Sunday, May 27, 2018

Arriving in the United Kingdom

On Thursday May 24th I was up at 0500 as I wanted to watch as the Harbor Pilot
drove the big monster of a ship into it's berth at the Southampton Ocean Terminal.

Luggage (9 pcs) outside the door the night prior to arrival

It was interesting to watch as we arrived broadside to our berth, then he gently eased
 over 1100 feet of ship into reverse
and then turned the ship over 90° and backed it gently into it's berth.
By 0630 lines were cast, she was tied to the dock and our passage was complete.

Broadside to our berth

Lines are affixed in Southampton

Disembarkation was a breeze.
We had cleared British Customs while enroute a few days before, and the dogs paperwork had
been emailed, so all we had to do was walk off of the ship.
We were in England!

All the dogs (and owners) head down en-masse

So with our voyage complete I wanted to recap some of the pros and cons about taking
the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic.

Before I do however let me warn you.
When I finished writing, I realized it came out mostly as a bitch session.
In retrospect there was a bunch of annoying thorns in the trip that just got under my skin
and it came out in this post, so sorry for the tone - this is not my normal way to roll,
but my comments/critiques might be interesting to someone considering this trip.

So...  You can avoid the bitch session by dropping down to the heading
Arrival in Southampton at the bottom

The Pros:

Its a much slower and relaxing pace with no jet lag. (especially if you don't have dogs)
There is a lot to see and do on the ship if you like shows, casinos, lectures, movies, etc etc.
You can find something to eat about 22hrs out of the day,
If you are like me... there is just something great about crossing an Ocean at sea level.
The Kennel Master Oliver, and assistant John are the absolute best.
You can trust them 100% with your pet.
You will meet some wonderful fellow pet owners and form some great friendships.
Most of the lower wage staff are warm and hospitable.
If you like taking cruises and would like to do a Transatlantic...
the QM2 will give you the smoothest ride.

The Cons:

Cunard still maintains a remnant of the old Class System.
There are three distinct Classes on board:

Britannia and Britannia Club  (Aka Steerage and Steerage Plus)
Princess Grill  (Business class - the netherworld between Steerage & Royalty)
Queens Grill   (The Upper Crust)

Just like Jack Dawson on Titantic...  there were places on the QM2 where the unwashed
masses (like me)  were not allowed to venture.

Its not so much that I mind it that much...
Its just seems a bit dated in  2018 plus I had to find ways to navigate around those areas
when I transited from point A to B at times.

Cunard brags about their White Glove Service where you can get just about anything...
They push this image that they are adhering to quality standards of a bygone era....
But in practice when I put that to the test they failed miserably.
The food - while plentiful and varied - seems like food at a wedding reception.
It was good, but it certainly was not special at all. 

We are made to feel that Cunard regards us as cash machines that need to be nickled
and dimed as much as we will allow.  Being captive audiences the prices would go up
and down as supply and demand would dictate, all the while trying to maximize the yield
out of each of us.

A glass of house wine or a Martini was about $17!
The bar bill adds up real fast!

A glass of Diet Pepsi is not included in the fare.   I think the price is almost $4.00 and its not
even a full can!    So on day 1 & 2 they have the wait staff who take the drink orders selling
all sorts of drink programs.    I sprung for the Soft Drink plan that was 
a bit over $60 and would include soda, club soda etc.

The problem was that on day 5 and beyond it became almost impossible to find someone
to take your drink order.    While the first few days I would have 3 or 4 come over....  by the 
end of the trip I went several lunches without getting someone to bring me a Diet Pepsi.

Dog owners were told (in writing) that all our dogs food would be on board and
that they would receive fresh baked gourmet dog cookies each day.

Some of the owners did not have any of the correct food.   We were missing 1/2 of
the food, and the fresh baked dog cookies did not show up till day 5 even though
Oliver called the kitchen every day to request them.

Getting something for the kennel turned out to be faster & easier if you called room service 
and brought it up yourself for the dogs.

Owners who have made this trip many times says that this is the norm.

Mind you - the two dogs cost $2000 total to make the passage, so its not a cheap
proposition and at least having the food orders correct is not asking too much.

At least 1/2 of the dog owners. like us, did not really take advantage of the
amenities of the ship.   We were too busy visiting our dogs.
This saves Cunard a lot of money too. 
So when we asked for some afternoon tea to be brought up...  and it never happened...
again - this just seems like such a failure to perform.
A case of White Glove Failure!

