Greetings from Doha, Qatar

Good afternoon from Doha, Qatar. We’ve been on board the beautiful Seabourn Encore for a little over 24 hours as I type to you. We landed in Doha this morning around 8:00 AM and will be setting sail at about 5:00 PM and tomorrow will be our first (of nine) sea day(s). More about Doha in my next blog entry but, first, I thought I’d show you the ship.

Embarkation yesterday was easy as pie. Seabourn had provided us with a private transfer from our hotel in Dubai to the dock. Due to a little scheduling snafu, our car and driver showed up about 45 minutes early! Good think we were ready to rumble, so we just got on the road a bit earlier.

AAC embarks Encore
AAC, CPA about to embark Encore

Within 15 minutes of arriving at the pier to check-in, we were aboard. There was something akin to a receiving line at the gangplank – lots of Seabourn crew, introducing themselves and welcoming us aboard. It was extremely nice.

We were onboard at about 12:45 PM and were told that our cabin would, most likely, not be ready until around 2:00 PM, but that we were invited to visit the Colonnade for a lunch buffet.

A little ship tip: we’re often told that the cabin isn’t ready, although many times it is! Because we were carrying valuables and wanted to get them into our safe, we decided to take a look-see. Wouldn’t you know: the cabin was, indeed, awaiting us. However, we walked in on an Australian couple, traipsing about and taking pictures of our suite. We caught them red-handed, which was pretty hilarious. They told us that there were just having a look around, as they wanted to see what the suite was like. That was fine by us, and they made a quick exit, embarrassed by their pluck. We loaded up the safe, dropped off our carry-ons, and made a hasty retreat.

Funnily enough, as we were leaving our cabin, we ran into our stewardess, Simone, introduced ourselves, and warned her not to be alarmed, should she find our stuff in our closet. She took it all in stride.

On the way to the Colonnade, we made a stop at Seabourn Square, the central hub of the ship that provides, reception, concierge, computer and excursion services, as well as a barista and light snacks, pastries and gelato service.

We met with William, as we wanted to get our wi-fi accounts up and running. Then we wanted to see if we could make additional reservations at the Thomas Keller Grill, the only dining venue on the ship that requires advance planning. (Actually, the Colonnade has “special nights” that require reservations, too, but that’s another story.) Done and done and with a smile, if you please.

Then we really did make our way to the Colonnade, aft on deck 9 for some lunch. It was a lovely setup with lots of delicious food and sommeliers wondering around pouring complimentary wine and champagne, if you were in the mood to imbibe.

By the time we finished eating, our cabin was “officially” ready. Our luggage had been delivered so we got settled in. We’re lucky that our cabin has a walk-in closet with plenty of storage, as well as additional nooks and crannies in the living room.

I know what you’re really interested in is our cabin, right?

Take a gander and tell me what you think:

900 - Entry
Entry to our cabin

900 - Living Room
The living room

900 - Dining Area
Dining area

900 - Bar
Bar setup

900 - Bedroom

900 - Bathroom
Master bath (with jacuzzi, separate WC and walk-in shower)

900 - Closet
Walk-in closet

Balcony - AAC
AAC, CPA on our wraparound terrace. It’s so big!

More terrace!

So that’s our home away from home for the 19-day cruise. Nice, right?

Once we were unpacked and had changed out of our traveling clothes, it was time to go exploring. In a word, the ship is gorgeous. Designer Adam Tihany’s concept is that Encore should feel more like a yacht than a passenger ship. And that’s how it feels. Nothing is too large but feels intimate and just right – inevitable, in fact.

Check it out for yourselves:

Encore Atrium
The famed atrium – extending 6 or 7 decks

Encore Seabourn Square - AAC
Seabourn Square – aft on Deck 7; gelato a-go-go

Encore Dining Room - 01
The Restaurant (main dining venue), aft on Deck 4

Encore Dining Room - 02
Another view of The Restaurant

Encore Card Room
The card room (for duplicate bridge on sea days)

Encore Thomas Keller Grill - 2
Thomas Keller Grill – by reservation only – aft on Deck 8

Encore Thomas Keller Bar - AAC
AAC, CPA checking out the bar at Thomas Keller Grill – see and be seen!

Encore Retreat - 01
The Retreat – rent a private cabaña for the day ($349!!)

So that’ll give you a bit of an idea about Encore. Our sailaway was scheduled for about 5:00 PM, so we came back to the cabin and hung out on our immense terrace. Just when the ship started to move, we popped the cork on our complimentary bottle of champagne and toasted the voyage and each other.

Sailaway - AAC - 01
AAC, CPA is ready to go sailing

Sailaway - 02
We’re moving now with the sun reflected in our cabin window

As we sailed out to open sea, we passed by an important piece of maritime history. Following its illustrious career as one of the last true ocean liners, Cunard’s QE2 was sold, in 2007, to an investment company in Dubai, whose plan it was to convert the famed liner into a floating hotel. Alas, the plan was never realized. Due to the 2008 financial crisis, and a string of bad luck, the liner sits in disrepair in Port Rashid. We snapped this photo as we passed by her while Encore sailed out to sea. In my opinion, the captain should have sounded the ship’s whistle as a sign of respect to a former beauty.

A former beauty, QE2, destined to sit abandoned in Port Rashid

Oh well, on to happier thoughts.

As we passed into open waters, we sailed into another glorious sunset.

Sunset - 02
They certainly have amazing sunsets in this part of the world

More tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about our 1st dinner aboard and the short visit we made today in Doha Qatar.

Life Is Like A Ship, Part One

Well, now that we’re back on terra firma (with NORMAL internet service), it’s time to tell you about our crossing on Queen Mary 2. Before I get into all that, I want to tell you about the ship we called “home” for a week.

There she is!

At the time of QM2’s maiden voyage in January, 2004, she was the largest ship in the world: built at Chantiers de L’Antique in France, she is 1,132 feet in length (the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet high; the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet high), gross tonnage is 150,000, cruising speed is 28.5 knots, the ship has 17 decks (rising to a height of 200 feet above the waterline), passenger capacity is 2,260 and there are 1,253 officers and crew (including, as we learned from executive chef, Klaus Kremer, 150 chefs in the many galleys aboard – more about that later). In a word, QM2 is BIG!

(Sad to note that, within two years of QM2’s launch, Liberty of the Seas became – at that time – the world’s largest ship. Currently, the largest ocean vessel is Allure of the Seas, weighing in at 225,282 gross tonnage and over 6,200 passengers. That’s one big ship.)

Queen Mary 2 is also – although neither Cunard nor any of the ship’s crew will say it – a class ship. What does that mean, exactly? Well, if you think about flying on an airplane (ugh!!!), you have your first class, your business class, and your coach class. When you travel on QM2, it is the cabin in which you sail that determines your “class”. 

Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about this so-called class structure. What it really means is that the cabin in which you sail determines the restaurant in which you take your meals. Every passenger has access to almost every other part of the ship, except as noted below.

The “first class” option is the Queens Grill cabins. These cabins, all with private balcony, range from the standard 506 sf option to the fabulous Grand Duplexes that are 2,249 sf. All of these cabins include butler service and other lovely amenities. All Queens Grill passengers (about 200 in all) dine in – where else? – the Queens Grill, located on deck 7, starboard aft. You are given a designated table which is yours’ for the entire voyage. For dinner, there is no early or late seating – you show up when you like – typically 6:30 – 9:00 PM. The menu here is the most luxe on the ship and it’s here that the caviar flows, if caviar is your thing (it’s definitely NOT AAC CPA’s thing). You also have the same service staff and they are VERY accommodating. The Senior Maitre d’Hotel, Osman, actually remembered us from our last voyage, and made sure that we had a swell time. Which we did.

Queens Grill Cabin

One of the Grand Duplexes

Queens Grill
Queens Grill

The other Queens Grill perks are access to the Queens Grill Lounge, which is located directly across from the Queens Grill, and is the perfect venue for an intimate cocktail or afternoon tea (which is so much better than fighting over tea sandwiches and scones in the Queens Room down on deck 3). Also, and this you have to find for yourself because no one talks about it and it’s not on the deck plan, you have access to the Queens Grill Terrace, located aft on Deck 11. It’s a place to take some sun, read a book, or use the hot tub. It’s generally quiet and a lovely place to relax.

Queens Grill Lounge

One last perk, which can be of great help, is the Concierge Lounge located midship on deck 9. It’s there that you can get assistance with on-board reservations, tour details, travel arrangements, etc. They also have snacks all day long, should you feel peckish between meals.

The “business class” option is the Princess Grill cabins. These cabins, also with private balcony, are about 381 sf. Princess Grill passengers (also about 200) eat in the Princess Grill, located just across from Queens Grill on the port side. As with Queens Grill, you are assigned your own table, which is yours’ for the evening. The Princess Grill menu is also quite good, but not as yummy or extensive as the one in Queens Grill. Princess Grill passengers also have access to the Queens Grill Lounge, Terrace and the Concierge Lounge.

Princess Grill Cabin
Princess Grill Cabin

Princess Grill
Princess Grill

Both Queens Grill and Princess Grill passengers have early embarkation and early disembarkation, which can be a great benefit, as you’ll see in my next post.

Almost all other passengers dine in the Britannia Restaurant, perhaps the most dramatic location on the ship: a grand two-story dining venue. Here, you are assigned either an early or late seating, each of which serves up to 1,100 passengers at a time. Let’s say that, while you’ll eat well in Britannia, your dining experience will be decidedly different than in the Queens or Princess Grills. Britannia cabins are typically between 248 sf for a cabin with balcony to an inside cabin, which measures about 159 sf (which is about smaller than the closet space in the Grand Duplex). 

Britannia Restaurant

Britannia Cabin
Britannia Cabin

There is one other option – the “premium economy” option, if you will – and that is Britannia Club, which is essentially a 248 sf cabin, but you get a specially designated section of the Britannia Restaurant.

So, as with any real estate, for some people it’s location, location, location! For most, it’s about making the voyage, and these are the passengers who will say: “Why should I care where my cabin is? I’m not going to spend any time there.” And there are others who will say: “I love hanging out in my digs and the bigger and more luxe, the better. Bring it ON!” As with many things, there are no wrong answers. Whatever floats your boat, right?

So how do you feel about it?

The larger point that I want to make – and I am passionate about it – is that, when you make a crossing, you’re part of a maritime community. New friendships will be forged, unique experiences will be shared and wonderful memories will be made. As I’ve said before, I think it’s the best way to travel. It doesn’t matter in which cabin you sleep or restaurant you eat, you’re going to have an experience you will never forget.

Now that you have the lay of the land, as it were, we haven’t even discussed how you might spends your days (and nights) while aboard QM2. AAC CPA and I always try to encourage friends to join us one of our many crossings, and the response is somewhere between total boredom and abject terror. “What would I DO stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean for a week or more?” they shriek. 

Well, the simple answer is this: you have options. You might choose, for instance, to go into the ship’s library (which has over 8,000 volumes – yes, I said that) and just take out a few books, sit on your balcony or in some cozy nook and read a book a day, take an afternoon nap, a brisk walk around the promenade deck and eat yourself into oblivion. Or, you might take advantage of the myriad activities that are occurring around you all day long: lectures, performances, computer workshops, games, daily duplicate bridge (YAY!), competitions, luxurious spa treatments, gym workouts, movies, barhopping (there are many bars on board). It’s all there for you to enjoy – or not.

And, in my next post, I’ll tell you all about our week on board the glorious QM2.

To be continued……..

A Quick Check-In From London

Greetings, everyone. It’s just about 12:30 AM in London on a Sunday morning. We’re leaving in exactly 10 hours for Southampton where we’ll board Queen Mary 2 and I thought I’d give you a VERY quick check-in from our whirlwind day in London.

If you read my post from the other day, you’ll know that we had a fast and furious day here. Our flight landed Friday evening and it was non-stop since then.

Our intrepid AAC CPA getting ready to fly

We got into our hotel room around 10:00 PM Friday evening and here’s a little look at our room. Quite nice.

Shangri-La Premiere Room
Premiere Room at the Shangri-La

And here’s what we saw when we awoke this morning:

Good morning, St. Paul’s

After a lovely breakfast down at Ting Lounge, we were on the run. Off to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Audrey Hepburn Exhibit. While it wasn’t large, what was there was cherce. And we enjoyed it. And the place was filthy packed. I guess there are a lot of Hepburn fans out there. Us, too. She was a good woman.

From there, back to the Shangri-La for lunch with the aforesaid Lynne and Garry. It was so good to see them. We did have a bit of a kerfuffle at the restaurant, however. I must say that the hotel has some issues with service in the restaurants. Getting seated was a bit of an adventure, even with a reservation. And then we had the most leisurely lunch. Too leisurely, in fact. I mean, does it really take almost 2 hours for an appetizer and a burger? I mean it was wonderful visiting with good friends, but we were all getting a bit anxious about it all. We took it in stride but I may have to have a word with the manager before we leave, don’t you think?

Anyway, here are the lovely Garry and Lynne with our own AAC CPA:

Garry, Lynne and AAC CPA

And check out Garry’s fashion statement:

Garry is one stylish dude!!

Because lunch ran SO long, AAC CPA and I had to make a decision: nap or cocktails at the Corinthia. No chance to do both. For better (at least for our livers) or for worse, we opted for the nap. Good thing, too. We were out like lights!! Woke up in time to clean up and head out, over to the Duke of York’s Theatre.

Duke of York’s Theatre

The theatre was packed, a hit in the making.

A little unauthorized pre-show activity – shhhhh!

So, what did we think of the show? Enjoyed it – marvelous cast and production, didn’t really fulfill our expectations, and that’ll teach us to have expectations!! Actually, as AAC CPA says, sometimes you need to sleep on it and see how you feel the next day. We’ll get back to you on it.

Intermission was interesting, however – look at the entrance to the bar:

Finding Neverland, anybody?I

Got out of the play and walked over to The Ivy – one of our favorite London establishments. We always feel so welcome there and the place has a great vibe.

The Ivy, all gussied up on a Saturday nightI

And, here’s our own AAC CPA enjoying his evening out:

AAC CPA after his 1st cocktail

And, so that was our day in London. Have to be up and out in the morning for our drive down to Southampton, where we’ll embark Queen Mary 2 bound for lil’ ‘ol New York.

Next time you hear from me, we’ll be somewhere on the Atlantic!

Good night, Mrs. Kalabash, wherever you are!!