Cunard World Cruise : Week Two Highlights (Port Canaveral to Aruba)
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 two, you can read the previous week here.
Day 8 (Sunday 17 January) At sea to Port Canaveral
The day dawned after a fairly bumpy night. It grew calmer through the day with the temperature hovering around 21 degrees Celsius, making it pleasant to lie about on the balcony, but was too windy to fully open and prepare the decks for full on sunbathing.
Another busy sea day on offer with activities like a talk on the creation and history of cruising by Maritime Author Bill Miller, food and vegetable carving demonstration by the chefs, classical concert and movies.
We were told that there were 1849 passengers on this leg covering 25 different nationalities, with three quarters (1,414) being British nationals. There were 197 Americans, 70 Germans, 39 Australians and 38 Canadians. The on-board experience is very British with everything conducted in English (with UK spellings), UK entertainers and quizzes drawing on this history and culture.
Cunard is a 175-year old cruise line that was created to deliver Royal Mail from the UK to North America. The large American Carnival Corporation that controls almost half of the cruising business, and owns many lines including Carnival, Holland America, Seabourn, P&O Cruises and Costa, owns it.
Despite its Britishness the on-board currency is the United States dollar.
Most guests looked forward to these and they were well attended. People lined up to meet the Captain and have their photograph taken, enjoy free drinks, canapés and mingle. They usually occurred on Formal Nights and the number each guest was invited to vary. During each sector of the World Cruise there was a Captain’s Cocktail Party for all guests on the first formal night. These were split into different events for First and Second Britannia Sittings and one for the Grills.
On the next Formal Night was the World Club one for Gold, Platinum and Diamond Level guests where passengers with the highest number of nights were announced. There were also some on other nights that included the Senior Officers Cocktail Party for Platinum and Diamond Guests and one for guests doing the Full World Voyage.
I am sure the cost of drinks and snacks was more than covered by the vast quantity of photographs people seemed to buy of themselves with the Captain, which seemed to be a highly sought after mementos of the trip.
Day 9 (Monday 18 January) At sea to Port Canaveral
During the night the wind built once again and the ship moved a lot by the early morning hours. The temperature was 22 degrees first thing however. This continued through into tomorrow, and will then died down as we got close to Florida.
This morning at Camera Club the runner-ups and finalists were announced for the first leg of the World Cruise. As mentioned previously, I was pleased as I won the Advanced section for Ocean picture and was runner up in the Around the Ship and Food categories.
Passenger Talent Show
This afternoon the Passenger Talent Show took place in the Queens Room. Well attended and good spirited I (as always) felt somewhat embarrassed and could not watch too much of it. Well-meaning guests with dubious skill massacre songs or tried to tell jokes. It is a tradition and popular. It gives some insight to the challenge facing the producers and judges of “Britain’s Got Talent” in seeking out standout performers I feel!
As with past trips, I waited until the $40 for up to 20 items special offer on laundry was offered before sending off jeans, formal and lounge shirts and other items that require ironing to laundry. As a Platinum member I would have 20% off the charges for regular laundry, but only after any On Board Credit was used up.
For items like T-shirts, socks and underwear I used the Guest Laundry. There was one on each passenger deck. This is free and washing powder is provided. They are American style front-loading washing machines and dryers. It did take some planning and multiple visits to find empty machines and can get competitive, and even a bit fraught at times when people take washing out of machines standing idle. But does save money versus sending every item away to the laundry for such a long trip.
Cape Canaveral Arrival
The Captain announced in his noon announcement that we would be arriving in Cape Canaveral the day before we were due, with an estimated time of 11am. This has been done, as every guest has to pass through United States Immigration before anyone can then proceed on tours or out of the port. If they had processed everyone in the morning we were due it would have risked affecting excursions as many were long days to Orlando Theme Parks and Kennedy Space Center. I was delighted with the news as this gave us an opportunity to explore the area more, and being on land after six days at sea appealed.
Day 10 (Tuesday 19 January) At sea to Port Canaveral
During the night the wind kept raging and by morning the sea swells had frothy white tops. The temperature held at around 21 degrees.
Queen Victoria Passenger Choir, Snowball Bingo and Crime
This was our last full sea day before arriving in Port Canaveral and so a number of loose ends on the entertainment side to close up the leg were completed. This included the final of the Snowball Bingo, which stood at $600. There was the last in the talk series about forensic science crime solving and the performance of the Queen Victoria Passenger Choir for this leg of the voyage. Over 90 guests had been rehearsing at noon over the past week and performed in the Queens Room at 2pm. Each leg a new choir was formed and performances held.
Using the Internet on board was an expensive and (at times) frustrating experience. The system used on Queen Victoria was dated versus some of the completing lines that are now investing in their own Satellite services to be able to provide high-speed connection at lower costs. This is likely to evolve over the coming years as the Carnival Corporation, who are the owners of Cunard, seem to be reviewing and investing in this area.
