Penny and Daniel walked out of the lift into the hotel lobby and strolled to the reception desk. What Jinnie hadn’t told them was that she had booked them the honeymoon suite and as Daniel handed the room key back to the receptionist he said with a huge grin, “I hope you enjoyed your stay. If you’d like to take a seat in the lobby I will get one of the bellboys to collect your cases from the luggage room and call you a cab. I believe your travel companions are already in the lobby waiting for you.”
Carol and Jason, were sitting in a couple of luxurious armchairs with their hand luggage at their side. Penny looked around and saw their suitcases on a luggage trolley parked by the main entrance, easy to recognise by the Cunard luggage labels and the bright red priority stickers. Dan dumped his suit carrier down with Jason’s, the one thing he wasn’t really looking forward to was dressing up for the two formal evenings on the crossing. Penny’s cocktail dress was in her case carefully packed by her mother in tissue paper. They had only been chatting for a few minutes when the doorman walked through the lobby calling, “Taxi for the Webster party.”
Jinnie had forgotten nothing, she had realised that an ordinary taxi would not be able to transport four adults with all their luggage and hand luggage and had arranged for a limousine to take them to the docks. Although the boys had managed to get everything into a single suitcase the girls had two each. Jason said, “I could get used to this service,” as the doorman saluted them and two bellboys loaded the luggage into the limo’s cavernous boot. The driver ran around opening the car doors for them and just before starting the engine said, “Just to be certain you are on the Queen Mary 2 from the QE2 Ocean Terminal, there are two other cruise liners in today a P&O and a Royal Caribbean, and I would need to use a different dock gate for them.” “That’s right the QM2 please,” said Daniel.
The guard on dock gate four clearly knew the driver as he waved him through and the driver headed towards the terminal building with the huge ship docked the other side of the building. The limo came to a halt outside the area signed departures and was descended on by porters. One of the porters said, “Your luggage will be delivered to your staterooms,” and the porters took the suitcases away in a flash. A porter must have told a stewardess that they had priority boarding because she came over to them, asked their names, ticked them off on her clipboard and told them to follow her. She led them to the priority check-in desks where their tickets and passports were checked, their photos taken and the plastic cards that were a combination of an on-ship payment card, an identity card, a key to their suite and a boarding card were issued.
They were told to go up the escalator to the 1st-floor departure Lounge and to go straight to the embarkation point as priority boarding had commenced. The 1st-floor Lounge was filling up, but they walked straight through it and showed their boarding cards to the man at the door. He let them through and instead of the gangway Penny expected, she found herself on a glass walkway similar to an airbridge at an airport. Crossing the walkway they stepped onto the ship where a crewman scanned their plastic cards and checked them against their photo that popped up on his computer monitor. Moving forward they emerged in the ship’s grand lobby where a ship’s officer welcomed them aboard, called forward two crewmen who took their hand luggage from them and explained that they would take them to their suites. However, first they would be taken to their lifeboat station where they would be checked off a list to say they knew where to go in an emergency.
From the lifeboat station, the crewmen took them to a bank of lifts and up to deck 9 where their suites were located mid-ships. The crewman with Penny and Daniel’s hand luggage took their key card and opened the suite door and followed them in. Right behind them was another crewman who introduced himself as Raj their personal butler. Raj showed them around the suite pointing out the fridge and asking what complementary drinks they wanted in it, explaining it would be replenished daily; where the safe was and how it worked; how the coffee machine and tea machines worked; how the video player worked; asked if they wanted canapés each evening; did they want fresh fruit in the suite daily or only when requested and finally as they were travelling with the couple in the next suite should the interconnecting doors be unlocked. Raj explained that it was actually two doors and there was only a door handle on the one side of each door so unless the people in the next cabin opened their door as well they were guaranteed privacy.
Raj looked at his watch and said, “Luncheon is currently being served in the Queens Grill, if you and your friends would like lunch, you can leave me your suitcase keys and I will unpack them for you when they arrive. Everything should be tidied away by the time you return.” Penny and Dan walked out of their cabin and bumped into Carol and Jason. Jason said, “Our luggage hasn’t arrived yet so we were advised to go to lunch we were just coming to see if you would be joining us.”
The party headed for the aft lifts that a diagram on the wall indicated took them down to the restaurant. They were greeted at the door by the Maitre D’ who again checked their cards before allocating them a table. The waiter and assistant were immediately there to pull out the chair and place linen napkins in their laps before the assistant poured iced water while the waiter distributed menus. Then the assistant was back offering a selection of freshly baked bread rolls. They were then left for a few minutes to make their choices. Carol whispered to Penny, “Gosh this is impressive, but I feel a little underdressed, many of the ladies seem to be dressed for dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant and many of the men are wearing blazers or linen jackets.” Penny replied, “Don’t worry, lunch is casual dress but the suggestion is a smart dress or trouser suit in the evening.”
They all chose a light lunch. The girls had soup followed by a turkey wrap. Daniel choose tuna tartlet and a ham salad while Jason had the soup and a minute steak, with Parmesan fries and green beans saying as a rugby player he needed to keep his calories up. As they enjoyed a post-lunch coffee, the waiter brought them the dinner menu and pointed out that it came in three sections; items that would be available every night of the crossing, items that were on the menu for that day only. Both of these sections could be ordered in the evening. But the third section contained items that needed to be ordered at lunchtime for the evening. This included several items for two including rack of lamb and chateaubriand or a whole grilled Dover sole deboned at the table.
Penny ordered the Dover sole, but the others all said they would order in the evening. As they walked away Jason said he rather fancied the fillet of 28-day aged Onley beef from the always-on menu. They decided to explore the ship before returning to their suites. They spent the next hour and a half wandering around, finding the massive theatre, various bars, the casino, shops that were all closed as the ship was in port, several alternative eating places that charged a supplement and the buffet that didn’t. Carol looked in the fitness centre and vowed to be in there every morning before breakfast, now she was a first-team regular she couldn’t let her fitness level drop over the summer. If she did she told them she might get dropped to the 2nd eleven and now she had broken into the first team she was determined to stay there. Dan found the library and said he was going to come back and pick one of those books he had always intended to read when the library opened after sailing.
Arriving back at their suites, they agreed to meet at seven in Penny and Daniel’s cabin as both cabins had ordered canapés and they both had a ‘welcome aboard’ bottle of champagne. They agreed that one bottle would be plenty for a pre-dinner drink, so they had two nights’ worth. Entering the cabin Penny couldn’t believe how tidy it was and wondered if the suitcases still hadn’t arrived. However, she noticed the suitcases under the bed and on closer inspection found all their clothes on hangers in the wardrobes or neatly folded and placed in drawers. Their wash bags and Dan’s shaving tackle were in the bathroom and pills and potions were in the bedside cabinets. She wondered how much a butler cost in England. Dan called, “Have you seen this?” He had found a letter on the dressing table inviting them to the ‘sail away party’ on the open deck from 16:30 and a free glass of Champagne with the accompanying vouchers.
Penny and Dan were leaning on the handrail, Champagne in hand listening to the military band on the dockside playing ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’ when the ship tannoy burst into life. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Can I welcome you all aboard this beautiful liner for our crossing to New York. It is now 4:45 and you will be pleased to know that all passengers, baggage and supplies are on board and we have been cleared to sail on time at 17:00. A Carnival Group sister ship, P&O Britannia, will be sailing a few minutes before us, heading for Lisbon. We shall be following her down the Solent. You will be delighted to know that the weather forecast for the next 7 days is perfect for a smooth crossing with calm seas, little wind and sunny skies. With that, I will wish you all a wonderful evening aboard the magnificent Queen Mary 2 and I will speak to you all at midday tomorrow to update you with our progress.”
Penny shivered with anticipation, she had the feeling this was going to be a marvellous experience. A few minutes before 5 the ‘Britannia’ passed them and let out several blasts on the ship’s hooter. Penny nearly jumped out of her skin when the QM2 replied with several of its own. On the dockside the glass bridge had been withdrawn and the rope handlers were busy preparing for departure and were down to the last two ropes. The ship’s hooter sounded again, this time one long blast, the final ropes were freed, the ship’s thrusters pushed her out from the dockside and they were underway.
