This is a guest post by Mary MacDonald.
Today, I am travelling to join my first Cunard ship leaving from Melbourne. I have an 11-hr road trip ahead of me as I depart Sydney Central at 7 pm on an overnight Firefly Express.
Although not a quick way to travel, it affords me to take if I wish 2 suitcases and hand luggage, free wifi and for me a convenient way to arrive into central Melbourne, Southern Cross Station early at 6.15 am.
This gives me a full day to explore Melbourne. I can store my luggage at the Coach area of the station or head straight to the ship.
There are no concerns with domestic weight limits, or delayed flights…. I just enjoy coach travel, and maybe it’s not for everyone, but we can’t all be the same now can we ??
Cunard… This was Queen Elizabeth, the name of our most recent Monarch. A lady I admired and had seen up close in Darling Harbour Sydney on one visit, and who had sadly passed away last year at a wonderful age, in her Platinum year, but also on my granddaughter’s birthday 8th Sept.
It was to be an honour to be on her name-sake vessel and to enjoy a Cunard experience, while also enjoying the added interest of a Gardening Journey with lectures, presentations, trivia, craft sessions and specialty shore excursions.
The anticipation was building as I deposited my suitcase early at the pier in Port Melbourne. A truck was waiting for luggage deposits, and it would later be delivered to my upgraded Balcony stateroom… on Deck 5, very well located near the lifts and Stairwell 2.
This was another delight, to be upgraded, as I had rarely had this luxury in over 40 cruises, be it long or short with various cruise lines.
However, I had booked this holiday direct with Cunard a long time in advance and deals had come and gone after I was fully paid. I did phone them to say this, and maybe it was noted on my booking prior to room allocation.
Suggested read: Cruise Price Went Down After Booking? Here’s What You Can Do!
I truly appreciated this as I was travelling alone and kind of paying double anyway. The room and bed were to be super comfortable, pillows so soft and the interior comforts of a small lounge and tea and coffee facilities were welcomed.
I filled my many hours before check-in by returning back on the 109 tram to Melbourne City Centre. I spoiled myself with a pre-birthday sit-down cappuccino and cake at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms, a piece of history in a Melbourne Arcade.
I also checked out the great Melbourne Information Centre for help on my return for a concert I was seeing, did some shopping and before long it was time to be at the Pier for a very smooth check-in, vaccination checks and departure.
My bag was in my room once I boarded, along with a bottle of South Australian wine, a detailed travel booklet and a Gardening trowel engraved to remember this first Gardening Journey with Cunard.
A lovely memento.
Originally planned in a pandemic year, it was better late than never.
The itinerary was Melbourne to Melbourne and the first port was Adelaide, a glorious day where I was able to catch up with a past cruising friend from years ago, for a birthday lunch and a chat; so happy we have maintained the friendship and we exchange news constantly.
Queen Elizabeth next journeyed to our Tasmanian ports, Hobart and Port Arthur, getting slightly rougher weather across the bottom of the mainland and Tasmania, the Bass Strait.
Hobart is a lovely city to spend the day in, so much to see and do and then onto Port Arthur, an efficient tender service ashore. This was another memorable day visiting the convict Settlements ruins and gardens.
During the cruise, we were able to attend presentations or garden talks during the day and evening, from our Australian Gardening icons and a few we did not know so well.
Two most notable were Graham Ross and Jamie Durie, with another Angus Stewart an ex-ABC presenter, and a native garden specialist plus a local of Tasmania now, who boarded in Hobart.
I was lucky enough to be on his coach Shore tour in Hobart where we visited Inverawe Native Garden and Longley an organic farm visit. This farm grows fabulous, freshly picked supplies of vegetables and fruits for local chefs at restaurants in Hobart.
We hand-picked delicious blueberries, toured the farm garden beds and we were given a tasty lunch to enjoy prior to our walk around. Highly recommend this tour.
Jamie and Graham departed quite early in the cruise, owing to other commitments ashore which were disappointing, leaving the other speakers to be on various panels of discussion. We had 6 presenters and 2 coordinators of talks, trivia and craft sessions.
Most presentations were informative and inspiring, provided a history of their lives involved with Gardening, and were well received. We learnt about Native Bees and Garden care but where it all went wrong for me was during the discussions by the Panel of presenters on Sustainability.
This became a bit too political, very repetitive and one presenter used it to be less than complimentary to the older age group for not taking care of the planet. He told us we would not be around in the future to see our damage and it was all our fault…
This is definitely NOT what you want to hear on a holiday… political statements and rude, bullying comments.
This soured it for me and I have since complained to Cunard who will take my comments on board and for notice in future planning.
The gardening craft involved Cricut mug making with a garden motif and Kokodama, the Japanese art of a hanging plant – we used beautiful orchids of all colours (sadly we had to leave this on the ship due to Australian Biosecurity laws). No discount… Each class was US$20.
The weather unfortunately was not very bright the whole journey, with some rough seas, which is common in that part of Australia and therefore some pools were closed and decks.
However, we also had humidity and sunshine on a few days and the best sunny day on arrival into Melbourne.
The ship was a pleasant environment. Artworks and statues, grand staircases, wide decks and deck chairs to lounge upon. Nice bands and dance music in the Queen’s room, a touch of comedy towards the end of our trip, and gardening quizzes.
I enjoyed the good company on my dinner table of solo travellers, along with other like-minded gardeners. I even met a local from my work suburb, it’s a small world really.
Service, silver service, in the dining room was slow to start but improved. I found the food a great size and hot topic much discussed upon ships in our part of the world, and in post-cruise forums.
The Golden Lion pub food was delicious that I consumed – one lunch a fish and chips meal with a fruit pie dessert and custard – currently included but I see will be at your cost soon.
I missed trying a dinner meal at the Pub and the beer sampling which seemed reasonably priced. The days passed by quite quickly in a most relaxing fashion. I so love cruising.
Shopping on board my trip was a bit hit and miss with Australian customs holding a lot of their souvenir stock in quarantine or at the container dock. I did buy a model and a few others luckily.
However, a limited range is occurring more frequently on Australian cruises. Ships are unsupplied for new stock, and this can disappoint if it happens on your cruise… a ship model could be unavailable.
On the whole, I enjoyed this holiday, and saw some picturesque, colourful gardens ashore. I learnt more about plants and how to display them in all kinds of ways in native, large and small gardens.
I also saw how to keep native bees and how precious pollination by them and other bees will be to garden survival and natural food production.
This cruise rested me from my normal routine. I relaxed and smelt the roses.
I watched nature at its best and reluctantly had to return back to reality.
Thank you Cunard for my first journey, of hopefully many more with you ….
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