation. For about 20 minutes we traveled through misty clouds until we climbed passed them into sunny blue skies. It was thrilling to be higher than the cloud line.

Teide is 12198 above sea level so it often sees 10 days of snow a year but this year it only saw one. The roads at high elevation are marked with red poles to help those clearing snow.

When we reached the base of Teide temperatures dropped to -1C. I was wearing summer shorts so my passengers had lots of fun teasing me. It was a comedy of errors today – this morning when we exited the ship I was leading everyone and a gentleman from shore excursions guided me to what he thought was our coach. I handed my ticket to the tour rep at the coach and took my seat but after a few minutes he announced I was on the wrong coach – my passengers had a good laugh.

NASA studies and runs experiments at Volcano Teide as the landscape is similar to Mars.

We had a timed ticket entry to board a gondola that took us close to the peak of Teide. The gondola moved a quite the pace only taking 8 minutes to reach the peak. The gondola was large enough to carry all the passengers on our coach.

It was an exciting ride but at the top the wind was fierce and the temperatures frigid. The scenery was spectacular – very moon like.

After we got back to the ship I decided to skip a late lunch so took the complimentary shuttle into the town of Santa Cruz. It’s a fun city to roam around in but since its Sunday it was pretty quiet.

Once again temperatures reached into the 20’sC – perfect touring weather.

We enjoyed another excellent dinner tonight in the Britannia Restaurant. Tomorrow night we all look forward to our speciality dinner evening in the elegant French Restaurant – the Veranda.

Tomorrow our island tour of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria doesn’t start until 9:30am – we can sleep in!