Back in the suite, the first thing Penny saw was a huge display of fresh flowers on the occasional table. The card on it read ‘With all our love Mum and Dad, Jinnie and Paolo’. Penny couldn’t help herself, the tears rolled down her cheeks and Dan simply hugged her. Freshly showered and dressed ready for dinner, Penny and Daniel stood on their balcony watching the coast slip by when a knock came on the cabin door. It was Raj, the butler with a tray of canapés which he placed next to the flowers. “May I ask what time you will be dining this evening? While you are out I will pop in and replenish the towels and turn down the beds,” he said. “I think we will be eating about 8 o’clock,” Dan replied. “And will you be requiring early morning tea?” “Oh, yes please,” said Penny, “About 07:30?” “I will leave a note for the early morning stewards,” said Raj, “I don’t come on duty until 10:30. English breakfast tea or would you prefer something different?” “That will be perfect thank you Raj,” replied Penny.
Just after seven, Carol tapped on the interconnecting door and Penny opened it to reveal Jason bearing their tray of canapés and Carol with two glasses. Dan took their bottle of Champagne out of the fridge, poured four glasses and they headed onto the balcony with the canapés. Just before eight they headed for dinner.
They were greeted at the restaurant door and led to the same table where the lunchtime waiters went through the now-familiar routine with chairs, napkins, water, rolls and menus. But this time they were joined by the wine waiter who presented a wine list. Jason was the only one to have both a starter and soup, but everyone said it was a fabulous meal with impeccable service. Daniel had only just said, “I don’t think I could eat another bite, but I would love a coffee,” when the cheese board arrived and, of course, he had to have a small scoop of Stilton, crackers, celery and grapes. Then the coffee arrived with a plate of petite fours! Following a short discussion, the group decided that they would go to the 22:30 show in the theatre and follow that with a nightcap in one of the multitude of bars. The waiter who heard the conversation said, “Might I recommend the Commodore Club it is very comfortable, often less crowded than other bars and the views over the ocean are wonderful.”
After the show they took their waiter’s advice and found the Commodore Club. It was on deck 9, the same deck as their suite, but located forward offering a wide expanse of glass giving a 180° view over the ship’s bow. The waiter was correct, they easily found a table surrounded by four armchairs, ordered drinks and sat back to listen to a popular tune being played on a piano.
The crossing went by surprisingly quickly. The group settled into a routine; cereal then a cooked breakfast and toast; a swim, a sun lounger and a read; a light lunch, often a salad in the Kings Court buffet; back to the pool for the afternoon or sometimes a lecture if someone interesting was presenting; back to the suite for a snooze and a shower before canapés and pre-dinner drinks and finally the show or maybe a comedian or the G32 Night Club. Penny wondered if life could get any better.
On the morning of arrival in New York, everyone was up early to see the Statue of Liberty and pass under the Verrazano Bridge. They disembarked after breakfast and grabbed a pair of yellow cabs to their hotel for the next few nights they were in the city. One cab was driven by a Mexican and the other by an Indian. Penny wondered what had happened to the traditional New York cabbie! Days were spent sight seeing and evenings either watching a Broadway show, the latest Hollywood film and even a visit to a jazz club.
On the morning they were leaving the New York hotel their hire car was delivered to the hotel. Penny was surprised how big it was, almost as big as the limo in Southampton. It easily accommodated them and their luggage. Jason had opted to drive the car to the car ferry that was to take them to Martha’s Vineyard. Apparently although MV was an island, a car was needed to get anywhere. Jason set the Sat Nav for the ferry terminal at East 34th Street and they were soon on the well-equipped ferry for the just over 5-hour coastal trip. Their itinerary said they were booked into the Queens Suites at the Charlotte Inn in Edgar Town for two weeks. The hotel was fabulous, white clapboard outside, but the rooms were all Edwardian style and were furnished with many antiques. The small luxury hotel offered breakfast and a limited dinner menu but there was a multitude of excellent restaurants to dine at.