The cheapest package of Wi-Fi was 25c/ minute and ranged up to 75c/ minute for pay-as-you-go access. The cost of packages were as follows:
- 1920 minutes at $479.95 (25c/ minute)
- 960 minutes at $287.94 (30c/ minute)
- 480 minutes at $167.95 (35c/ minute)
- 240 minutes at $89.95 (38c / minute)
- 120 minutes at $47.95 (40c/ minute)
Buying packages at the start of each leg improved the value of each of these packages as around 10% additional free minutes were added if purchased on the first day. Unused minutes were not refunded at the end of the voyage.
If you are a Diamond World Club level guest you got the 480-minute package free per sector, while Platinum got 240 minutes and Gold the 120. The free minutes could be accessed each sector, and so we had them for the Southampton to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco and then San Francisco to Sydney.
The speed is quite slow and I found it okay for running email on my iPhone for mail, posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but struggled at times to access some Apps like my banking. It was impossible to use FaceTime or Skype. Although the signal is ship wide, we could only access it by the door to our cabin and not in the bedroom area.
There were computer terminals in the Library and in the ConneXions room where the Guest Computer Services Manager was based for people without laptops, Smartphones or Tablets to access the Internet. Printing was charged at 50c a page.
Therefore, at each port we would watch where the crew went to access the Internet – as they know where all the free spots are. Encouragingly more and more cruise terminals in the ports are offering free Wi-Fi.
Captain Merchandise Signing
On each leg Captain Philpott had to endure a session where he signed merchandise and photographs. On the first leg it took place today at 4.15pm outside the Bookshop on Deck 3 Midships. Guests were asked to bring one item each only from prints, books, posters or photographs taken on board. You could not ask him to sign items they called as “trivial” like postcards and menus.
Nautical Chart Auction
On every voyage I have been on, and every leg of this world cruise, the “official” Navigation Chart signed by the Captain and Navigation Team for the voyage was auctioned off. These are now purely for show as equipment has replaced the need and use of these charts so all people were really buying is signed memorabilia. However, it is for a good cause as the funds go to “The Prince’s Trust” which was set up by Prince Charles to help support and fund start-up businesses by young people.
World Premiere of new show: “One Way Or Another”
I have been very critical over the years of the stodgy and uninspiring production shows on Cunard, which I felt were dated revues of old songs around predictable themes. It seems things are changing at last. A new show was launched today called “One Way Or Another” produced by Qdos, a UK-based entertainment company that is the force behind the bulk of pantomimes there.
The show was brilliant with high energy pace, fantastic choreography, simple but striking set design, exciting lighting and innovative costumes. Based around the story of a girl who leaves her boyfriend to travel around the world visiting New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Paris and Miami before realising she missed him and they get back together. Each destination has themed dancing and reinterpretations of contemporary songs. It was outstanding entertainment and showcased the talent of the young Royal Court Theatre Company.
I happened to sit next to the Production Manager from Qdos who told me that they had a large team on the ship since early January and had been working overnight after the other shows were finished and in the afternoons to get ready. It was very slick and clearly a lot of work had gone onto it.
More shows have or are being phased in across the fleet. This looked like it cost a lot and showed investment. Great news.
Julian Lloyd Webber
Travelling on this leg was the well-known cello player and composer Julian Lloyd Weber, brother of Andrew. His wife and a young Chinese piano player prodigy of theirs performed a concert and hosted a retrospective and question and answer session about his career. It was extremely popular. It was clear that he was a celebrity as he travelled in Queens Grill, whereas the other guest speakers and artists are in Britannia.
Cunard do host well-known celebrities during the year, although it seems to be more on their Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic voyages in my experience.
Day 11 (Wednesday 20 January) Port Canaveral
The day dawned bright and sunny, although a brisk 14 degrees as we approached Port Canaveral. The sea was clam and the sky a welcoming blue. We were tied up and docked by 10.30am and the process of clearing passengers and crew through United States Immigration and Customs began at 11am.
Immigration and Clearing Over 1,800 guests and 1,000 crew members
It was a long and slow process as every guest and crewmember had to be seen by Immigration Officers to have photograph and fingerprints taken. Passengers were called by deck and had to wait in the Queens Room before being taken in groups into the Cruise Terminal. No guests were allowed back onto the Queen Victoria until every traveller had been processed, although the crew were allowed to.
Our deck (seven) was due to be called between 1pm and 1.30pm but was about half an hour before that. We had to have our passports, an ESTA and fill out a customs form – as per arrival by air.
