Cunard World Cruise Week 4 Highlights (Guatemala to San Francisco)
I travelled around the world in a 12-week trip that started in Southampton UK and ended in Hong Kong. Most of it on segments of Cunard World cruise, first on Queen Victoria and then Queen Elizabeth. This 12-part series covers the journey, experiences and tips – one for each week of the journey. This post covers week four, you can read the previous week here
Puerto Quetzal Guatemala to San Francisco
This week saw the completion of the second leg of the World Voyage, which was in San Francisco although many passengers disembarked at the Los Angeles stop
Day 22 (Sunday 31 January) Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
Puerto Quetzal is the key commercial port in Guatemala and there is not much there, or in the area, of interest to tourists. There was an expansive container port and a small oasis area with yacht basin that can host one cruise ship. However, it acts as a gateway to explore the UNESCO World Heritage City of La Antigua and other historic sites and so is growing as a cruise stop. We did the “on your own” transfer to La Antigua, which was a beautiful and fascinating city.
Cruise Ship Oasis
The port has created a fairly sizeable lush green haven within the otherwise utilitarian working port. In the reception area the tourist board had set up a desk where, in addition to getting leaflets and information, you could also have your passport stamped. There were a number of tour companies offering excursions.
This area proved to be popular with the crew and also passengers returning from trips, as the bars were offering free Wi-Fi when drinks were bought. There were a multitude of handicraft stalls selling leather goods, distinctive Guatemalan fabric goods, jade jewellery and bead items. It was one of the best local markets I have come across in a port as it was given up for independent local people and not chain stores. I ended up buying quite a few items, as there was beautiful work and wide choice.
Day 23 (Monday 1 February) Day One at Sea en route to Los Angeles
With continued glassy flat sea, warm bright sun and rich blue skies we kept hugging the coastline of Mexico as we sailed north towards Los Angeles. Throughout the day pods of dolphins were spotted leaping out of the ocean on their own journey to wherever they were heading. The Bridge advised over the public address system that we should expect to see more sea life, including whales, as this is a migration period along this coast.
I noted on the maps shown on Channel 43 of the in-room television that we kept hugging the coastline at what looked to be a consistent distance instead of cutting through the bay on a more direct “as the crow flies” route. I later found out that this guaranteed the smoothest passage.
Passenger Bad Habits and Reminders
As the ship settled into a routine of several days at sea, bad habits emerged and I saw that the Daily Program started to contain more requests, guidelines and reinforcement of rules or good practice appeared. An unfortunate reflection on passenger etiquette as the program today spoke about:
- Chair Hogs. A reminder and request to stop staking a claim to a lounger by leaving books and other items before disappearing off to go to activities, meals or for other extended periods. This was an issue both around the ship and on the Grills Deck. It was largely ignored, and the Crew made no effort to enforce the “rule” that loungers left unoccupied for 30 minutes would have the items removed and sent to the Pursers Desk. There were a few arguments among guests today when people had taken it upon themselves to move things to get in the shade. Many people are chair hogs and it was very annoying, especially as everyone knew the Crew would not act (probably to avoid the aggression they would be on the receiving end of as chair hogs are in my experience are selfish, crass and ignorant anyway).
- There was a request to keep noise down in the corridors and not to slam doors.
- Jogging on Deck 3 before 7am and after 8pm as there are cabins below and the noise disturbs.
- Walking in one direction around Deck 3. Everyone was asked to walk counter clockwise to ensure a harmonious flow. At points the deck is narrow and as many do the “three time around the deck is a mile” walk, keeping it all flowing at busy times helps.
- Not putting anything down these other than human waste and toilet paper. The system is a suction one and anything else can quickly clog and cause the system to fail.
- Waste Bins on deck. Request for passengers to follow the separation of rubbish that is marked on the bins to reduce the amount of sorting the ship has to do.
- Theatre and Talks. Before every talk and show a reminder is played to ask that seats are not reserved and that no recording or photography should take place. Overall people seem to follow the photography one, unlike many other ships I have been on.
Sea days often led to me wanting to access the Internet more to check and post to social media, surf and check bank. However over the last few days it had been especially poor and slow.
