In August 2000, I was sent on an exciting assignment by my employers – North Wales Newspapers. Cunard wanted someone to write an article about the disabled facilities aboard the QE2, on a journey from Southampton to New York. As luck would have it, the local rag had just hired a new employee – a talented writer who just so happens to use a wheelchair for mobility purposes.
I have split the double page spread that I put together into two parts, for the purposes of this blog. This blog focuses on the time I spent on the QE2, and the second part, published next week, will focus on my adventures around New York City. Some of the photographs below are my own, while others have been taken off the internet. You should be able to click on these ‘”borrowed” images to transport you to the site from where I discovered them.
I hope this article is of interest to my readers. 2021 has been a year of sharing my greatest hits, after all the Groundtastic articles I have published. Fear not though, there are plenty of new and original articles to come. I have been hard at work trying to finish my Memory Match book on Wrexham AFC, which is to be published very soon.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this virtual rewind to the year 2000…
AS a wheelchair user I find a trip to the corner shop is problematic and has to be planned like a military operation.
There are so many practical obstacles standing in my way that I usually just send my parents and stay indoors, watching the world go by my window.
I feel safe inside my self-inflicted prison so the prospect of taking a holiday in an alien environment is a rather frightening prospect.
However, when the opportunity to set sail for New York on the QE2 arose, the temptation was too great to resist.
Romantic notions of following in the footsteps of European immigrants who flocked to the States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries filled my head.
Of course, I would be travelling in rather more grand conditions than the brave souls who journeyed to the New World in search of their fortunes – but even I wasn’t prepared for the sumptuous surroundings that I encountered.
After a gruelling six-hour motorway journey to far-flung Southampton, I met Nigel who would be my travelling companion for the next 7 nights.
We made our way to the docks where the mighty QE2 lay in wait. The sheer size of the vessel is staggering: at 70,327 tonnes and 963 feet long, with a top speed of 32.5 knots, she is one of the largest and fastest passenger vessels afloat.
I could tell that this was not just any old sailing ships and the nightmares I had had about walking the plank and having to take my turn at rowing were quickly extinguished.
Whatever lay in store I realised that it could not be as traumatic as an aeroplane journey where I am strapped to a mini-wheelchair and dumped into a cramped seat in economy class.
I cannot stretch my legs and I have to dehydrate myself before boarding as there is no way I can crawl down the aisle and squeeze into the tiny toilet they have on offer.
Before long it was time to board the vessel and a trained member of staff was called to push me onboard – an unnecessary yet reassuring procedure.
He stayed with us until we reached our cabin and I was able to inspect the facilities – as soon as I had polished off the Champagne and strawberries that awaited us that is.
It was a rather plain yet functional cabin with plenty of room to manoeuvre my wheelchair although the lack of a hoist over the bed may be a problem for some.
The wardrobes were easy to open and all shelves were within my reach although I would have liked to see some kind of safety alarm in case I had fallen.
After all that champagne I paid a visit to the bathroom and was pleased to find a standard arrangement of grab rails around the toilet and bath as well as plenty of leg room underneath the sink.
However, just because a bathroom includes a few grab rails does not make it accessible to all and I would have thought a roll-in shower would have been more useful.
Outside the cabin I had few access problems as lifts transported us to all floors and ramps were always available alongside steps.
Venturing onto the deck to enjoy the sunshine was a little problematic due to heavy doors although with a little help this is easily overcome.
All in all I was impressed with the facilities on offer for disabled travellers – although they were nothing special and assistance may be required at times there is always a staff member on hand who is willing to lend a hand.
This made all the difference as although I don’t always like asking for help, the crew members never made me feel awkward or a nuisance and were forever courteous and friendly.
Subsequently, I would assure members of the disabled community that there is nothing to prevent you from enjoying the delights of the QE2 although if you have additional concerns or worries it is a good idea to contact the helpful Cunard company prior to departure.
A short history of QE2
September 20 1967 – Launched by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
November 26 1968 – Start of preliminary trials in the Irish Sea.
April 22 1969 – Mini maiden voyage to Las Palmas.
May 2 1969 – Official maiden voyage to New York.
January 8 1971 – Rescued passengers from Antilles, which had run aground.
May 1972 – Ransom demand in mid-Atlantic.
1975 – First world cruise.
