We cruise on QE2 before the ship drops anchor for the last time
I have wanted to go to Australia for more than 20 years but my husband wasn’t so keen. I think the idea of getting on and off internal flights and checking in and out of hotels put him off. So when we heard the QE2 would be hanging up her sails in 2008, and found that her final world cruise itinerary featured a Sydney to Singapore segment, we realised we could get a snapshot of Australia’s main cities in comfort with no packing and unpacking of bags.
Much nicer than all those flights, as well as a chance to rekindle fond memories of two previous trips aboard the Cunard liner.
So Sydney was where we began, with four nights in the Four Seasons Hotel at The Rocks, with views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from our window.
We also had a stunning vantage point when crowds thronged the quayside as Cunard’s new flagship, the Queen Victoria, symbolically gave up her berth to the QE2, the “old lady”.
Sydney, I had been told, is very much like London but with better weather. I actually thought it was a mixture of New York and Los Angeles.
We did a lot of touristy things — lunch on Bondi Beach (at Sahnia, an Israeli friend’s restaurant); we saw Moriah College, the largest Jewish school in the southern hemisphere; we ate fish at one of the city’s most famous restaurants, Doyles in Watson’s Bay; and we took one of the famous green-and-yellow ferries from Circular Quay to Manly Beach where we walked around people-watching, before brunch by the beach, observing the surfers risk their necks riding the waves.
One evening I left my husband nursing his jet lag and went to the Opera House in the hope of getting a ticket for Carmen. It was sold out, but a single ticket was returned 30 minutes before the performance.
I bought a glass of wine and went on to the wide terrace with the massive shells of this iconic building shimmering in the warm night air. It was fabulous, and so was the opera.
Next day, at embarkation time, we found ourselves in the same queues to board as everybody else, despite having “priority boarding”. Once on board though, the service was impeccable.
Our cabin was spacious and comfortable. We had a large balcony, a benefit enjoyed by just 25 staterooms — which is another reason why she is being retired. While undeniably looking a little tired, QE2 is still magnificent; her interior still gleaming, her small synagogue still impressive.
Once on board, you quickly slip into the ship’s routine, beginning with the splendid ritual of dinner which for us was in the Queen’s Grill — one of the ship’s best restaurants — where you can opt to dine á deux, or at a table for six or more.
You can order from the menu or order pretty much whatever you fancy; there are plenty of fish and vegetarian options and service is so good it can border on the obsequious.
The first day was “at sea”, which means a chance to find your way around the ship and find out what is on offer. There were plenty of opportunities in the daily activity programme for burning off any excess calories.
Personally, I found that line dancing for an hour burned off a satisfyingly high number. There was also the less energetic Bible studies, deck quoits or beading, knitting and stitching; we chose to lay out on deck soaking up the sun.
Our first port of call was Hobart, Tasmania, the Australian island state. It is a pleasant enough town but you wouldn’t want to holiday there. We had a quick tour to Blackman’s Cove with a guide who had a specially adapted Harley Davidson with two seats at the back, a splendid fish lunch at Mures on the wharf where we watched fishing boats bobbing on the water, and then back to the ship.
The next day was again “at sea” and our cabin staff brought us breakfast in bed. Omelettes arrived piping hot and beautifully presented, and sipping coffee on your own, sunny balcony with the coast of Australia slipping by is truly heavenly.
The schedule gave us just one day in Melbourne which was a pity. We decided to use the city’s clean, efficient trams and found our way to Old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly was hanged. Then it was out to the seaside suburb of St Kilda’s — home of the city’s original Jewish community — where we ate fresh marinaded fish, cooked to perfection and served at an outside table overlooking the beach.
Adelaide, the Australian city which is believed to most closely resemble England, is nicely laid out, with lots of green spaces, gardens and churches everywhere — in fact it is called the Church City.
We wandered around the grounds of Government House watching members of the Victoriana Society of South Australia dressed in period costume playing croquet on the lawns. Later in the day, the heat of Adelaide pretty much engulfed us as we walked through the Sunday market watching street entertainers, most of whom were engrossingly talented.
The ship’s final call was at Fremantle, the port city on the far west coast of Australia that sits handily close to Perth. We had a coffee on Fremantle’s Cappuccino Strip and then strolled to the station where we took a train into Perth, the most isolated big city in the world.
Despite its isolation, the atmosphere was buzzy and bustling. We took in the Western Australia Museum with its striking collection of Aboriginal artefacts and then, as the heat outdoors became intolerable, dashed into a fish-and-chip restaurant for some air conditioned lunch.
Four days at sea rounded off our nostalgic farewell to the QE2. During this time we crossed the Equator and sailed past a benign looking Krakatoa.
It has to be said that entertainment on board was of variable quality, indeed, fellow passengers Richard and Barry Wright, Jewish brothers from Cape Cod, who had been backing singers for performers such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, were deprecating about the quality. On our first evening, we saw Syd Little, of Little and Large fame. To say he was less than fab would be an understatement. On one of the at-sea days there was a truncated performance of Macbeth by four ex-RADA students, who also did a drama workshop for passengers. On another evening we saw a magician-cum-comic called Mel Mellers who had our vote as the best entertainer in our two weeks on board.
Apart from a great snapshot of Australia, we have great memories of the send-off she was given at every Australian port. Clearly, she is held in huge affection by the Aussies and at every port we sailed from there were waving crowds, balloons and small boats bidding farewell to QE2.
Indeed, at times we were quite emotional ourselves, realising that this was the last trip to the southern hemisphere for the fine but superseded ship before she heads for her final berth in Dubai in November.
Queen Elizabeth 2 (www.cunard.co.uk; 0845 678 0013) has a full programme of cruises in the Mediterranean, British Isles, Northern Europe and across the Atlantic from now until the final 16-day cruise in November to Dubai, where she will be permanently berthed. Many sailings are round-trip, from Southampton. Prices are from £1,057 per person for a three-night cruise, and from £1,524 for a 10-night Mediterranean cruise