Shuttle busses were provided to take guests to the nearby Cocoa Village, Beach, Merritt Square Mall and Cocoa Beach. This was poorly planned and not a good experience. Only six busses were laid on which was inadequate for the number of people, as there were no tours it meant that most people going on land wanted to get out after six days at sea. Everyone needed to use the bus, as there was nothing within walking distance. There was a wait of about 40 minutes after Immigration and then two came. As they went in a circuit when we wanted to return from the Mall the line soon built up to between 150 and 200 people and each bus that came could only take between four and sixteen people as they were full from the previous stop. Things got a bit fraught and finally the organisers tried to get some busses to come direct to the Mall. So a frustrating day of waiting for Immigration, waiting in line to be processed and then series of waiting for shuttle busses. It was not well thought through and numbers catered for.
I was also surprised that the Immigration was done by Deck from One upwards and that priority was not given starting with Queens, then Princess, then Britannia Balcony and so on. On airlines this would be the process reflecting the premium paid and making that a benefit and perk. Seemed a missed opportunity as when, for example, there is tendering a priority system is supposedly given to suites of certain grades.
This evening the show was a “Variety Show” with new material from the Illusionist Philip Hitchcock and the four-part male harmony group Troubadour.
Day 12 (Thursday 21 January) Port Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center
Today we did the “Kennedy Space Center Up Close & Personal” excursion that lasted eight hours from 8am to 4pm and cost $123 per person. Cunard offered another trip there that was less expensive, but that did not include the trip out to see the massive Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Pads.
After meeting in the Royal Court Theatre where we were allocated our sticker with tour group number on, waited for our trip to be called and trekked out through security and on to the waiting bus. It was around half an hour trip and we arrived just as it was opening at 9am.
It was a fascinating and busy day. The Center is a working facility, educational and inspiring and unlike going to a theme park, which many of the other tour options that day were as Orlando is about an hour from Port Canaveral. It is where NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) launch rockets including all the past Saturn, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, many commercial ventures like SpaceX and are preparing for the new program to launch a NASA program to the Moon and onto Mars. It occupies over 140,000 acres of land, although less that 10% is used for the operation and the rest is a nature reserve. There are hundreds of species of birds and animals, including over 6,000 alligators. We saw around 6 of them lying around the canals during our tour!
The main focus area for guests was the Visitors Centre, which has more than enough to keep people busy between opening and their 6pm closing. Here were features like the Rocket Garden, IMAX movie halls with one about the Hubble Telescope and another about the “Journey Into Space” that tells the story of the program past and future, Astronauts Memorial, the Space Shuttle Hall which houses the “Atlantis” (which went on over 30 missions) and talks and meetings with past Astronauts.
Our trip also took us on a two-hour bus exploration past the Vehicle Assembly building where the rockets are pieced together, the long tracks they were then moved to the launch area and then to see the pads, including the ones where Space Shuttle departed and new expeditions are leaving from. We then spent time at the massive Saturn and Apollo Hall where we watched an incredible series of films about the Apollo mission before touring the hall with a full sized Saturn Rocket. Impressive.
Day 13 (Friday 22 January) Port Everglades for Fort Lauderdale and Miami
We had sailed 4,279 nautical miles by the time we ended the first sector of the World Voyage. It was 1,314 from Southampton to Ponta Delgada and then 2,690 from there to Port Everglades.
End of Sector Disembarkation Day and In-transit
Around 800 people ended their voyage today and were replaced by new faces. Many guests doing the trip around the world preferred to leave off the leg from Southampton, either because they were from the United States and it avoided a long-haul flight to join the ship or because they wanted to avoid the potentially rough North Atlantic seas and cooler weather, especially when there were so many sea days with just one stop.
However, if you wanted to say you did the full World Voyage you needed to do Southampton to Southampton. In 2017 I noticed that the Queen Victoria itinerary made it possible to do a Southampton to Southampton or a Fort-Lauderdale-to-Fort-Lauderdale round trip.
The frustrating thing for guests continuing on to the next leg was that the local Authorities would not allow anyone in transit or going on tours to leave the ship until every disembarking passenger had departed and been cleared. Initially all tour departures were pushed back to take account of this, but one set of travellers had to be called by name and eventually they only; left the ship close to 10am (receiving jeers and sarcastic clapping from people waiting to get off the ship to explore). Annoying.
Shuttle Bus Charges and Fare Types
There was a shuttle bus running to the large Galleria Mall, around 30 minutes travelling time away. However, this was only free of charge to people that had paid the regular fare and those that had booked their trip via Cunard Early Saver and Saver Fares were charged $8 one way. Cruise cards were scanned on boarding and the system charged the on-board account when applicable.
Cunard offered a number of different fare types, which have different restrictions and benefits. As these do change over time checking the latest structure at http://www.cunard.co.uk/ourfares is essential. The key difference between them was the amount of flexibility provided, with a premium associated with this.