Twice on our passage our toilet water started to run and would not shut off.
It flooded our bathroom and we piled up towels and our bathrobes to keep it from flooding
into our stateroom.   This happened about 6am once and 4am the second time.

It was nothing that we had done - just perhaps the ships systems are showing their age.
They got all under control and in about 40 minutes our floor was dried and clean towels
and robes replaced but there was no going back to sleep after that.

Not once did Cunard offer as much as a free candy bar to say they were sorry and
to compensate us in a small way for our trouble.
I'm sure if I raised a fuss they would have done something...
but why should I have too?
If you have to raise a fuss to get some courtesy why bother?

Finally - Not needing our formal wear, we decided to take advantage of
Cunards Bag Storage Program, where they will store your bag on shore
and deliver it to your next stateroom when you depart back to the US.

For 5 months this would have cost us over $200 per bag!
Quite pricy, but I still decided that we could use the room in the car so I would pay the 
money for the convenience.

I went down to the Pursers Office a day before we arrived only to find that I had missed 
the deadline by about 12 hrs or so. and that they would not put me on the list.

I gave them an opportunity to put that White Glove Service to the test and make an exception
but nope....   it was either too much trouble or they just did not want to send another email
to shore to let the shore crew know that they had one more bag to store!
Honestly...  the logistics can't be that difficult to accommodate another bag.

So after having early morning toilet explosions 2 out of ouf 7 mornings...
 or about 29% of our mornings on board.... 
and never once did I give them even the slightest static about it....
they still could not do me a small favor?

Ok... so now that bag will be in the back of the car for the next 5 months as a reminder
of their lack of extending some slight crumb of proper customer service.

So... if this sounds like a Major League Bitch Fest..  Sorry about that,
but I want you to know that if you...  like me.... go into this believing the hype
 about this being a trip back into time with impeccable White Glove Service...
you are probably going to be disappointed.  
I sure was.

To me it was no different than any other cruise line.
Only with a remnant of the old English Class System still in existence.

Just because they tell you that you have to dress like its 1912 does not make 1912.

Arrival in Southampton

Now that this is off of my chest...  I'll tell you about driving on the wrong side of the
road and getting stuck in round abouts and making several trips around till I could get out.

For me it was quite freaky - my first time driving on the "wrong" side.
I did not get to settle into some nice interstate driving but had to head into the city
with the traffic and round-abouts as my initiation.

 Getting the car - I had to go back to the dock to pick up Kate and the dogs.
I had packed the luggage in and there was hardly room for Kate - never mind the dogs.

It took me quite a while to get back as I missed turns, when around the round abouts
several times trying to get out of them....
I missed some turns...
All part of getting my brain used to driving on the left, watching for traffic,
and navigating at the same time.

Needless to say - it was not pretty at first, but I managed to get back without incident.
So my bar was set pretty low for this trip..
 If I arrived without a head on collision - I would call it a resounding success!

Moments of terror
In the afternoon we hit the mall for sim cards and office supplies for work.
At 610pm we had an appointment with a Vet to get the Doodles Pet Passports.

With these little beauties in hand - we would be legal for 5 months in the EU
(our health certicates obtained in the US are only valid for 4 months)
Plus now we can return to the EU without needing to go thru all the hurdles.

The Doodles are officially EU Citizens
We stayed at a lovely inn about 10 miles outside of Southampton in Lyndhurst.
It is right across the street from the New Forest with miles of green grass and
walking trails.

It is a dog friendly place and we stayed in a small cottage off of the main inn.
It had a kitchenette so that we could self cater,
plus they had a nice restaurant which we ate at one night
and had a fine meal.

Pinewood Cabin at Ormonde House Hotel
The walk to town was 10 minutes at most.

Lyndhurst UK
Our third and final night we went out for some Italian food.
Just about 600' from our lodgings, it was a small slice of Pasta Heaven.
My Linguine Carbonera was out out this world.

Dinner in Lyndhurst
On Sunday, with all of our provisioning complete, it was time to head off on the
start of our explorations.