Crew Race the Ship Challenge
As part of the Cunard program of supporting and raising money for The Prince’s Trust, which is one of their key charities, the crew undertook a cycling challenge that lasted for four sea days between Guatemala and Los Angeles. During the day two of the Fitness Centre’s stationary bikes were set up outside the Empire Casino and crew members would do half or full hour sessions. The goal was to cover more kilometres than the distance between Puerto Quetzal and Los Angeles, which was 3,800. Pledge Cards were available for guests to donate.
You could also buy very attractive pins saying “Cunard QV 2016” for $10 to support the charity. Both of these costs did not come off any On-Board Credit Allowance.
Day 24 (Tuesday 2 February) Day Two at Sea en route to Los Angeles
A windy but warm day, although cooler than Guatemala, as we headed towards Los Angeles. It became harder to sit out on decks as the day progressed as the wind built up.
Panama Canal DVD
The Panama Canal DVD was competed and available for collection today. It was a 24-minute overview entirely of footage shot on our transition. Interspersed with time-lapse footage from cameras set up on the ship was footage from the three Photography Team members on land, shots around the ship, an interview with John Laverick (who had been giving the Panama Canal lectures on board) and the Captain. These were good additions as they added context and commentary too the visuals. We watched it on the DVD player we have in our cabin. The DVD is an impressive job done and good moment of that was produced in a short space of time.
Voyage DVD Series
For those that want to have an entire record of the World Voyage, or leg, they were able to purchase a series of DVDs that cost $34.95 each, with a 20% discount for multiple purchases. In all there were seven core ones in the series (one for each sector), although they also offered Part Sector versions for popular disembarkation ports like “Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles” and “San Francisco to Auckland”. Anyone on the World Voyage buying the full set would have paid $195.72 ($244.65 less the 20% discount). The Panama DVD was not included as part of the series.
The DVDs appeared to be a mixture of footage of on-board activities, focused on the cocktail parties or deck events where they could capture as many people as possible so people could spot themselves, destination shots and some excursions and stock footage taken of the events like shows that were then used in each. This is based on seeing the previews shown in the photography shop.
Day 25 (Wednesday 3 February) Day Three at Sea en route to Los Angeles
As we headed further north up towards the West Coast of the United States we could often see the coast of Mexico during the day. There was a marked change in the weather as we moved up from warmer tropical regions and the wind built up significantly, reaching up to 39 knots at times. Temperatures fell down to around 20 degrees. The sea had more swell and the water in the swimming pools sloshed about vigorously, so they were covered with nets and closed for swimming.
Captain’s Chat Show and Galley Tour
As it was not weather for sitting outside, despite the bright sunshine, passengers stayed inside the ship and sought out the talks and activities. The most popular of which were ship focused. Captain Philpott was interviewed by Sally Sagoe (the Entertainment Manager) in the Royal Court Theatre. Guests could submit questions in advance via a box at the Pursers Desk. The other was the Britannia Restaurant Galley Tour for guests to see the scale and how the thousands of meals are prepared and served. Having seen this before I did not attend, but the line was large – showing the level of interest in seeing and hearing first-hand the logistics behind the impressive functioning of this team.
As the leg is coming to an end the usual end of cruise activities started appearing including the Navigation Chart Auction and sign up for the Passenger Talent Show.
Day 26 (Thursday 4 February) Day Four at Sea en route to Los Angeles
Another day where the weather kept guests within the ship, and the first time that the ship felt busy. Despite there being just over 1,800 guests I had kept commenting that the ship felt surprisingly quiet. Cunard ships do have a high space-to-guest ratio based on the number of cabins you see versus ships of similar size when docked. The more frantic activity today seemed to have been driven by two disembarkation ports in fast succession. Although the end of the sector was in San Francisco, there seemed to be quite a few departing in Los Angeles the next day. The ship was busy with people shopping and moving about, presumably spending any remaining on-board credit, taking a last look of the ship and making the most of their last days before getting off.
Camera Club Sector 2
The looming end of the sector meant the results of the three challenges set were announced. The challenges were “Landscapes”, “Panama Canal” and “Macro” (close-ups). As per the first sector there were a winner and runner-up for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. I did even better than in the last sector and won four of the possible six awards receiving winner and runner-up for Panama Canal, winner for Landscape and runner up for Macro. I received Cunard Photo frames as prizes.
Virtual Bridge Tour Talk
In addition to the Cunard Insights Lecture program talks, Second Officer Rebecca Morgan and Deck Cadet William Broom did a well-attended talk in the Royal Court Theatre about the operation of the bridge. Again showing the level of interest in the behind-the-scenes and logistics of how the ship operates to provide the cruising experience.
