St Petersburg and Baltic Explorer Cruise Update #1
Well, as I write this I am on Day 2 (based on the way I count it) or Day 1 by Cunard’s reckoning of my 2013 cruise. The ship is presently about half way up the North Sea heading for the first stop of this cruise Kristiansand, Norway which is located on the very southern tip of Norway.
However I seem to be getting ahead of myself a bit so let’s go back to the beginning and start there.
Airlink picked me up at home at approximately 2:35 in the afternoon and was at the airport almost exactly an hour later. Check in for the flight was completed less than 10 minutes later so I took a walk around before passing through security. The check in agent for British Airways was one of the friendliest check in people I have even encountered. Security was its normal somewhat confused process but was completed successfully without any issues. The only unusual thing they seemed to want this time was for all the men to take off their belts so they could be x-rayed. By 4:00 I was through security and on my way to the gate (C32) which was the furthest one out and a fairly lengthy walk in Terminal 3. This is quite normal for the international flights that arrive and depart from Terminal 3 so it was not unexpected. It will also be an even lengthier walk on the return home.
The plane was there and all I could do was wait the couple of hours for boarding. The boarding process started a bit late but was completed a lot early so the plane left about 10 minutes early. There seemed to be a number of other flights that were loading that seemed to having trouble finding all the people that had checked in for them. There were many announcements for these flights looking for this group of people or that person.
As my flight pulled away for the gate the second British Airways flight which was a 747 was just arriving at its gate which was the one right beside mine.
arrival of BA flight 099 taken from a moving plane.
It may still be moving itself. Not the best picture, but it will do for now.
My plane taxied to the inner runway that runs parallel to the 401 and took of heading west. Somewhere around the 403 or 407 the plane gradually turned south out over the lake and then east across the Toronto waterfront just off the Toronto Islands. The plane was at about 10,000 feet as it passed the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre. It was too hazy to take any pictures though.
From there the flight followed the following route, along the north shore of Lake Ontario then inland going just south of Ottawa, then north of Montreal, then just about over Joliette, Quebec, north of Quebec City, then crossed the St Lawrence River and followed the north shore of the Gaspe Peninsula. From there it flew in pretty much a straight line, crossing the northern tip of that large island that is up there that I cannot remember the name of at this point in time then along the north shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence. From there in went slightly inland of Quebec and then Labrador leaving Canada in that little bay that is on the southernmost part of the east side of Labrador. The flight was almost half over by this point and as it continued out over the North Atlantic it started picking up some incredible tail winds sometimes as high as 120 KPH but more often in the 90-100 KPH range. These helped the plane make great time to London.
The flight arrived between 15 and 20 minutes early at one of the gates in outermost sub-terminal of the reasonably recently opened Heathrow Terminal 5. This means you need to take a short underground train ride to the main terminal building and the really rather underwhelming excitement of Passport Control. The line in Passport Control was lengthy (something like a 90 minute wait) mainly because most of the international flights that arrive in London arrive around this time. My friend Dave Rickwood who is going on the later British Airways flight to start a cruise on Saturday, May the 11th may get off better as it arrives later and it is a Sunday morning. One can always hope things will be better as this wait is no fun. One person told me that he has been able to wiz right through there with little or no wait but that was at a different time of day.
After that long a wait the baggage was sitting on the carousel going round and round waiting for pickup. With nobody in the green lane of the customs area I just went out like everyone else was doing. Terminal 5 is a bit strange that way but it seems to work.
There had been no instructions for what to expect for the pickup and coach transfer to Southampton so I just assumed that I would go look for someone with a Cunard sign and guess what? There was someone with one! Actually there were several gentlemen there with signs but the exit in the international arrivals area is rather like the one at Terminal 3 in Toronto with two opposite ways out. They were at one end and I went the other way (of course) so it took a bit of looking but nothing serious. It also turned out that not only was the Queen Elizabeth docked in Southampton this day but so was its sister ship the Queen Victoria. There were people arriving for both so they had to make sure that the right people were on the right bus going to the right ship. It turned out there were only seven people arriving at Terminal 5 for my cruise. There was a wait as the coach doing the pickup had to do the rounds of the four other terminals at Heathrow before picking up the people at Terminal 5. Terminal 5 is at the far west end of Heathrow which is the direction towards Southampton. By the time it got there it was almost full with only a few empty spaces once everyone was on. It seem like a lot more people came into the other terminals.