Enroute to our 1-night stay near Dover, we made a side trip to
Downton Abbey - which is really known as Highclere Castle

Downton Abbey - Highclere Castle
The castle is only open on limited days a year, ticket sales are also limited, but it worked out
that one of the few days in the spring was when we were going to be nearby, so I planned our
travels to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

The castle seems to be in need of some TLC. 
While certainly not shabby, I am sure that during its heyday it was in much more pristine conditions.
Worn rugs, torn wall paper peeling paint and some water damage are evident thru out the castle.

It certainly did not distract all all from our enjoyment,
I merely mention this to tie the present to the past as portrayed in the series.

The cost of maintaining estates like this are huge as any of you Downton Abbey fans would know.

Scones, Clotted Cream, jam, Coffee
We had afternoon coffee and scones on the grounds.

Many of the rooms had photos taken during the show strategically placed, so that you could envision the shows characters moving about their daily lives.

They do not allow photos to be taken inside so unfortunately we are unable to share that portion
of our visit or have them for our own remembrances.

When we arrived at the grounds - there turned out to be a huge fair going on outside of the
estate and much much more traffic was headed to the fair.

So - like a fool - I thought they were all headed to the castle, and the workers directed me
into this huge field with rolling hills where hundred and hundreds of cars parked.

We parked, then walked about 1/2 a mile to find out we were in the wrong spot - but could walk to
the castle.   So we headed off in that direction only to find out at the castle gate,
that dogs were not allowed.

So I told Kate to go inside while I and the dogs would walk back, find the car, and move it up to
the castle parking area where I could find a shady spot for them.

Heading back to the car....   I could not find it.
There were hundreds of cars and the rolling hills made it quite difficult.

I was starting to wonder if I might have to wait until everyone left
before I might be able to find our car!

After another mile or two of hiking thru sheep patties, we finally found the car and headed to
the castle parking area.  By now the Doodles and I had about 4 miles under our belt.

As I drove to the parking area,  the men directing me to the Castle parking area
saw that I had dogs, so he radioed the next guy that I had dogs,
and the next guy radioed the third that I had dogs....
and on and on till we arrived at the castle parking area.
 where they escorted me to a nice shady spot beneath and enormous tree!

Now that is White Glove Service!

Leaving Downton, we had a 2 1/2 hr drive to our one-night stay at an AirBnB in
the countryside outside of Dover.

To get there we drove down some of the smallest roads I've ever been on.
Tall trees or shrubs lined the road and there was barely enough room to keep from getting
scratched by the bushes.    And this was a 2-way road.
If you meet another car - one has to back up to the closest wide spot.

We emptied the car into our cottage as I had to return it to Enterprise in anticipation
of our Taxi/Tunnel ride to France in the AM.

Do we know how to stuff a car or what?

A full trunk - whoops,  I mean "boot" - too!

Our home for the night is a lovely 1 Bedroom cottage on the grounds of a farm
called Peacock Mews.
There are horses, burros, dogs, cats, chickens and roosters, a peacock, geese,
and probably more creatures that I've missed.

Our host is a wonderful man who instantly made us feel at home.

Cottage on right - main home in distance

The Doodles loved to watch the Chickens & Rooster

The Rooster Crows for thee!
Tomorrow its off to France and back to the right side of the road.

Ready or not.... here we come.


  1. Wow, what an adventure. Urtails of the QM need to be sent to their HQ. it's a eye opener and they need to see it. The cost of drinks is outrageous.

    Merrikay & ron

    1. Actually I did send them an email. I doubt it will do any good but we'll see and I'll update everyone when I hear.

  2. Greg, you and Kate are not people inclined to complain, so I am certain your disappointments with Cunard's service and food are genuine. Thanks for sharing the Pros and the Cons. Well done for your first day of driving on the "wrong" side. Hayden first did it while jet-lagged during a Monday morning rush hour in Auckland, NZ. Terrifying! I remain jealous that you went to go Downton Abbey. Glad you could make that happen! Will anxiously wait for your first installment from France! XOXO

  3. Question: Tapeworm treatment - how does the 5 day tapeworm requirement work on a 7 day voyage?

    1. When you arrive on board the ship you are in essence in the UK as far as the dogs are concerned. So you time the tape worm treatment in reference to your arrival on board the ship.

      The UK, or EU, pet health certificates work in a similar fashion. The days spent on the ship do not count against the 10 day requirement So if you get it signed off two days before you get on the ship, you have eight days to arrive at your destination after you get off the ship


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