Little Citizens of the World


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Queen Mary II Rant

I didn’t want to go there, I really didn’t, but I need to.  We had taken Queen Mary once before when we went to Ireland the first time.  I didn’t write about how awful it was, because I didn’t want the negativity on my blog.  Unfortunately, as we have now had the experience a second time, I think it needs to be said.

When we went over to Ireland the first time, we left New York on the trans Atlantic crossing to Southampton, UK.  It took 7 days.  On two separate occasions, staff members were not only rude, but condescending to me.  The food choices were so limited, the kids ate dinner rolls almost exclusively for the whole crossing.  Seriously.  One night while they were in the kids club (which they enjoyed immensely) I was actually crying in my room because I hated how they were always saying they were hungry and nothing tasted good.  Oh, and there was hair in the shower drain, not one or two, a lot!  I don’t think the shower had been cleaned.  I wanted to gag.

After that, I swore I’d never take that ship again.  Fast forward to our second trip to Ireland, and we were faced with flying home, overstaying our visa, or taking Queen Mary again.  I don’t fly.  I would never overstay a visa.  Reluctantly, I booked QM II and hoped it was just a bad crossing and this would be better.

WAITING FOR COACH TRANSFER: We were told to meet at Kings Cross Station London, by the arrival gates for our coach transfer to Southampton.  I arrived 2 hours early, because I have anxiety about missing connections, and dragged my kiddos all over that station asking everyone and their mother where the arrival gates were, no one knew.  When I finally found a security guard, he pointed to two silver doors that only opened from the outside.  There was no sign, there were no people waiting, there was nothing there except two solid metal doors between the many shops.  I was in a quiet panic as the meeting time approached and there was still no sign of anyone or anything that said Cunard.  Finally, as I returned to the plain doors for a third time, after running a few more loops through the station, with the kids and 6 bags, hoping to find someone, there was one couple standing there looking slightly out of place.  I asked if they were waiting for a coach by any chance and they were!  Hurrah!  At least I wouldn’t miss it alone.  About 10 minutes after the very strict (according to the email) meeting time, a woman showed up with a Cunard clip board.  We were then led to a cafe to await the coach.  Now, just so you don’t think it was just me being neurotic about the time, the couple waiting with me made several phone calls to Cunard trying to figure out if we were in the right place.  There should have been a sign.  Just a single sheet of paper taped to the door that said Cunard would have been fine.  So not very well planned out.  Seriously, why couldn’t we have all just met in the cafe????

UPON BOARDING:  For some reason, they decided to take fancy photos within 10 feet of walking onboard, thus holding up the line.  I didn’t want photos, I just wanted to get to my room.  I said ‘no, thank you’ to the photography staff and asked if they could tell me what deck I could find our cabin on.  I was abruptly pushed aside by photography staff so they could take photos of the next people in line (money over service).  No one answered my question.  I was actually standing there with tons of staff standing all around being completely ignored.  I went over to the nearest staff member and gave him my room number, he said we were lucky, as our cabin was on deck four, and that this was deck four.  We were not on deck four, we were on deck three.

We found our way to our cabin and I put in my key card.  Red light.  It didn’t work.  Now please keep in mind, I am not wealthy, I don’t have a driver to take me door to door, I don’t have a butler to carry our 6 bags, I don’t have a nanny to keep an eye on the kids, I have me.  So with the key not working, I’m getting a little frazzled.  I see a housekeeper further down the hall and explain my situation.  She doesn’t have a master key and can’t open the door (she turned out to be our housekeeper so I don’t know why her key card wouldn’t work)  I asked if she could please find someone to open the door for us.  She said unfortunately, we would have to go to the main desk and get a new key made up.  This is where I couldn’t take it anymore.  I said there was no way I was dragging all 6 of our bags and my two kids back through the chaos of new passengers boarding to get a new key that should have been working in the first place.  She said she would try to find someone.  15 minutes later, she returned with someone and they opened our door.  Finally.

