High on anyone's list of the greatest travel adventures would be a trip around the world. For the past four decades the ultimate way to do that has been aboard the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, the last of the great ocean liners. Seeing exotic ports in the far flung corners of the globe, while being transported there by Cunard Line's venerable flagship, is an unbeatable combination. In 2008, the QE2, as the ship is so fondly known, would be making her 26th and final World Cruise. The trip was billed as the "South America, Pacific & Far East Odyssey"; the "Farewell World Cruise 2008." Never mind that the voyage would not actually circumnavigate the world. As the brochure stated, it would be "The Greatest Voyage Of All."
For full cruise passengers from Great Britain the journey would last 105 days. American guests sailing roundtrip from New York City, would be aboard 90 days. For my wife and myself, we would be joining the ship in Sydney, Australia for the Circle Pacific portion of the trip, a mere 35 days sailing back to our home port of Los Angeles. Our adventure began a bit sooner than expected as the Qantas 747-400 "Long Reach" climbed into the rainy night sky above LAX. About five minutes into the flight there was a brilliant flash and a loud bang as the lights flickered. Eventually, the pilot came on the intercom and said the plane had been stuck by lightening but all systems were working so we could continue our flight across the Pacific. The remaining 14 hours were uneventful, as airline travel should always be.
As we jetted across the International Dateline, Sunday February 24, 2008 did not exist for us. But ahead of us in Sydney, one of the biggest maritime celebrations in history was taking place. Hundreds of thousands turned out to witness the meeting of the brand new QUEEN VICTORIA and the venerable QUEEN ELIZABETH 2. The event was dubbed the "Royal Rendezvous," copying both the artwork and the name from the 2006 meeting of the QUEEN MARY 2 and QUEEN MARY in Long Beach, California. QUEEN VICTORIA spent the day berthed at Circular Quay, the main cruise terminal, while QE2 waited nearby at the Naval base on Garden Island. Just before sunset, the QUEEN VICTORIA vacated her berth to continue on her first World Cruise. For the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, it was 30 years to the day since her first call in Sydney. The two ships passed each other in the heart of Sydney harbor, just off Fort Denison accompanied by a flotilla of pleasure craft and waving spectators covering every available inch of shoreline. Whistles blasted in salute as the Cunard vessels passed port to port and QE2 moved to Circular Quay while the QUEEN VICTORIA sailed for Brisbane.
The QE2 berthed with her portside against the pier, bow pointing toward the harbor and the famous "Coathanger" bridge. Off to starboard the Sydney Opera House, completed just four years after the QE2, showed off its distinctive 20th Century architectural style. Boarding officially commenced at 2pm. Above the gangway entrance on Two Deck forward hung a sign saying "Welcome Home, Cunard, Queen Elizabeth 2, World Cruise 2008." Conveniently, we were able to enter our new home on the same deck that we would be residing on for the next month or so, and made our way aft to our cabin #2140.
Stateroom is too generous a term for the shockingly small, 110 square foot inside cubical we had reserved. As most shipboard accommodations do, we hoped that this one would grow on us, at least in our affections, if not in size. It was a nice enough space, with two twin beds on either side of a lovely, if worn, wood veneer chest of drawers. Two wardrobe closets, another small chest, full length mirror and a recently refurbished toilet and shower, completed the tour of our diminutive abode. Not having eaten since the flight, we were more than ready for some food. To our dismay, we found that the staff stick rigidly to the set meal hours onboard, no matter what time embarkation may be. So no late lunch in the dining room, nor welcome aboard buffet in The Lido. We did manage to grab a quick bite in The Pavilion on One Deck adjacent to the outdoor pool, before that fast-food venue also closed for the day.
Despite the less than stellar welcome, the atmosphere aboard the ship and on the quay in Sydney was electric. This would be the final departure from a port that had grown to love the QE2 during her more than two dozen visits. Witnessing this historic departure, the shore was lined with thousands of onlookers, just as it had been the day before. At 6:30pm, as scheduled, the lines were hauled in, the whistle began blasting and a nearby fireboat raised its spray in salute to the Queen. The tug WATAGAN handled the bow line. The harbor ferry LADY NORTHCOTT acted as an excursion boat for spectators, along with dozens of other small craft. Slowly at first, then picking up a bit more speed, the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 made her way out of one of the world's most beautiful harbors in the gathering dusk. After dropping the pilot, the ship passed through the Sydney Heads for the last time ever. The scene brought to mind the first meeting at sea of the original QUEEN ELIZABETH and QUEEN MARY that occurred at this location in April, 1941. Once on the open ocean, the wind and waves picked up, making for a really rough night. Exhausted from the long flight and a busy day, we slept right through it.
Leaving Sydney, the QE2 set a course south across the Tasman Sea. This segment of the "Farewell World Cruise 2008" would follow a fairly unusual route around the bottom of Australia stopping at six ports in that fascinating country. A relaxing day at sea would separate most of them.
Our first full day aboard was largely spent eating, and for me reacquainting myself with a ship I had first sailed in 31 years earlier. When the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 was completed in 1969, the ship was a perfect example of the design sensibilities of that decade. The public was expecting something akin to the old Queen liners, but instead were given a pop art masterpiece. Her interiors were largely done in brilliant primary colors, plastics replacing wood paneling in many areas. The exterior was contemporary and sleek. I can still remember the first time I laid eyes on the QE2 and overhearing a fellow spectator say "Oh my goodness; She doesn't have three stacks like the QUEEN MARY." Everything about the QE2 defied the expectations of what an ocean liner, especially a Cunard liner, should look like. It is ironic, yet fitting, that the revolutionary interiors of the young ship morphed into such traditional decor as the Queen aged into her dowager years.
Since my Atlantic crossing during the summer of 1977, much had changed, and yet it all still seemed familiar. The Double Room had now become the Grand Lounge, its upper level being given over to shops. The once bright red Theatre Bar was now the dark wood-lined Golden Lion Pub. The lovely Midships Bar had become the equally attractive Chart Room. On the Upper Deck, the Yacht Club all the way aft, is the late night gathering spot, while forward the beautiful Crystal Bar had been created from a portion of the former tourist class dining room. The Queens Room remains largely intact, as does the Quarter Deck Library.