A fabulous, fascinating and unforgettable fortnight of living the life of the rich and idle definitely proved two things for me: I’m not rich and I’m not idle.
I’m also not a cruiser (in the non-sexual sense; actually, in both senses). To be a cruiser, you have to be over 60 at least, and a person of means. As Richard Wood so accurately said in our book Life on a Permanent Wave: Hair-raising Stories from a Shipboard Stylist, ‘A ticket on the QE2, even the cheapest one, costs what most people would consider a modest fortune.’
The same applies to the QM2. On the trip I did in April-May, from Cape Town to Southampton, even the ‘special’ tickets, sold off at the last minute to fill the inside cabins (those without portholes), cost ₤300 – almost R5 500. You may think this is an absolute steal for a two-week all-meals-and-accommodation-included trip on a luxury cruise-liner, but don’t forget that you still have to fork out the price of a one-way air ticket home, which can set you back anything between about R8 500 and R12 000; plus ground transfer from the port to an airport in the UK, where public transport is pricey; and add to that the $172.50 (about R2 000) ‘mandatory gratuity’ extracted from each passenger for that leg, and you’re beginning to realise that even the cheapest ticket comes at a hefty price – around R17 000 at the very least.
I didn’t pay that, incidentally. I was there as a guest of my father (a freeloader, in other words). My Dad was lecturing on board the ship, and our passages were paid for by Cunard. And because I brought on board my pathetic and meagre South African rands, I happily stuck to only the free stuff. There was plenty of that, and certainly enough of it to keep anyone with the slightest inkling of ingenuity occupied for a fortnight. (One friend, when I told her I was going to do this cruise, said, ‘Oh, you’ll hate it! Friends of mine did it and they were so bored!’ I can’t understand how – there’s a jampacked itinerary of free things to do every day, delivered to your stateroom every night so you can plan your activities.)
There’s also lots of stuff you have to pay for, but only thrice did that become a problem for me. The first time was as we were departing Cape Town, and I wildly ordered a whiskey and soda to enjoy while sitting on the deck like a millionaire and looking back over the Mother City. It came to the equivalent of about R125, and I realised that it was just as well I’m a near-teetotaller, because if you like your tipple, it’s gonna cost you. (I did have other, occasional whiskey-and-sodas, for which my father paid – thanks, Dad!)
Cape Town from the deck of the Queen Mary 2, April 2015
The second time was when I had a bad headache, and I popped in to the onboard chemist to buy some painkillers. They only had Neurofen, at $30 (about R350) per packet, and my headache instantly and magically cleared up.
The third time was when my Dad and I attended a Captain’s cocktail party (with about a gazillion other people, so no great honour), and got an official photograph with the top dog. Of course I wanted to buy it, but I thought $25 (about R300) a pop was a bloody cheeky. So instead I slunk into the photo gallery and took a picture of the picture with my phone.
A free pic of a R300 pic: the captain with my father and me at a drinkie-poo do.
I wasn’t the only person irritated by the userous price of the prints (and other things). I stood behind a woman in the queue at the purser’s desk (about which more in a future post) who, waving around what I assume was a bank slip, had this to say to the purser: ‘I’ve been charged almost R1 000 for three prints. Do you know what we get in South Africa for R1 000? We get a photographer and a makeup artist, and they take pics not only of us, but also of our kids and our dogs!’ She was politely cheered by a few other people in the queue, clearly feeling as stung.
This unnecessarily high price of the official pictures was representative of the slightly unpleasant money-grabby atmosphere on board, which did get to me now and again. A 15% service charge was slapped onto everything (and that was in addition to the ‘mandatory gratuity’), for instance. I overheard another South African grumbling about how much everything cost: ‘We’re just a captive audience with open wallets,’ he said. I also noticed that while everyone had been very keen to pose for the QM2 photographers at the beginning of the trip, by the time we reached Las Palmas and they were offering to take shots of us as we debarked, most people waved them away.
My Dad and me in Las Palmas, Canary Islands – this pic wasn’t taken by the QM2 photographers and didn’t cost me R300.
But of course the trip wasn’t only about spending money – or rather, trying to find ways not to spend money — and I’ll be sharing more stories about my adventures on the QM2 in future posts.