It's the 15th of February 2012; aka the first sea day of the Royal Circumnavigation of Australia (RCOA). It's been a long time coming and over a year since Cunard announced this segment of the world voyage (March 2010) and released it for sale (July 2010). If, like me, you've ever booked a cruise nearly two years out then you'll know what it's like to wait….and wait….and wait.
Happily embarkation day arrived and suddenly you find yourself still waiting but this time it's in hours - not days. Our e-tickets informed us to be at wharf 5 at Darling Harbour at 1pm for the processing and embarkation, so naturally we decided to arrive at midday. Because QM2 is too big to berth at the overseas passenger terminal at Circular Quay she berths at the naval base at nearby Garden Island in Sydney Harbour. Because it is a naval base they apparently are not allowed to do the immigration processing at Garden Island so that's why passengers embarking and disembarking at Sydney are required to go to Darling Harbour.
Wharf 5 is not a permeant structure and looks rather like a big white tent. After dropping our bags off outside we made our way into the tent where hundreds of others had also decided to ignore the embarkation time on their e-ticket and turn up early. Everyone was seated in rows of chairs in the middle of the tent and alongside a far wall were the rope barriers and the desks where they check your passport. We were handed the form that asks if you've been recently sick or have x symptoms and filled it out at the tables alongside the tent wall. At around 12:30 a lady brought a big Cunard sign up to the rope barriers and announced something without using a loud hailer. We couldn't hear what she said but that didn't matter as like it or not we were swept towards the rope barriers by the crowd. Upon getting closer we could hear that she was calling for Diamond & Platinum guests only. Everyone else had to sit down. Knowing that Grills passengers also get priority embarkation we let her know we were in the Grills and she let us through. They divided the rope barriers and had Grills, Diamond & Platinum guests going down one side and everyone else down the other. The Grills, Diamond & Platinum queue was processed first and they roped off the Britannia queue. As a side note, we always travel economy when flying so it's nice to have priority boarding.
The lady at the desk checked our passports and gave us a black boarding card that had the number 1 on it. We returned to our seats to fill out the immigration card. Soon after they called for everyone that had a red "preferred" embarkation card and those passengers started to make their way through to immigration in a closed-off section of the tent. We realised we'd been given the wrong embarkation card and so we explained the situation to the lady at the door and she let us through. Immigration processed us quickly and smoothly and we walked out of the tent along the dock to a boat moored alongside. We got on and put our carryon luggage on the seats and went out back to take photos. Pleasingly Cunard didn't try to squeeze as many people as possible into the boats and once they had a set number on board we set off. The boat ride from Darling Harbour around to Garden Island takes you under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, passed Circular Quay (where P&O's Pacific Dawn was berthed), past the Sydney Opera House and around Mrs Macquarie's Chair to Garden Island where the ship is docked. I have to say, it's a fantastic way to board the ship. The photo opportunities are amazing and the size of the ship itself is awe inspiring when you come alongside.
Our little boat pulled up alongside the ship and everyone quickly disembarked and made their way up the gangway into QM2. Our passports were again checked and we were directed through the Britannia Restaurant to the Queens Room where Britannia and Grills passengers were separated and directed to their relevant desk to have their photo taken and credit card swiped. The lady who processed us advised that the computer system they used to process passengers had changed since she'd done this last year. We were given our swipe cards and made our way to our room.
So, after much discussion on these boards, let me add to the general consensus that the new design looks fantastic. The carpet, sheets, curtains and the fabric covering the sofa and chairs are all new and the whole colour scheme works really well. The carpet looks great and goes really well with the new white sheets (which I might add are wonderfully soft). Our luggage hadn't arrived (which isn't surprising as our boat, with passengers only, was the first to leave Darling Harbour) so we went down to the Princess Grill to have lunch. I was very pleased with the table allocation - the maitre dé confirmed he had received my email requesting this particular table. I smiled and said "don't you mean emails?". He smiled and laughed and agreed "yes emails".