May/June 1982 – QE2 requisitioned for Falklands War as a troop transport.
August 7 1992 – Runs aground off Vineyard Sound.
December 1994 – Extensive, much publicised refit.
A selection of some of the many facilities available on board:
- 5 restaurants and 2 café’s.
- 3 swimming pools.
- A pub, night-club and several bars.
- 481 seat cinema.
- Shopping promenade.
- Health club.
- Beauty Salon.
- Computer Learning Centre.
DURING MY six-day cruise across the Atlantic aboard the QE2, I was transformed from a slim line hunk into an overweight food connoisseur – but I don’t regret a single mouthful.
Back home I am used to stuffing my face with baked beans on toast whilst being entertained by a group of second-rate Australian soap actors.
However, as we sailed away from suburban life, I discovered a whole new dining experience in the Queen’s Grill restaurant.
Each evening, at approximately 7pm, I would discard my casual, holiday clothes and pull on my bow tie and dinner jacket before making my way to the dining room – black tie is essential for all evening meals. It was nice to dress up at first but towards the end of the week it became a bit of a chore.
Indeed, each mealtime was a daunting prospect for me as my minimal understanding of the rules of etiquette was put to the test.
I felt I couldn’t really relax as I was surrounded by the social elite who would recognise I didn’t belong in such wealthy company if I started to slurp my spaghetti.
My nerves soon drifted away though when I received the mouth-watering meals and just concentrated on enjoying the food.
A typical evening meal consisted of five-courses and often included food that I had never even tasted before such as caviar, ostrich and octopus.
Each dish was so well presented that it seemed a shame to ruin the designs with my knife and fork.
Imagine spending the week in the Masterchef studios and you’ll get some idea of the culinary treats in store (however, unlike the unfortunate contestants on the BBC programme, we didn’t have to put up with the pretentious babbling of Lloyd Grossman).
Before setting foot on dry land I purchased a copy of the QE2 Cookbook in an attempt to recreate the splendour of mealtimes back in North Wales.
THERE IS plenty to do aboard the QE2 but I found that my entire vacation was consumed by food.
Each meal is of a consistently high standard and as well as exotic dishes for the adventurous eater there is plenty of choice for vegetarians and those who prefer to stick to a more traditional diet.
If you are trying to lose weight your willpower will be severely tested and I defy anyone to resist the chocolate-covered cakes on the sweet trolley.
It is little wonder that there was a Slimming and Nutrition Seminar, which promised “no more diets or false hopes – just great results”.
In addition, hopes of exercise went out of the window – after spending so much time eating and relaxing I was too tired to do anything else other than order another slice of chocolate cake.
Each day our itinerary was as follows:
8am-9.30am – Breakfast.
1pm-2.30pm – Lunch.
4pm-5pm- Afternoon Tea.
7pm-9pm – Dinner.
For those of you with big appetites this is food heaven but if you are watching those scales it might be a good idea to stay at home and chew on a stick of celery.
EACH YEAR, Cunard, hold at least one themed cruise and we were lucky enough to be onboard during their celebration of the movie industry.
A variety of special speakers and famous faces from the world of cinema were invited to entertain the guests, while classic films such as Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca and North By Northwest were shown throughout the day.
By far the biggest star on board was Academy Award winning actress Patricia Neal who talked eloquently about her career, recovery from a stroke and marriage to Roald Dahl.
Film historian Bob Lippet was a good alternative to counting sheep as he droned on about Hollywood history while make-up artist Matthew Mungle, who won an Oscar for his work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, showed us a few examples of his craft.
In addition to the cinematic attractions, there was a wide selection of activities to keep guests occupied throughout the day although these did highlight the fact that pensioners rule the waves.
The average age of Cunard’s patrons must have been well over 60 and the daily programme held a variety of events for the blue rinse brigade such as needlepoint gatherings and lessons in Oriental brush painting.
This is not to say I was bored as my time was consumed with reading, eating and sleeping as well as enjoying some of the activities, such as a concert celebrating The Wonderful Words of Sammy Cahn and the Irish humour of Pat Mooney.
FOR THOSE who suffer from sea sickness it is worth paying a visit to the hospital during your first night at sea as they can administer an injection that will ensure you remain in good health throughout the trip.
There is a small charge although when you consider the alternative is spending a week with your head stuck down the toilet, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s worth it.