The ride to Southampton took just over an hour and the coach was there long before they were ready to check anyone in (around 10:30), so there was about an hour’s wait. Because I have done a number of previous cruises on Cunard I am what is known as a Platinum member of their past passenger group (there are a fair number of these though do to Cunard’s history and quality) so I had a “preferred check in” which means you get checked in before the main check in starts. This went generally ok but there was some confusion about the key card. After another wait there was more airline like security (more American like than when I left Toronto) and then on to the ship.
The picture on the bottom of the previous page (one of my three picture panoramic mosaics) shows the check in area of the Ocean Terminal in Southampton harbour taken while waiting for check in to start.
Once on the ship I walked to my “stateroom” 8131 on deck 8 from deck 1 and the card key would not work. So that was up 8 decks and then all the way back down 8 decks to the Purser’s office to get things checked out. After some checking it turned out I have been upgraded to the so called the “Princess Grill” category which changes my cabin. So instead of being on deck 8 I am now in a ritzier stateroom on deck 4 (4091 to be exact). So when you go up in category sometimes you down in the ship but not as far down as I usually am. It should be noted here that I do not have a butler this time but there is a concierge available to assist with things if required. This explains the confusion during the check in process with the finding of the key card. They found the card but not where they thought it was supposed to be. This may have been caused partly by the fact that the other ship was also in town and some of the check in people that usually would have done this were tied up elsewhere and the ones I dealt with had not experienced this (at least not so far this year anyway). So by the time I got into the stateroom it was around 1:00 P.M. here or about 8:00 A.M. your time.
Then, not everyone that should have known about this room change knew, and the baggage, which had the tag on it for the original room, went there instead of here and there were some other things that got to the wrong place as well. The stateroom steward helped sort this all out and it seems like they are all finding me properly now.
One of the things that got to the wrong place was this:
UMMMMM chocolate covered strawberries from my travel agent.
There was the mandatory emergency drill at 4:00. Notice that it is not called a lifeboat drill. For some reason the ship had not been fueled up for this cruise so at about 4:30 the Captain comes on and says that the refueling barge is on its way and our likely departure time will be around 7:00. It was actually shortly after 8:00 before the ship sailed.
This is the Queen
Victoria as it departed on its way to destinations unknown by me anyway.
There was an interchange of whistle blowing that went on for quite a while as it sailed past.
I should mention that the weather was cloudy at Heathrow but once on the way to Southampton it cleared up and became comfortable. The bright sun in the coach reminded me of something I forgot to pack that being a hat. When I unpacked, I was right, no hat, so I may need to acquire one here.
What follows are a couple of pictures I took as the Queen Elizabeth sailed out of Southampton harbour. They will be at the top of the next page.
The sunset over the southern portion of Southampton.
This is downtown
Portsmouth as the ship sailed by it out into the English Channel. If the ship
had sailed on time this would have been in daylight. The lighted tower
represents Portsmouth’s naval history (in the form of a stylized ships sail and
probably better seen from a different angle) with two of England’s best known
warships are permanently on display near the towers base.
You have no idea how many tries it took to get this picture looking this good!!!
So I finally went to bed, quite late and quite tired.
I seemed to sleep reasonably well and am felling somewhat better today.
The weather so far today has been a mixture of sun and clouds and on the cool and breezy side.
There has been not much to see other that a few of the North Sea oil and gas platforms as we pass by them heading north. There have also been a number of other ships that we either pass going the same direction or going the opposite direction.
The ship is expected to arrive in Kristiansand around 9:30 tomorrow morning.
I have taken some pictures of the inside of this slightly higher than I purchased quality stateroom I am in and will send a few of those along in the next update. Here is a sample just to fill up this page!
This was taken
through the open balcony door,
and yes a have a not to bad sized balcony.
More to come soon!