We were the first into the Princess Grill for lunch and the new carpet looks very nice. Our wine sommelier remembered us from our previous voyage and we said that we had really liked his wine suggestions last voyage and so were happy to go with his suggestions this time as well. We advised we would like a sweet white wine and again his recommendation was spot on. I also appreciate that he pointed out his suggestion on the wine list prior to getting the wine. I like that they take the care to ensure that you're happy with the price of the suggested wine (without actually mentioning the cost), it's a consideration that is much appreciated. Lunch was delicious (I had the Red Emperor fish) and a glass of our new wine. No one else turned up for lunch so we went back to our room to see if our bags had arrived.
They hadn't, but we got to meet our steward who was very polite and friendly. I asked for some fruit and water bottles, plus extra hangers, which were all delivered promptly. We decided to have a go at the Pol Acker and, whilst drinkable, it's probably not something you'd actually order yourself. But who cares - we're on QM2 for 22 nights and quite frankly the taste of the complimentary bottle of champagne is neither here nor there. We unpacked what we could (from the hand luggage) and went out on the balcony to take some photos of the city. Talk about million dollar views. As we are on the starboard side we have ringside seats of the city of Sydney, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge - wow! There were some small crowds across the water taking photos and viewing the ship. Car's were continually driving past and slowing down to have a look.
Our bags arrived and we unpacked. It takes quite a while to unpack three bags. We've used up all the space in the walk-in wardrobe and the cupboards hear the door. Happily there is enough room for everything. Feeling energetic we went for a run. After our run we took our lifejackets down to assembly station F for our life-boat drill. We were one of the first to arrive so got some good seats for people watching. As they are on a 48 hour hygiene alert there is no self-service in Kings Court so nice lady made us some coffee and orange juice. That's another thing about Cunard, the staff are always so friendly and polite. There's another thread on here asking if there are any changes to the emergency drills onboard. The only change I noticed is the attention paid to it by the passengers. When the "boing boing boing" sounded (as it does before announcements) everyone went silent - you could have heard a pin drop. Strangely there was no announcement and so after a while people started to talk again.
After the drill we went to the Commodore Club for a drink. The new chairs in the Commodore Club are very swish and look very nice. We also checked out the observation deck on deck 11 and peeked into the Atlantic room where the full World Cruise guests have a special lounge. Then we went down to the Britannia Restaurant to check out the Britannia Club restaurant - very nice I thought; much nicer than the little room on the other side of the restaurant which I previously thought was the Britannia Club.
As tonight's dress-code is elegant casual I put on some shorts and a hoodie. Just kidding. We went down to the Princess Grill at about 18:35 and were pleased to see another passenger at our table. She is an Australian lady travelling alone. Like us she booked back in July 2010 and we discussed the what other cruise lines we'd all been on and our dogs. It was a very pleasant conversation. Just after our starters we were joined by another passenger who is also an Australian lady travelling alone. She was very nice and we all stayed chatting until about quite late until at around 21:30 (the other lady having left early to join the dancing in the Queens Room). I very much enjoyed dinner, I had a salmon terrine for starter, followed by veal medallions and two deserts - the brûlée and the trio of sorbets. Absolutely delicious all of it. The meat was cooked perfectly and the service in the Princess Grill was fantastic.
As seems to be usual on embarkation nights, the ship was pretty quiet. G32 was a ghost town and the Queens Room not even a quarter full. There was a sail away party out on deck 8 and Vibz had set themselves up behind the pool. There was a bit of dancing going on but suddenly the heavens opened and the everyone scurried for shelter. We made our way down to the Chart room and had some tea and decided to call it a night. Presuming the sail away to be at midnight I stayed up but as the ship hadn't moved by twenty minutes to one I went to bed.
Well it's now 10:52 on the 15th Feb and I'm heading down to the shops to buy something for the sake of it, and to check out the supply of Cunard bears for Pushka.
Pacific Dawn - White Cloud Wonders - Sailed on November 19th, 2011
Queen Mary 2 - Royal Circumnavigation of Australia - Sailed on February 14th 2012
Queen Mary 2 - Singapore to Brisbane - Sailed on February 9th 2013
Queen Elizabeth - New York to Sydney - Sailed on January 10th 2014