The foursome spent two weeks relaxing in the sun, lazing on the beach, swimming in the cold North Atlantic and exploring the island. It was a rested and tanned group that moved on to Niagara Falls. Surrendering the hire car at Martha’s Vineyard airport they flew to Buffalo where they collected another hire car to drive the short distance to the town of Niagara Falls and the hotel that had been booked for them. The Seneca Niagara Resort was ultra-modern in stark contrast to their hotel in Martha’s Vineyard. They had two corner suites with full-height glazing on two walls at 90° to each other offering magnificent views over the town and the Niagara river the centre of which formed the border between the United States and Canada. Penny was the first to discover that the hotel restaurant didn’t open for breakfast although they could order it to be served in their suites and the hotel’s restaurant was effectively a steak house.
The hotel was only 600 yards from the falls so it was quite easy to walk to the viewing areas and the Terminal for the Maid of the Mist tour boat. The town of Niagara Falls was quite small and fell on both the US and Canadian sides of the border. Although the party was impressed by the falls and the tour boat trip, they were happy they were only there for two days before moving on to Washington. Someone said it was a ‘one horse town’. They drove back to Buffalo and dropped off the hire car and caught an American Airlines flight to Washington. Jason was not impressed by American, claiming he had never seen so many over 40 stewardesses on a flight. The others didn’t agree as the flight was on time and the crew efficient.
Another city another hire car and another interesting hotel. The Hay-Adams was on Lafayette Square with views from their suites over the park to the White House. The 1922 Italian Renaissance building was magnificent, Penny thought it the best hotel they had stayed in. Although they were only scheduled to be in Washington 5 days the itinerary Jinnie had provided was packed with tickets for touristy things to do. An open top hop-on hop-off city bus tour, a visit to the Washington Monument, a dinner cruise on the Potomac River, a White House tour, a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery, a ride on the Washington Wheel (like the London Eye) and a guided museum tour of the National Archives.
On the Fourth of July, Carol was very careful to ensure the party arrived for their ‘White House Tour’ exactly at the appointed time, telling Penny and Daniel that she had heard that they were very strict about timing and dress code. Strictly no jeans, flip-flops or trainers, it had to be smart summer dresses and jackets for the men. Reluctantly Dan dragged the linen jacket he had purchased for the transatlantic crossing out and had it pressed. The girls donned nice dresses they had purchased for the cruise and they all strolled across Lafayette Gardens to the tourist entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue. Penny was surprised that there was no queue but Carol said it was because of the strict timing. The gate guard inspected their tickets, saluted and signalled over one of several large golf buggies and told them to hop on as the tour started with a trip around the grounds.
The buggy moved off and the driver played his full part in the subterfuge, pointing out the East Wing entrance as they moved to the rear of the building. All the time the driver was listening to a radio earpiece and occasionally replying. He showed them the presidential baseball court and the president’s park. It was here that, in answer to a question he said, “OK, two minutes”, and headed for South Lawn, where Penny was amazed to see a crowd gathered all seated on white chairs in front of a raised dais on which stood President Trump who had recently won back the presidency after a disastrous spell under the Democrats. As the buggy approached the dais over the Tannoy she heard the President say, “Here comes today’s recipient right on time.”
The buggy stopped at the steps up to the dais and indicating four empty chairs, the President said, “Please join us.” Turning to the small crowd the President continued, “I hope you will forgive me for not allowing phones or cameras at today’s ceremony but today’s recipient of the ‘Presidents Medal of Freedom’ must, for reasons of state security, remain anonymous. What I can tell you is she is a foreign national, who has recently married, and believes she is on a White House tour as part of her honeymoon in America. I can’t begin to tell you the organising this has taken and I particularly want to thank the recipient’s sister who should have been here today but is at home with the twins she gave birth to earlier this week.”
Penny’s heart was pounding and her head spinning. Was President Trump really talking about her? In the rush of her honeymoon, she had completely forgotten about her sister and the twins, she was an aunt now! The President continued, “Today’s recipient has been of immeasurable service to the United States and I am truly sorry I can’t tell you how she has helped the US, risking her own life in the process. Please come and join me for the presentation. Penny feared her legs were frozen but Carol pushed her to her feet and she took the few steps to the President who placed the medal ribbon over her head and shook her hand.
In Chapter 25 – Willie and Millie.
© WorthingGooner 2022