The journey home on the Queen Mary

17th May and embarkation on the Queen Mary came all too quickly.001 034 002I didn’t want to leave New York and nor did Ellie. I was up until 4.30 a.m. finishing my final New York Blog and packing. All together, including hand luggage, we have 12 pieces – Just as well we are not flying! Alfie, Ellie-dog and I had our last morning walk together in Riverside Park and I said goodbye to the dog owners I have inevitably got to know, including the lovely Juliana from Brazil who produces documentaries.


Juliana visited Debbie’s apartment last week and will hopefully be walking with her and Ellie-dog from time to time. She 001has a gorgeous and character-full wired-haired terrier. Now that I am leaving New York Ellie-dog will get less exercise, which I am sad about. She is such an earnest, lovely guide dog. She knew I was leaving and stuck to my side for my last 24 hours, following me from room to room, melting my heart.


Toothpaste! We needed a tube – typical to leave such a basic necessity to the last minute. Alfie and I went out to buy it and then to Morningside Park for his last visit to the dog run and freedom. 8 days of incarceration waits. When I returned to the apartment I was met by a worried Debbie – my cab driver had cancelled 15 minutes before he was due to arrive!

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Luckily, Juliana had provided me with the number of Barrio taxis and within no time the lovely Roberto turned up with a large car – enough for me, Ellie, Alfie and all the luggage. Sadly, our goodbyes were hasty because of the last-minute change. None of us wanted us to leave New York but there was no choice. My 10-year visa which allows me to enter the USA for 6 months at a time will stand me in good stead.


It was a 45 minute drive down to the ship and as we reached the Ocean Terminal there was the Queen Mary, looming large, that Roberto had never seen. He excitedly took a photo to send to his friend.


On arriving at the priority check-in place for the dogs I was excited to see Robert, who was helping out Oliver, our Kennel Master for the trip. Alfie was even more excited to see him than I was, and 006 007 009 010Robert walked him around while Ellie and I checked in, coincidentally with Robert’s sister. Both Oliver and Robert are Filipino – as mentioned in my first blog, the nationality of 60% of the staff on the Queen Mary. They are a hard-working, trustworthy, lovely friendly nation.


Arriving at the Kennels, ­­I was pleasantly surprised that my complaints after my journey out had been taken into account. The kennels were clean and didn’t smell at all (giving a lie to the statement by the charmless French Head of Housekeeping in December who told me it was ‘normal’ for kennels to smell). They had painted them and provided new chairs for us and lots of toys for the dogs. Result!


It was still hard to leave Alfie there for the first time and he came to an abrupt stop on the deck when we arrived, realising he was to be incarcerated again, bless him. There are a majority of very small dogs as well as 2 huskies who don’t like other dogs – that promises to be interesting! Ellie quickly fell in love with Trick and Treat – 2 tiny black toy poodles that are more teddy bear than dog.


012 013We arrived at the cabin and pushed as much stuff into nooks and crannies as possible, then went to the King’s Court to have a healthy fish and salad meal. Of course, in my first blog I talked about the 02524-hour access to food – whether room service or in King’s Court so if you don’t pace yourself you could put on some serious weight. Having found the smoothie bar on the last day of my trip over, I am starting every day with a fruit and vegetable smoothie and a mixture of fresh fruit and nuts (in the healthy place you can fill your dish with pecans, walnuts and pistaccios).


We set off with some fanfare shortly after 5.30 and did the usual passing under the bridge with 2 metres to spare. My pictures show how close it looks while experiencing it!


Two hours out of port, the captain announced we were turning back because one of the guests had had an accident and necessitated hospitalisation. If we had been much further out, they would have sent a helicopter. The grapevine said it was a woman who had had a fall, but no more details than that (and we never did get more details). We didn’t re-dock, but met some emergency boats just a couple of miles from Manhattan. It turns out that 10 boats turned up!! It took a while to transfer the patient onto a boat and in the meantime I stood on the deck watching darkness fall and the emergence of the twinkling lights of Manhattan and Brooklyn wondering when I would return – the scene was so beautiful and I love New York very much.


Eventually, the patient had been collected and the boat swung round and set back off into the darkness of the Atlantic sea.


045 043 047 044 042 046The first place I showed Ellie was the spa and for $120 each we signed up straight away for the 8-day pass. With the large ‘pool’ with the jets and the Jacuzzis, the saunas and steam room and the foot spa machines as well as the large relaxation area it is well worth it. We used the spa immediately – it is a great way for us to spend time together and to relax.


Ellie rapidly met people her age, including the drummer and the singer (who is afraid of flying) from the rock group called ‘Breaking Benjamin’ ( ), resulting in her timetable being very different to mine – whereas I had coffee and fruit juice via room service every morning at 7.30, with a view to arriving at the kennels as soon after 8 as possible, Ellie stayed up ‘til sunrise with her new-found friends, having the early morning breakfast which commences at 4.00 a.m.


020 031We eat at the Britannia Restaurant at 8.30 p.m. The people on our table are delightful – 3 couples who have been in very long term relationships – 2 heterosexual and one gay couple: Jim and Bob, who have been together 45 years and are adorable, love Alfie and visited him twice in the kennels. They live in San Diego and are celebrating their retirement by doing lots of travelling. Then there is the mother/daughter combo that is me and Ellie whose presence has reduced my wardrobe somewhat as she doesn’t have any glam Queen Mary clothes with her, having travelled around Central America these past 7 months. I have passed her anything that she can wear of mine (and considers wearable!) so we shall have to be creative for the next 8 nights as the evenings call for glamour!

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The evening restaurant service continues to be a delightful experience with food you would get in very good restaurant although their soufflé grand marnier disappointed for the second time.


One of the couples gave me their invite to a cocktail party for people who have travelled many times with Cunard. I popped in quickly before going to see Alfie and bumped into 026Jim and Bob looking very dapper.


Collecting my smoothie at 8 a.m. on the first morning I bumped into Celia Imrie who is the ‘sleb’ appointed for the crossing – giving a couple of talks and doing some book-signing.


The weather is very breezy/blustery and Alfie is not keen to leave the kennels on the 12th deck and negotiate the wind. We dogs and owners had our pictures taken by the ship’s photographer on Friday and were all allowed to keep one as a momento. The photos were pretty awful, to be honest, as we were being blown around by the wind.


After 10.30 p.m. the choice is the ballroom, the cinema or the show, all followed by the disco.


Alfie had diarrhea on day 4, probably caused by the baked biscuit treats they make for them and by giving him too much chicken. He has decided he won’t do his business where the other dogs are, so I continue to take him out on the back deck to do it and Oliver, the delightful kennel master, has passed the information up the line, with no repercussions – which is just as well as I am not going to stop doing it.


I am with him the hours that we permitted to visit: 8 to 10 a.m., 11 to 12 p.m., 3 to 6 p.m. and 8 to 8.30 p.m. Those times are spent feeding and brushing Alfie, taking him out to do his business and playing with his ‘squeaky squeak’ – one of the toys that Cunard have supplied.018 019 023


The people whose dogs are sharing the kennels with Alfie are a disparate bunch. Yet another ‘Ellie’ is half spaniel, half border collie and very sweet – two days before the end of the trip, his female owner had a meltdown after drinking too much and tried to remove him from the kennel. Oliver had to plead very hard to get her to stay, much to her husband’s embarrassment. You have the 17 year old dog belonging to a very bling Eastern European woman who I suspect is loaded and a tiny Yorkie belonging to a handsome American couple – he is an artist and she is the sort of woman who doesn’t like to be seen without her makeup, even though she is naturally beautiful. They found the atmosphere in the kennel very difficult and didn’t visit their dog that often – so he barked a lot.


014Trick and Treat are 2 tiny toy poodles that my daughter loves to cuddle. A lovely woman and her disabled mother in law were there with a sweet little white dog and I ended up taking the dog from her every time she left as their separation anxiety was unbearable for them both.


A very sweet young couple from North Carolina own Titus and Shasta – 2 huskies that they run up and down the tiny deck we are allowed and keep leashed around the other dogs as they could be unpredictable. Shasta barks at Alfie at regular intervals if he walks past her cage. He responds on occasion. An English/American couple of guys have the lovely Maddie – a pretty Maltese. All of these owners are lovely.

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Then to the next 2 couples and their dogs. There is psycho-bitch 2 (the first one, also a mutt, was in Upstate New York). This one, Scully, was on Alfie’s case from the time he arrived and by the evening of day 3 had bitten him on the ear, drawing blood and frightening him. The ignorant owners knew that their dog cannot be trusted and yet they allowed her to wander around unimpeded and did not apologise for the unprovoked attack or the injury caused. Alfie was the 3rd dog she had gone for.


After Alfie, she attacked Maddie and her owners made a serious complaint, resulting in Scully and her owners being put in solitary confinement for the last 2 days. The final couple were weird and unpleasant with 2 weird little Maltese dogs groomed to within an inch of their lives twice a day and then practically velcroed to the female owner. They would arrive early at the kennel to get the best seats – such as they were – and tutted every time a dog barked. On the last evening she shouted abuse at Alfie and me, thinking that I had been responsible for Scully’s solitary confinement. Weirdo!


022So to conclude, the kennels are a strange place and the dogs and owners cannot be predicted. When Cunard up their intake to 22 dogs they are going to have real challenges both with the dogs and owners, particularly as they still will not supply a suitable outside exercise area.


The group I went out on the QE2 with were great, but the 2 aforementioned couples made the atmosphere quite unpleasant at times on the return journey. Alfie and I survived by going out on the back deck and by playing in the room with the cages rather than in the room that looks like a doctor’s waiting room. Also, we had visitors, like the lovely Bob and Jim. I shall miss those lovely guys!041 039


After Alfie had been bitten I was really worried about him, but Cunard’s Night Manager – a  rigid South African woman – was totally unsympathetic to my request to allow him to spend 5 hours overnight in my room – in fact it would be hard to find someone in her position more rigid, unpleasant and lacking in compassion. So Friday night I had not a wink of sleep and finally was allowed to see Alfie in his kennel at 6.20 a.m.


Yet again, the housekeeping staff (mainly Filipino) have been great and the upper echelons attached to the Pursar’s office and beyond have been awful. Cunard just don’t seem to get it right. I cannot recommend them for their kennels, despite the loveliness of the Kennel Masters, Oliver and Robert. In future, we will fly to New York – it is only a 5-hour flight.048 050 051 052


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Saturday dawned blowing a gale and continued for the whole day. It was a grey day, incredibly windy to the extent my glasses were blown off my face and I was nearly blown off my feet and it was very tippy.


Luckily our cabin is very well placed on deck 6 by stairway B. Deck 12, where the dogs are, is closed to everybody except the dog owners and it was bordering on foolhardy to try to reach the kennels. Of course I did but several owners didn’t. It is May but it honestly could be winter. The winds reached Force 10 gales. Ellie ended up suffering from sea-sickness for 2 days. I cannot believe that I didn’t experience it at all.


We have films here and I watched the latest Star Wars with the 3D glasses, realising why I had never watched the others. Oh dear, not my cup of tea at all – all violence and dashing around with a thin storyline. Cannot see the attraction, but Ellie enjoyed it.024


For the second time I had the opportunity to see the Second Best Marigold Hotel on board, this time introduced by Celia Imrie who is one of its stars. In fact, she is doing quite a lot on this trip to earn her crust. Funnily enough, as I have bumped into her lots of times, notably at the spa, we had a conversation about the film, with me saying what amazing fun it must have been to make and that my favourite scene was the dance scene at the end, to which she replied ‘Oh you mean the one I am not in’ and laughed. She really is a nice person.


The entertainment consists mainly of singing and dancing and the young performers are reasonably good. 032The juggler was so-so. I don’t get to see much of what is happening during the day as it revolves around my visits to Alfie.


Michael is a very nice man from Victoria, Canada, who I met at one of the functions here. He is into triathalons and is 3 years younger than me. We ended up strolling and having some meals together. He is certainly someone I shall visit when I do my Canada trip. Yes, New York and Canada is on the cards for next year – probably the Summer. Michael will be spending a couple of days in Bristol with me.053 054


Finally, the weather started to break on Monday and Tuesday, our last full day, dawned sunny – but still windy. Again, ignoring the rules about keeping Alfie in the dog area, I took him out to the back area for several hours so he could run up and down with no other dogs around. As the weather is nicer, more people are walking around and he greets each one as if they are a long-lost friend.


Ellie and I have made a big use of the spa – it was so worth joining it. We go every day and I love the herbal steam room and the powerful jets that you can pummel your shoulders with. My days consist mainly of visits to Alfie, eating (including the enjoyable 3-course meal with the eight of us) and being in the spa.


The last evening, at the table, we watched the sun go down and said how sad we were to be parting. We were reluctant to say goodbye and lingered at the table over our coffee, ginger and petits fours. I really hope to see some of them again. Ellie and I went to the Queen’s lounge to watch the balloon drop and wave some English flags.  Then we met some of her pals and it was time for me to return to the cabin, where I happened to find ‘The lady in the van’ playing on the television. So I got only 4 hours sleep, and Ellie got none…


And so the Queen Mary arrived in Southampton at 6 a.m. on Wednesday 25th May. We were given instructions to be at the kennels at 8 a.m., ready for a swift exit. When we arrived I found everyone there waiting for me – oops… We were lucky not to be inspected by DEFRA so the dogs could leave with no further inspection. We had gone through passport control a few days ago on the boat – what a cushy number for the immigration officer involved – a free cruise and a few hours work to check the passports of the guests. I walked the 15 minutes to Enterprise to pick up our hire car. Again, I was given a bigger car than the one I had ordered and the man who watched me and Ellie pack the car when I returned to the boat terminal to collect her couldn’t believe how we got the 12 bags, Alfie and ourselves comfortably into it.


It was quite a long trek across from Southampton to Bristol by car via Bath. When we passed Limpley Stoke I remembered the lovely 057 056Brass Knocker Basin marina so Ellie and I stopped there for a pee and a coffee and Alfie did his business several times, as if he had been holding on to it from the boat, poor love. It was so nice to allow him off the lead and watch him enjoying the English countryside. I had narrow-boat envy when I saw a very cute little boat called Poppy.


So we are home. Today, 48 hours after arriving, I bumped into a man with his two dogs as I was leaving Belinda’s house after taking her a big bunch of flowers to thank her for looking after my post – Alfie was in the back of the car. He looked at Alfie and said ‘He goes everywhere with you, does he?’ ‘Yes’ I said, ‘… indeed he does’ and little did the man know just how far! A more loyal and uncomplaining companion would be very hard to find. Thank you, Alfie. The picture I post with the scarf round the head, wearing his anti-anxiety wrap, illustrates how I try to make him comfortable against loud noises – the ship’s horns go off every day at 12.00 midday and he quakes every time.

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So herein ends Jackie and Alfie’s first American Adventure. There will be more …. And in a week’s time there will be a follow-up entry regarding logistics, recommendations and tips for doing a similar trip.