Cunard Fares: All cruises had these fares and they enabled guests to select an exact stateroom from those still available at time of booking, priority choice of dining time in Britannia if travelling this class, priority in any upgrades, complimentary shuttle bus in port where they are needed, 15% deposit on booking, flexibility in booking changes and choice of one additional benefit from On-Board Credit, Car Parking in Southampton or return coach travel to Southampton.
Miami South Beach
We had booked the “South Beach and Art Deco District On Your Own” excursion costing $59 per person. This provided a transfer to Ocean Drive where all the stunning Art Deco buildings are. There was a guide who escorted the bus there and provided some information and insights on the way there.
It was pouring with rain all day, but we still enjoyed strolling around the area. We were thankful for the Cunard umbrella we had taken from our room and the extra one we picked up at the gangway. After viewing Ocean Drive walking from the drop-off point on 5th street and visiting the Art Deco District Visitor Centre, we headed to Lincoln Street (15th street) for lunch. This pedestrianized area has many restaurants with outdoor areas that are usually a great place to sit in the sunshine watching the beautiful people pass by. Today was an indoor day.
We were back at the ship just after 5pm.
Day 14 (Saturday 23 January) At sea to Aruba
Overnight having sailed further south the morning dawned with fresh blue virtually cloudless skies, light winds and warmth. During the morning it built from up from 22 to 26 degrees. The sun meant the decks were open and people lay around the pools, open decks and up on the Grills Deck – which is where I spent the day enjoying the sun (with only a break for lunch).
During the day we sailed along an area known as the “Old Bahama Channel” which meant we sailed along the north of Cuba. We could see the island clearly as we passed 12 miles off shore. It was a fairly busy shipping area and we passed a number of cruise ships from Celebrity and Carnival, yachts and a regular flow of container ships heading in the opposite direction – and presumably in front and behind of us were a similar flow of ships.
Lying out in the sun meant that I missed the port talk on the forthcoming ports of Aruba and Cartagena in Columbia, and so watched it later on the in-room TV. There was the first talk in a series about canals by John Laverick MBE in anticipation of our passing through the Panama Canal in the following week. It was called “One Hundred Years Before Panama – The Birth of Modern Canals”.
Grills Area Deck
On the Queen Victoria (and the Queen Elizabeth which is basically the same ship layout), there is a distinct Grills area, unlike on Queen Mary 2 where the facilities are dotted around the ship. Up on Deck 11 were the Princess and Queens Grill Restaurants, Al Fresco Dining area, Grills Lounge with bar and Concierge and open deck, with another up on Deck 12. This area could be accessed via two of the lifts on Staircase B using your Cruise Card or via a staircase that had a sign stating it was only for Grills guests.
On Deck 12 are some shaded areas, comfortable loungers and during the day we were offered drinks, coffee, ice cream and in the afternoon during teatime a trolley came round with tea, sandwiches and cakes.
Clarendon Fine Art Gallery
The Clarendon Fine Art Gallery took up a fairly large area on Deck 3 shopping area. The sale of art has become big business for some reason that I have never understood, and it was active on Queen Victoria with many events, talks most sea days and promotions.
They had Chris and Steve Rocks on board from Fort Lauderdale to Aruba. They are twin brothers from the North of England that paint modern art landscapes together on one canvas. While on board they hosted exhibition of their work, reception in the gallery and a Question and Answer session about their work. The art cost around $1,000 a canvas.
As we were heading into the Caribbean region where Tax and Duty Free shopping is prevalent, and important for ports where cruise ships call, this topic was ramped up on the ship. It started with a “Port Shopping Presentation with Gail” about Aruba and Cartagena where she covered the stores that have a relationship with Cunard and offer incentives and guarantees if you shopped there. She then hosted a desk for people to come and get “VIP Cards” to unlock discounts and incentives. This was followed the next day with seminars about diamonds, watches and Tanzanite and how to choose and buy them. These have become standard fare on cruise lines in the region.
The cruise fare included meals in dining room, Lido buffet and room service. There were additional dining options for a surcharge in the Veranda Restaurant and the Lido. The Veranda was open for lunch on sea days and for dinner on all evenings, except embarkation days. Lunch was $15 and dinner $24 per person. A section of the Lido was dedicated to a themed dining experience at a cost of $15 per person most Informal Night evenings which included “Coriander” (Indian), “La Piazza” (Italian), “Prime” (Fusion American) and “Bamboo” (Pan-Asian).
The show this evening was Jacinta Whyte who has been in the West End playing roles in shows like “Blood Brothers” and “Les Miserables”. She was excellent and had an incredible voice, choosing an eclectic mix of songs. After the show she sold CDs for $20.
The Journey continued…
Read week three of the journey covering Aruba to Guatemala via the Panama Canal
To read the full journey: