PORT OUT, STARBOARD HOME

Mr and Mrs D stow away on the Queen Mary 2…

Queen Mary 2As much as I love our boys, a few days away from them is a guilty pleasure. So when my gorgeousness suggested that we were very nearly old enough to dip our toes into cruising I couldn’t help but agree. And when she said the spanky new Queen Mary 2 was a possibility, well, my boater flew off my head and the deck shoes began to dance.

Regular readers will know that the Duncan family decamp to Spain for several weeks in the summer, and to get there we put the car on the Bilbao ferry, followed by a considerable drive to our lazy haven.

Well, we have always considered that the ferry was a fitting start to this annual event, and food and accommodation isn’t half as bad as it could be. But compared to going on a liner like the QM2? Maybe no contest.

So it was arranged. My wonderful in-laws took over the enormous responsibility of looking after the boys, and we were off. Down to Southampton where smartly dressed people took away our large suitcases (full to the brim with the sort of haute couture that Cathy assumed would be the norm on such a marine adventure. Turns out it was far too smart, as people wandered round the deck in jeans and trainers, not looking in the least like the privileged nobs we saw in Titanic) and drove away our car for safe storage. Onto the wonderful ship, with its staggering eight floor atrium, approached by gorgeous sweeping staircases and glass lifts leading to the delights of beautiful restaurants, stylishly inviting bars, a tempting casino and art nouveau lifts taking you to your stateroom. A complimentary bottle of Champagne waiting, a chap called Chris who promised to do anything to help, and a balcony promising the setting for preprandial drinks as the sun set over the ocean.

Cathy-on-the-Queen-Mary-2I was with Cathy don’t forget, so the first port of call was the shops. Now with all this promise of unashamed luxury seeping from ever gold doorknob, piano playing Cole Porter lookalike and ruched curtain, you could justifiably expect the shops to contain all things wonderful. Not so. I haven’t seen such a bunch of overpriced badly chosen thoughtlessly displayed crap since I last visited…oh I don’t know…somewhere. The Bilbao ferry was ten times better. If I was in charge of selling QM2 souvenirs I would make sure there were beautiful little models of all the ships in the line, including the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary (which we used to see enviously from our beach in the 1950s Isle of Wight), sets of coasters featuring posters from Cunard’s proud history, a cut out and colouring model of the craft we found ourselves on, or even a tea towel or two with an emotive design on it. There was nothing apart from a box of fudge with a photocopy of a picture of the ship on it. (The in-laws got that.) Big disappointment. What could we take home for Jamie? Not that he’d care as long as there was an iPad nearby. If anyone knows the powers that be at Cunard, send this on to them, with the name of a very nice man who could design and supply all these wonderful things, who can be found on www.duncancartoons.com

But us British can get over such trials, and several dinners, served next to a window in the most delightful restaurant, with dear friends Peter and Margaret, soon made up for that. Caring service, an inventive menu, and overpriced wine soon made us forget all that. And besides, a day in the wonderful city of Hamburg was on the cards.

The Venice of the North. This was the biggest surprise. The sun shone all day without interruption, and the many waterways glittered as these four excited travellers visited church towers, drank wine in lovely alfresco cafes, caught up with some much missed shopping, and cruised round the city’s pretty lakes. Tired but happy, as the saying goes, we returned to the QM2 in time for a Jacuzzi, some sunbathing, a gin and tonic or two, a visit to the incredible theatre and another seriously good dinner before we were due to sail back towards Southampton.

Imagine a warm perfect evening. Further imagine a group of happy people assembling on the stern deck of one of the most beautiful ships in the world, as a Dixieland band played us on our way. Champagne glasses chinking, the lights of Hamburg twinkling, a heartwarming rendition of Land of Hope and Glory as we sailed up the Elbe estuary. A few tears, loads of badly taken photos, and we were on our way.

Time to explore the ship a little further because we weren’t tired enough to hit the stateroom. Instead we found a late night spot where everyone was eating cookies and drinking cocoa. I may be a simple lad, but to me it doesn’t get much better than that.

Last day at sea. More of the same. Still lots of very nice gin and tonics in the bars, and awful offers in the shops. Packing. Settling up the bill, because everything had been paid for, including the casino chips, on the mandatory card. Aaaaaagh! Big hugs for Peter and Margaret and promises of other adventures in the future.

Off this extraordinary floating town, where every day we had clocked up a mile by walking round it three times, and back to reality. Driving home. Unpacking. Looking at the two hundred or so photos we had taken to bore some unfortunate audience at some future date.

The boys come bouncing in, looking gorgeous.

As Frank Sinatra put it, it’s so much nicer to come home…