Royal Beverage Tour and other challenges
Today was also the final day for guests to compete the Royal Beverage Tour. This though was just a way of getting passengers to visit most of the bars and spend money. There was a list of drinks and bars that people had to complete over the course of the sector.
A non-money making activity that had been run and also ended today was the Decathlon and Bridge. Guests signed up some days ago and formed teams to do various game challenges each day such as table tennis, desk quoits and baggo.
Bridge playing was extremely popular and spilled out from the card room on Deck Three into the Grand Lobby area with card tables set up all around the Library. Final rankings were published today.
Day 27 (Friday 5 February) Los Angeles
A shambolic morning. As we had visited other countries after going through United States immigration in Port Canaveral, we had to endure another laborious and frustrating morning going though it again. The event was appalling handled, in my view, by the ship. They made it a long, arduous and unnecessarily unpleasant process.
Despite facing the issue many times on previous World Voyages, and even recently in Port Canaveral, they ended up making it take a long time and annoying guests. They had a system put in place but had no structure that enforced it and so it ran away from their control.
The plan was for people on tours only to go between 7am and 8am and then the hundreds of people disembarking between 8am and 9am before other guests would be able to go, which was supposed to be by deck. However, they did not enforce it by ensuring people had some sort of system to identify who they were and so, of course, people rushed to go early and the lines became unmanageable through the ship, tempers grew and it all grew fraught and time consuming.
It seems to me a very simple system could be used where people are given in advance coloured passes based on their priority and have to meet in say the Theatre at a certain time. This would mean those without them could be turned away. Numbers could be allocated and then groups sent to the immigration people in batches. So this could avoid the crushes and issues.
There were 10 Immigration officers on board. Once we had been through the process we were given a card saying we had completed it and had to show that before we could leave the ship. Guests disembarking had to bring their hand luggage with them and were required to go straight from the process to disembark.
Los Angeles Harbour
Once we finally got thorough it, we caught the shuttle bus from the Los Angeles Harbour in San Pedro, where we docked, to Long Beach. The harbour is a huge container port and very active. Close by is the Long Beach Harbour, which is where the original Queen Mary has been docked since 1987 and Carnival Cruises depart from.
Queen Victoria docked just in front of the retired USS IOWA battleship, which is a museum. The Crown Princess cruise ship also was in port with us. The harbour itself is isolated with nothing for travellers close by to walk to.
We had decided not to venture into Los Angeles on any of the tours as they were covering ground we had done before, and thought Long Beach would be appealing. From research I had done it seemed there had been a lot of development and investment. I was largely disappointed with it. There is a new ocean front development with boardwalk, restaurants, Marina, Aquarium of the Pacific and shopping area (The Pike). Further downtown is the Latin American Art Museum and other art museums. Most guests who had not gone on tours into Los Angeles caught the shuttle bus into Long Beach and the free Passport Bus the city provides to Queen Mary. We had been a number of times before and did not want to go again.
After walking around the marina, exploring more downtown we visited the Aquarium, which was pretty good but returned to the ship wishing we had ventured into LA. I would recommend anyone coming here who does not want to see the Queen Mary to go on tour into LA.
Change of Guests
It seemed that a lot of people disembarked, with lines of busses to take people on transfers, and a lot boarded. However, even more got off and embarked in San Francisco. The feel of the ship changed.
Day 28 (Saturday 6 February) At sea and early evening arrival in San Francisco
Drifting slowly into San Francisco Bay late afternoon meant we glided under the Golden Gate Bridge with horns blaring and the opportunity to take great photographs. Arriving in the daytime and being able to see this icon up close was a thrilling experience. Crewmembers took advantage of their restricted access areas on the bow and Deck Five to get the best views. As we arrived on Super Bowl Weekend being hosted in the city and security was tight, several armed Coast Guard boats whizzed around us as we delved deeper into the bay and finally docked at Pier 35.
Being right in the heart of the city, versus the container port of the day before, was great as we could just stroll out from the ship onto the Embarcadero and walk down past the scenic piers towards the heart of town to meet friends for dinner. Being out on land and only returning later in the evening to the ship felt strange after a month at sea.
We had a gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge and lower part of the city from out our cabin, which was especially magical in the morning as the sun rose from this side.
