USA and Canada trip, Summer 2023: Week 1
- Cambridge to Southampton (Great Northern Trains, London Underground, South-West Trains): 110km
- Southampton to New York (Cunard Queen Mary 2): 5,500km
Right, off we go on what should be a pretty memorable, if straightforward, first part of my ‘no flying, no driving’ trip from Cambridge to Vancouver, via California. It begins with a walk to Cambridge railway station with my new backpack, chosen after probably a little too long spent down the rabbit hole that is the ‘YouTube Packing Community’. Yes, that seems to exist.
Overnight in Southampton with my lovely cousin and her charming husband, who kindly give me a lift to Southampton’s ‘Mayflower Cruise Terminal’. Stop trying to claim the Mayflower for your own, other UK ports. It belongs to Harwich, and that’s a fact.
The Queen Mary 2 is magnificent. I’ll blog separately about the ship and the economics of the journey compared to flying. I’ll even make it the subject of my first YouTube travel video. Watch this space. Suffice to say, anyone contemplating a trip to the USA who can add a week to their trip might find it a more feasible alternative to flying than they think. Sure, it’s expensive, but so are airfares.
I’m on board the ship within an hour of arriving at the port, which is impressive organisation, and my bag is delivered to my cabin (sorry, ‘stateroom’) by the time I stick my head around the door about an hour after that.
Although I’ve been on a dozen cruises before (it tended to be our family holiday of choice right through my son’s teenage years), this is the first time I’ve been on an ‘ocean liner’, which is how Cunard bills the Queen Mary 2. The difference is apparently that an ocean liner is faster and more resilient to rough seas than the holiday cruise ships. The weather shouldn’t be too testing in June, however.
We depart at 5pm…
…and then a few miles out to sea, we grind to a halt, as a passenger is taken ill and has to be taken off.
Do you know why the ship is not moving? We've just sailed past you. Has the ship run aground?!?
— Lenny (@HelcieBee) June 23, 2023
But after this tiny false start, the journey is wonderful. It’s everything you’d imagine. Not only are the bars and restaurants top-notch, but there’s an excellent gym, a lovely spa, and no end of entertainment, from stage shows and lectures, to pub quizzes and movies. I can’t imagine anyone not loving this.
As a solo traveller, it’s easy to find people to have dinner with, pub quiz teams to join, and folks who are happy to chat over a drink or just lean on the railings with, looking out to sea. Being on my own takes a couple of days to get used to, but I soon get into the swing of things, and there’s the advantage of never having to worry about what anyone else is doing.
One day drifts into another, and five days later we’re off the coast of Newfoundland. We know it because the fog descends, and it’s eerie. I expect the
Marie Mary Celeste to sail by at any moment.
The next day, first thing in the morning, we receive an announcement over the ship’s PA from the Captain that a crew member has been taken ill and has to be transferred to land. Unfortunately this can’t be done by helicopter or even ship’s tender (the illness or injury must be bad), so the whole ship and passengers will have to divert and dock at Halifax, Nova Scotia. This we do, and it’s all quite exciting, with passengers gathering on deck for an unexpected brief stopover in Canada.
It’s bad news for many people, because clearly we’re not going to make New York at daybreak the next day as scheduled. Indeed, the Captain announces that we’ll be 9 or 10 hours late, arriving mid-afternoon. I’m glad I’ve not organised my time in the city in advance – in fact, don’t mention it out loud, but it’ll be a much more civilised time for perhaps the highlight of the voyage, the ship’s arrival into New York City. Someone here in the bar just described it as “the most convenient inconvenience I’ve ever had”.
But that’ll be for next week’s blog.