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                                                    From Bill Miller 

Mar 2022

Tue Mar 22nd:   At sea in the eastern Atlantic onboard the Queen Mary 2:   In the long lineage of glorious Cunard captains, Aseem Hashmi is one of the very best.   On our recent three-part voyage, he took the time and sit down (and over coffee) discuss the Cunard flagship and the recent Covid pandemic.

Capt Hashmi is also quite unique.   In the annals of both ocean liner & Cunard’s 182-year history, the captain has held two prestigious roles – he commanded aircraft for British Airways and then, making a career change and being extensively re-educated and retrained, he attended maritime college, graduated, joined Cunard and became master of the illustrious Queen Mary 2. 


The Queen Mary 2 was on her annual long winter cruise and in Australia when the disruptive and deadly covid virus took its firm hold back in March 2020.   Like cruise ships worldwide, all plans were disrupted — and huge changes and, of course, challenges lay ahead.   Captain Aseem Hashmi was due to go on leave from the Cunard flagship, but sudden, fresh orders were flashed from Carnival/Cunard headquarters in Southampton.

“We were ordered to return to the UK – and abort our long, 95-day winter cruise.  So, we disembarked all passengers at Fremantle and flew them home – well, except for 200, who for medical reasons could not fly.  Our homeward routing was simple:   Directly to Southampton via only Mauritius (for fuel) and then Durban (again for fuel).   Before departing, however, we were officially re-classified as a ‘merchant ship’.  We were no longer a ‘passenger liner’.   Therefore, there would be no entertainment onboard (except for one pianist), the menus reduced and, at my own request, having church service only once a week.   After departing from Fremantle, we did have an added duty:  We set-up meteorological buoys in the Indian Ocean for the Australian Government.”

Captain Hashmi continued:   “Once at Durban, we waited at anchor for 6 days.   There was a long queue of ships with us.   No one was allowed ashore even as we took on South African fuel.   We actually loaded 3 days extra fuel just for a possible emergency.  We would be 2 ½ weeks at sea, without port calls, from Durban northward to Southampton.  We did, however, have a medical emergency off East London and used a helicopter evacuation.  Altogether, we sailed at a reduced 20 knots to conserve fuel.  There was a long gap between Walvis Bay and Dakar with just about no suitable ports [along the West African coast] for landing or even emergencies.”

“We had 1,250 crew and the 200 guests onboard for the 29-day voyage,” added the Captain.   “Deck 13 was reserved for passengers only.  A bar was open four hours a day – two hours in the daytime, two in the evening.  The crew generally spent time ‘deep cleaning’ the ship.  The only notation during the trip was that we did have another medical emergency off Tenerife, but again we used a helicopter.”

“When we finally reached Southampton, there was great uncertainty, even great fear, of the virus.   It was the very beginning — there was no covid testing yet.   Even the harbor pilots feared us.  On the bridge, we were all dressed like suited astronauts.   Southampton itself was so strange, even eerie.  It was totally silent – completely empty.   The Queen Victoria, Azura and Britannia were already laid-up.  We could see from the bridge that the roads and streets on shore were completely silent.  There wasn’t a car or bus or truck in sight.   But our first priority was to get the staff & crew off the ship.   It became a slow and difficult process.   Quarantine periods in the UK were in place.  The crew was told that they would be paid for at least several months, but sent home first.   Carnival UK chartered several 747 jets and sent them to India & the Philippines.  But first, it was all a very emotional farewell. The Queen Mary 2 was their home, their safe haven.   Many crewmembers were in tears.  We told them that they would probably be back in 4 months.  But it actually took 20 months for them to return.”

The next decision was what to do with the Queen Mary 2.   Captain Hashmi rotated in command and along with a much reduced 120 maintenance crew.   The 131,000-ton liner was placed in “hot lay-up” (as compared to “warm lay-up” for longer periods and “cold lay-up” for  extended periods).   The Captain added, “We were anchored for a month at a time off Weymouth and later Torquay, along England’s South Coast.  At one point, 10  liners were gathered together. We were a solemn group.  Months and months passed, but we would actually leave for sea at times, mostly  in winter and because of storms.  Every crewmember had his or her own cabin — and one with a balcony.  The Carinthia Lounge on Deck 7 was converted to the officers’ club.”