Today marked the end of the Second Sector of the World Voyage and despite so many leaving in Los Angeles, there was an additional churn of guests. People could disembark this evening but they had to carry all their own bags. It also meant that the on-board account was charged as each end of sector marks a financial period.
Watch my time-lapse video of the Queen Victoria arrival into San Francisco: https://youtu.be/h4z1HPAj4kU
Back to back booking frustrations
We had booked this trip as two different bookings as we had originally planned to change cabins, but later decided against this. The two were not seamlessly linked and for a few days there was some confusion as various departments kept contacting us or sending information about disembarking including reminders to cash out the casino, return library books and even the restaurant asked if we were now getting off.
However, finally something clicked into place and we received new Cruise Cards for the next sector in our room. Tomorrow we need to leave the ship when we head out with the old card and just make sure we check back in its the new card.
Second Sector Guest Entertainers, Insight Speakers and Production Shows
San Francisco marked the end of the second sector of the World Voyage. Across this time the following was the entertainment provided in the Royal Court Theatre in the form of evening shows (Guest artists and show by the Royal Court Theatre Company) and daytime lectures in the Cunard Insights Program):
Cunard Insights Speakers:
- John Laverick MBE gave a series about canals which were “One Hundred Years Before Panama – The Birth of Modern Canals”, “The Panama Canal – Its History, Construction and Operation”, “The Panama Canal Expansion Project”, A Tale of Two Canals” (projects he has been involved in restoring canals in the UK) and “Reliving the Excitement of Travel on Cunard’s First Liner”.
- Professor Jon Wiant spoke on “The Not So Secret World of Intelligence”, “The Craft of Espionage”, “Plausible Denial: The Role of Covert Action”, “The Birth of Bond: Ian Fleming, the Caribbean and 007”, “60 Years of Secret War: The US, Cuba and the Caribbean” and “Oh, What a Lovely Pond: Pirates, Nazis, Commies, and Drugs and Thugs” (About the history of the Caribbean as a region for conflict between criminals and the authorities).
- John McCarthy. The British journalist that was held hostage for 1,943 days after being abducted in Beirut by Islamic Fundamentalists, spoke about his 5 years captive in Lebanon and another day did a “Question and Answer Session” with the Entertainment Manager Sally Sagoe.
- Brian J Ford spoke about “How Dinosaurs Lived”, “The Mystery of the Microscope in the Mud”, “Shocking Secrets of Facebook” and “Miracle Weapons of WWII”
- Jon Evans, Comedian. We had seen the routine before on Cunard, but were still funny the second time around.
- Jacinta Whyte. She has appeared in shows like “Les Miserables” and “Blood Brothers” in the West End. Loved her as she could really belt out the songs. Bought the CD she sold after the show for $20
- “Two on Tap” – A duo of “Broadway Veterans” Melissa Giattino and Ron DeStefano celebrating the Great American Songbook. WE did not go to this show.
- The Celtic Tenors. A trio of Irish singers with incredible voices who were funny, charming and gave goose bumps when they sang. They did a selection of Irish, Scottish and Opera favourites.
- Manuel Zuniga a juggler. We did not see this show.
- Luminescence by Duo Lyodji”. A Japanese husband and wife balancing act duo that perform on the stage, ring and then cloth hanging from the stage. Very talented but probably not a 45-minute riveting event.
- Classical Pianist Tia Jiang and singer Ben Heathcote performed a two-part variety show. We did not go to this show.
- George Casey, an Irish comedian who has lived in the USA for over 40 years. Very dated humour and jokes. Wished had not gone as counted down the minutes to the end. Was more the artists’ style that should be moved away from!
- “The Flyrights”. A trio of three black singers from South London singing soul and Motown classics. They did two different shows on this leg. Very well rehearsed and popular.
- James Freedman, The Man of Steal. Billed as one of the World’s greatest pickpockets. Very funny and clever.
Royal Court Theatre Company Shows:
- “A Stroke of Genius”. This was also on the first leg and is a song and dance show using famous works of art as the basis for dance routines.
- “Dance Passion”, very similar to “Passionata” seen on Queen Mary 2 was a fast-paced show with mixed styles of dancing including the Jive, Russian Folk and more classical routines.
- “Hollywood Rocks”. A premiere of the show on the ship, which was a history of silver screen songs. Lots of costume changes and some classics. Well received by the audience.