“The normally busy and happy Queen Mary 2 was like the Mary Celeste,” concluded Captain Hashmi.  “She was empty and silent, and we had only dim lighting.  Once a week, we would run water (showers, sinks, toilets, etc) at the same time to avoid plumbing problems.   The ship was of course full of rumors, especially ones of a return to service.   The dates were actually postponed several times.  It was all referred to as our ‘RTS,’ our return to service.   Finally, we were sent to Brest in France for drydocking and a refit, and then, in late September [2021], the crew returned.   A few did not return of course, but those that did  had to be re-trained for safety, newly in place Covid rules & precautions and refreshing for Cunard’s fine White Star service.  The Queen Mary 2 resumed sailing that November [2021].”

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Bill Miller on “Crystal Cruises”

Bill Miller on “Crystal Cruises”



From Bill Miller 

Cruise writer & expert Gene Sloan has penned what is to me an excellent & highly accurate article on the great Crystal Cruises.  I am sharing it here because I too sincerely hope that Crystal survives and returns to the seas.   Crystal is outstanding – and then some!

Good journalists are supposed to be impartial. They stay neutral when reporting the news. And even as someone who has built a career writing about the fluffiest of topics — cruising — I have tried to hold fast to such principles.

Alas, every so often a story that I am covering hits me in the gut to such a level that it is hard to stay impartial. The suspension of operations at Crystal Cruises Wednesday in the wake of a financial meltdown at its parent company is just such a story.

Crystal is, without a doubt, the finest cruise line that I have ever experienced — and I have sailed with more than 40 cruise brands. The possibility that it won’t be around to continue to set the bar for what a great cruise line can be fills me with sadness. 

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I will lay my bias on the table right here, for everyone to see: I really want Crystal to survive.

Whether it does or not seems up in the air.

For now, the suspension of operations at Crystal, which specializes in luxury cruises, is just temporary … at least, that’s what the line is saying. On Wednesday, Crystal said it only canceled sailings of its three oceangoing ships through the end of April. It canceled sailings of its five river ships through the end of May.

But the line’s fate is now in the hands of liquidators for its parent company, Genting Hong Kong.

Genting Hong Kong said on Wednesday that it was nearly out of cash and filed for what is known as a winding-up petition with a court in Bermuda, where it is registered. This clears the way for liquidators to sell or shut down divisions as part of an orderly restructuring.

What happens next is unclear.

In a filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday, Genting Hong Kong said some of its business activities, including (but not limited to) the operations of its Asia-based Dream Cruises division, would continue as its liquidators pursue a financial restructuring “in order to preserve and protect the core assets and maintain the value” of these assets during the process.

However, it said it expected the majority of its existing operations to “cease to operate.”

Genting Hong Kong has a controlling interest in three cruise lines — Dream Cruises, Asia-based Star Cruises and Crystal — as well as shipyards in Germany and a Resorts World casino in Malaysia.

Why I am rooting for Crystal Cruises!

The luxury corner of the cruise world in North America is dominated by just a few major players, most notably Crystal, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Together, they operate about two dozen ocean ships.

Over the years, I have sailed with all of these lines many times, and there is no bad apple in the bunch. They all are wonderful cruise operators, with beautiful ships, carefully crafted itineraries and — most importantly — generally impeccable service.

But among them all, Crystal has always stood out. It’s something special.

There is a culture on board Crystal ships that is like nothing I have experienced anywhere else at sea — and this is coming from someone who has sailed on more than 160 cruise vessels operated by 41 different lines. I’ve easily taken more than 200 cruises in all.


The service on Crystal ships is consistently intuitive and flawless at a level that makes it extraordinary. It’s often the little things that tell the tale.

A few months ago, when I was sitting in the Palm Court lounge on Crystal’s new expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor, the room’s bar manager, Ana, arrived with a cappuccino. She quietly placed it on the table in front of me while I was typing away on a story.

I hadn’t ordered the cappuccino, but I was indeed ready for one, which she somehow intuitively knew. She clearly had taken note in the days before that I liked to slowly sip on a coffee as I wrote in a corner of the room. She must have noticed that my coffee orders on board were invariably cappuccinos, not Americanos or lattes.

Related: Why we named Crystal Endeavor the ‘best new expedition ship’ 

Ana also struck up conversations with me at times when I visited her bar, but she seemed to know just the right time to do so and just the right time to leave me alone. That’s a fine line to walk, and she walked it like a pro.

I wrote about this at the time, as it was a perfect example of the amazing, anticipate-your-every-need service that is a hallmark of Crystal.

It’s the sort of service that points to a company not only hiring the very best people in the business but also training them extensively and about as perfectly as possible.

Crystal’s crew members are not the only ones who are a delight, though. So are the passengers. It’s a truism of cruising that every line has its own culture when it comes to their regular crowd, and Crystal ships are a second home to some of the most interesting, fun and engaging people you’ll find at sea. I always enjoy being around them.

The best outcome:

The next few months could go a few ways for Crystal.

In a statement Wednesday, the line said its suspension of operations for the next few months would “provide Crystal’s management team with an opportunity to evaluate the current state of business and examine various options moving forward.”

That leaves open a lot of possibilities. It’s also not clear how much of a vote Crystal’s management will get when it comes to choosing a path forward. Judging from Genting Hong Kong’s filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday, the company’s liquidators will have the biggest sway over what comes next.

Related: I just boarded Crystal’s new expedition ship. Here’s the first thing that blew me away

In the filing, the company suggested the liquidators would pursue a financial restructuring that could keep at least parts of the company running. However, they also would have the power to “dispose of all or certain of the company’s assets with a view to maximizing value and returns for creditors.”

That could mean that Crystal resumes operations as a division of a restructured Genting Hong Kong. It also could mean it resumes operations under the ownership of another cruise company, hedge fund or other entity that buys it during the liquidation process. It also could mean the brand is shut down completely or sees some of its eight vessels sold off for cash to interested buyers.

I like to think that Crystal has such a loyal following and offers such a unique brand promise that someone either within or outside of Genting Hong Kong will see the value of it as an entity kept whole and make a play to keep it running just as it is.

Given Genting Hong Kong’s not-so-great track record in overseeing the brand, the best outcome to me would be for the line to be sold to a financially sound buyer who won’t make too many changes to what it is now.

That’s my biased hope, at least.

Life on the Liners – January 2, 2022

Life on the Liners – January 2, 2022

From Bill Miller

Christmas Week 2021 on the Queen Mary 2

A random selection of photos from the Cunard flagship  … the ship has been  anchored off Barbados & again now berthed (Fri/Sat night)… the Queen Victoria remains a mile away, waiting at anchor  … 

Gala New Year’s Eve dinner onboard, fine formal attire, party, shows & finally grand midnight buffet here onboard the Queen Mary 2

Covid & the sinister Variant are on a rampage & the cruise business is not excepted.  

One headline just yesterday read:

More than 80 cruise ships are being investigated for COVID outbreaks. So why are people still going aboard?
The cruise industry has welcomed back more than four million passengers and demand remains strong. But that was before Omicron rocked the boat

Then a letter from a friend on a six-star luxury ship in the Caribbean:

“First yesterday,  before our arrival in Curacao,  the Captain announced at 8:30am there had been COVID cases found on board determined the day before. We think the number is 6. The port of Curacao was determining if anyone could go ashore. We were docked close to the center of town. 

By 10am the Captain came back with the news from the Miami office that no passengers could leave the ship here. We would depart on the original schedule at 1PM.”

Here onboard the Queen Mary 2, all guests are very conscientious, careful and follow the strict Cunard protocol:   “HFD — Hands, Face, Distance”

Every step of the way, Cunard & the staff onboard the Queen Mary 2 have been superb – kind, helpful, caring!  

We were due back in New York on Monday morning, but we will now fly – on Cunard arranged charter flights – and head home this weekend.  

PS:   Safe & sound and home yesterday on a specially chartered (by Cunard), brand new jet – and door-to-door for me:  Barbados-Newark.  

Thank you & highest praises to Cunard – their efforts were extraordinary, highly detailed, arranged step-by-step and altogether as easy & as comfortable under the circumstances.   In fact, I was home only one day earlier than planned.

PS:  My little red camera wanted a holiday rest, but request denied!

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And one more time: A deep bow to Cunard and its excellent staff & crew in dealing with this otherwise very stressful & complex Covid interruption.  They  worked non-stop in a massive transition of getting passengers off the ship & then home.


Happy New Year TO ALL … 


Life on the Liners – Christmas Day 2021

Life on the Liners

From Bill Miller

Christmas Day 2021

At sea on the Queen Mary 2

What is that expression about fine intentions and good deeds?  I had long finished my late morning talk and looked forward to a light lunch & then an easy, relaxing afternoon.  I felt firm in my decision:   I was not going to the ship’s Gala Christmas High Sea.  The temptations are far too great!

Well, after attending an afternoon recital, I ran into an elderly British couple – and could I help them, even take them, to the far end of the ship, to the Queens Room.   Well, here comes the good deed.  I walked them all the way and then, in a flash, I was sucked into the door.   And into a  virtual fantasyland of specially made winter cakes, smiling, white-gloved waiters and commanding, white-hatted head chefs & chief bakers.   “We have a table just for you,” said a charming matire’d.   Like the Titanic, I sank – and quickly.  Waiters appeared: pouring tea, offering silver trays of sandwiches, then scones. Despite all intentions,  I was seated at the Gala High Tea!

But then it all gets worse:   I decided to take some pictures of the center display of magnificent cakes, pastries & cookies.  Then, like a tugboat sidling up to an incoming liner, the ship’s head chef – a commanding, proud & beaming son of India named Kumar – grabbed my arm and began a guided tour.   Snap and two waiters appeared, followed us and held three or was it four plates.   “Mr Miller, must try this” were Kumar’s repeated words and that applied to just about everything – and especially his Indian chocolate.  Yes, it was my own journey of late afternoon decadence.  Mountains, yes mountains, of baked items were destined, like a cruise itinerary, to my table.   My plans were in tatters, well at least crumbs.


Kumar (above) the kind, proud villain in our afternoon tale …




From Bill Miller

Update:  October 15th 2021

Fri Oct 1  Carnival Update: Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation, described 2020 as a “trying but inspiring time” during last week’s “State of the Cruise Industry” panel in Miami Beach. Donald called 2020 transformative, and now has his sights set on the recovery. “We know where the road is headed and the road is headed toward a very bright future … but the road does have potholes and detours in it. It has been choppy and complicated,” said Donald, noting the Carnival brand had 11 ships back in service at 70 percent occupancy.  Across the corporation, the cruise brands in service for Carnival Corporation are averaging 68 percent occupancy, he noted.

Below:  The Carnival Glory berthed in nighttime St Thomas by fine photographer Andy Hernandez

American Queen Steamboat Co and Victory Cruise Lines have joined and become American Queen Voyages.
Cruising:  Staggering!  2020’s cruise passenger count plummeted to 5.8 million globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, an 81% decrease from the 29.7 million in 2019.
Below:   The AIDAmar in dry dock at Hamburg.

Onboard the Crystal SymphonyThere was a small covid outbreak onboard earlier this week and our dear friend George Chandler was aboard and was loyally “on duty” as one of our agents.  He reported, “Just had an update [from Thu Sep 30th] on the covid situation, heard at the front desk this morning, that the 5 people who tested positive have remained in Bermuda under quarantine and the 21 people they were in contact were retested and remain negative, and were returned to the ship on Monday. Otherwise, now heading back to NYC under cloudy skies.”
Sat Oct 2nd   Portugal:  Lisbon is officially back in business as the port and it is expecting 45 cruise calls in October following 13 calls in September.

Sun Oct 3rd Carnival Cruise Line unveiled a unique two week cruise to Greenland from Baltimore in 2023 a week ago.  A big hit!    It sold out in 24 hrs and so the Company has scheduled a second.  The cruises will be aboard the Carnival Legend.  

New Generation of Cruise Ships:   You can ride a roller coaster on the new Carnival Mardi Gras (below) or visit the tattoo parlor on Virgin’s  Scarlet Lady (bottom below) or munch in gourmet specialty restaurants on the likes of Spanish octopus with sunchokes and muhammara, hanger steak with mint and anchovies or goat cheese polenta with fancy stuff toppings.   Or  reach into your bank account and book passage  in an $11,000-a-day penthouse on Regent.  Yes, cruising – and the resumption of cruising – has moved to yet higher dimensions.   
Sun Oct 4th India’s Narcotics Control Bureau has busted a rave party onboard a cruise ship off the coast of Mumbai. A team of NCB officials seized drugs such as cocaine, hashish and MDMA during the raid onboard Cordelia Cruise Line’s Empress.Passenger Preferences:  We find it interesting how cruise travelers prefer one ship over another – and sometimes within the same cruise line.  For example, our dear friend & frequent fellow traveler Rosemary Barnhardt wrote to us recently:  “We love Crystal Cruises.  But  Lee and I still so much prefer the subdued beauty of the Crystal Symphony [seen below at Pier 88, New York] to her rather bright-colored near-sister, the Crystal Serenity.”
Mon Oct 4th China:  The 930-passenger Zhao Shang Yi Dun – formerly known as the Viking Sun of Viking Ocean Cruises – has become the first cruise ship to resume commercial voyages with guests in China. The ship has set sail on an eight-day “Charming South China Sea” cruise departing from Shenzhen, sailing to Sanya and then returning to Shenzhen.  The ship combines European and Chinese elements to bring guests “diversified cultural and artistic entertainment programs,” according to the press release.Onboard, China Merchants Viking Cruises and Shanghai Wenguang Performing Arts Group SMG Live have created unique shows for the Star Theater onboard. These shows combine original Broadway classic musical tracks and drama performances that integrate elements like dance and audience interaction. Each voyage will also have different guest performers that will bring “surprise performances” to the guests. Additionally, the Zhao Shang Yi Dun offers onboard lectures on culture, art, natural sciences and food and has 2,000 hand-picked books available in the ship’s several public reading areas.Storylines, the upcoming private residence cruise line, has introduced a new collection of upscale homes at sea. The company said that it previously provided more affordable entry-level options into the condo ship market, with the vast majority of homes being studio and one-bedroom units in the 237 to 754 sq. feet range starting around $350,000. However, the largest two-story penthouse residences – at 1,529 sq. feet and $8M – were in short supply, and there were many consumer requests for intermediate two and three-bedroom options. To facilitate that, Storylines said that it has reconfigured some smaller residences to create 84 new larger homes ranging from 909-1417 sq. feet, with purchasing options starting from $2,455,000.

Tue Oct 5th Southampton, England: Our loyal friend Dave Smith  reports:   “Fresh out of a long refit & overhaul at Brest, the Queen Mary 2 has been docked at Berth 101 in Southampton docks since Friday.  She is docked next to Mayflower Park & the people taking photos & just seeing her are in the hundreds.  What an advert for Southampton & for Cunard!  But I don’t know how long she will be in Port.  In other local news, the 600 ft-plus chimney at Fawley Power station on Southampton Water will be felled at 7am on Sunday 31st October.  There is a mile & a half ‘stay outside zone’. We will have a great view from across the water at Hamble & Netley Abbey beaches.  They are going to build 1,500 homes there. And the Rank Hovis Building just inside Dock Gate 4 has been knocked down & they are going to build homes & leisure park there.”  Vintage Southampton in 1925 below – with the Aquitania, Homeric, Olympic & Araguaya at dock.

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Above:   Changing hands – a moodful view of Holland America’s Rotterdam & Amsterdam while laid-up and soon to be transferred (in 2020) to Fred Olsen Cruise Line.

Bits’n Pieces:  Brazil has officially agreed to a resumption of  cruising this winter (their summer, of course).  … MSC Cruises will restart, in Nov, 7-night North European cruises – calling at Hamburg, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Le Havre & Southampton – and each with thoughtful 12-hr stays in each port. … Boutique small-ship cruise line Atlas Ocean Voyages announced in late Sep that it will introduce complimentary medical insurance for all passengers on all voyages, covering unexpected travel, medical and legal coverage, along with emergency evacuation. … Billionaire tycoon Richard Branson, who never liked cruising, looks to “disrupt” the industry with his Virgin Voyages.
His Scarlet Lady was set for its first US sailing Oct 6th. … More news from Atlas:  This luxurious, adventure, small-ship cruise line is one of the first cruise lines to sail at full capacity after the successful Aug debut of its first ship.  One of the company’s chief executives was one of my 6th grade students in a Hoboken middle school back in the mid 1990s. 
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Wed Oct 6th Crystal Cruises:  Our dear friend Jim Brochu is aboard the Crystal Symphony, lecturing and adding much joy.  Happily, a message from one of our favorite Broadway & television stars:    “Absolutely wonderful trip so far. The boarding process [at Pier 88, New York] was incredibly easy and took about an hour from start to finish.  Actually, it was very strange to pull up at the pier on a departure day and see no cars in front of us.  There’s 174 people on the ship and everybody has been keeping their social distance to be safe.. But when we all got our negative results [from Bermuda Govt health testing] last night, the festivities broke out and hugs were plentiful. And making things even better — lots of old friends on board.”

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Above:   Holland America’s Koningsdam in Norway

Turkey:   The iconic funnel of the Grand Celebration, the former Celebration of Carnival Cruise Lines, came tumbling down this week at a scrap yard at Aliaga in Turkey.

Fri Oct 8th Carnival Cruise Line announced plans for more ship restarts for Jan and Feb, as it works towards the return of its full fleet sailing from U.S. homeports in the spring of 2022.   With 17 ships scheduled to be operating by year-end, the Carnival Sunshine will restart from Charleston on Jan 13th and Carnival Liberty from Port Canaveral on Feb 11th.

More Snippets:  Norwegian Cruise Lines said his full fleet of 28 ships will resume service by Apr 1st for the first time since the Covid pandemic. … Jamaica is eagerly preparing for the resumption of cruise calls by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines beginning in November as well as 110+ planned cruise ship visits from Oct through Apr 2022 by Carnival Cruise Line. … 
Sat Oct 9th More from Carnival:  With half its U.S. fleet back in service and sailing from six U.S. homeports – the most in cruising – Carnival Cruise Line has had an accomplishment-filled three months since resuming guest operations this summer. The company’s restart began on Jul 3rd 2021 when the Carnival Vista set sail from Galveston and since then 10 additional ships have resumed service, carrying 237,000 guests from homeports along the East and West Coasts and the Gulf of Mexico all while guests were devouring nearly half a million Guy Fieri burgers and enjoying 11,000 adrenaline-fueled rides on BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea that debuted on the new Mardi Gras last Jul 31st. But it’s more than just burgers and roller coaster rides, Carnival’s resumption of service has provided much-needed vacations to hundreds of thousands of loyal guests, a boost to the economies in its homeport and port-of-call communities and opportunities for its shipboard team members to support their families in 120 countries around the world.  

Sun Oct 10th Holland America:  Holland America Line is resuming service on the West Coast today as the Koningsdam welcomes guests back in San Diego. After a 19-month operational pause, the 2016-built vessel is starting a week-long California Coast voyage.

Mon Oct 11th Singapore:  Australia has finally announced the softening of some of its travel bans and so the likes of Cunard now plans a special long sailing next winter from Southampton to Singapore by the Queen Elizabeth.  

More Bits’n Pieces:  Ports such as Tampa & San Francisco are now planning resumption of cruise sailings.  … If you’re looking for an aviation-focused adventure, Singapore Airlines might have a good option for you. The airline operates the world’s longest flight, from New York-JFK to Singapore. But throughout the pandemic that 9,537-mile, 19-hour route has largely been off-limits to most travelers. Now, thanks to the recent news about Singapore relaxing entry requirements for vaccinated Americans, the flight is once again within reach for many.  It resumes Oct 19th. … 

Fri Oct 15th Update from Cunard:   A message from our dear & kind friend Capt Aseem Hashmi, master of the Queen Mary 2:  “I am currently aboard QM2 after just returning to the UK shores after a four- week dry dock in Brest (France). The dry dock was mainly for external projects, but the refit internally is in full swing. Almost 400 crew are joining this week so the ship is coming to life again!” 

At the podium:  Tentatively (well, it has to be tentative in these uncertain covid times), I am joining the Crystal Serenity as a speaker on Nov 1st-15th for two seven-night Miami/Bahamas cruises;   and then the Queen Mary 2 for her Christmas-New Year Caribbean cruise departing from New York on Dec 22nd, returning Jan 3rd.  

Out of the old shoebox:   

Below:  The Queen Mary 2 arriving at San Francisco for the first time in Jan 2007


Thank you to all our readers, correspondents, those “agents” in faraway places!