No one was rude this time around, in fact, everyone was very, very nice.  It was Sky’s birthday and they were able to get a cake done up for her and they sang Happy Birthday that night at dinner.  She truly enjoyed it.  The dining room staff were wonderful.

THE LIDO: The food options were still the same.  I can’t understand it.  Let me give you an example of the one and only salad bar, there’s a bowl of lettuce (not a very big bowl, something you might use for a dinner party of 8 -10 guests) then 3 very small bowls with different sides, say onion, tomatoes and olives and your option of two dressings, vinaigrette, or raspberry vinaigrette.  This is just ridiculous.  Even I barely ate anything on this crossing.  So again, rolls were the main dish.   They do have a small kids menu, and the kids tried to eat the fish fingers but didn’t like them and the same with plain old cheeseburgers, they were gross, like something you’d get at a fast food place.

I did order room service one day when Sky was not well, and it was very good.  The room service menu was small, but far exceeded the Lido, so I ended up ordering lunch in every day.  There were no real options for the kids though.  They ate a lot of apples, french fries and, again, dinner rolls.

We also ordered breakfast in our rooms due to the lido being extremely busy in the morning, limited seating and the kids desire to get to Kids Zone on time.  Every day they got something wrong.  It became almost funny, the kids would ask, ” what did they mess up today?”  It was unacceptable.  I know I sound like a snob, but I’m absolutely not, and I’m telling you, this was so bad!  The kids toast and bagels arrived cold, every time!  Sometimes they brought sugar for my tea, sometimes they didn’t.  Fruit plate?  Yeah right!  Here’s a slice of melon and 3 strawberries.  I ordered orange juice for the kids every morning.  Sometimes it came, sometimes it didn’t.

THE KIDS ZONE:  This is where the kids hang out most of the day.  The ladies there are absolutely amazing!  I can’t say enough good things about them, they are wonderful.  The girls loved going there and were very sad to leave at the end of the week.  Truly, they were the one sliver of sunshine, and I am grateful to them.  Five stars and then some to Kids Zone.

OUR ROOM: There was more excitement when I moved the nightstand to push the two twin beds together the first night.  They ask you before you get on if you prefer two twins or a king, it doesn’t matter.  I had chosen twins, but Sparrow wanted to be closer (Sky was on the fold out couch).  So I moved the nightstand out from between the two beds and pushed Sparrows bed over.  I then tripped over a platform sandal that had been under her bed.  There was also a t-shirt.  I was pretty disgusted that no one had bothered to clean under the bed and kicked them both back under with the toe of my shoe.  I then moved Sparrows nightstand over so I could put the other nightstand (that I had moved from between the beds) beside it.  There was the other sandal.  Gross.  The rooms hadn’t been properly cleaned and checked over.

It wasn’t too long after that Sky dropped a tiny stuffed animal down between the mattress and side of the fold out couch.  When I half folded it up, so I could get the little toy, there were used wads of tissues, used ear plugs, and candy wrappers all underneath.  If I could have tossed the little stuffed toy in the trash, I would have done immediately.  I felt sick to my stomach.

THE HALLWAYS:  They stunk of cigarette smoke and the maids carts fill the entire length of the halls ALL DAY.  If you were a wheelchair user, you’d have to flag a housekeeper down (good luck finding one) and ask them to move each one, and the vacuums so you could get in/out of your hallway and to the lifts.  Depending on where your room is, this could be as many as 6+ carts.

The final straw that sunk the Queen Mary II for us was within 3 days, Sky had a few bumps on her hands that she said itched.  They were tiny and I didn’t think much of it, so said the typical mom thing, “try not to itch them, and they’ll go away.”  They didn’t, and she had a few more show up during the week.  The morning after we arrived home, her arms were covered with rows of tiny bumps that itched terribly.  Two days after arriving home, I had about 20 itchy bumps on my hands and forearms too.  Yes, bed bugs.  This put me over the edge.  I will never, EVER take the Queen Mary II again.  I had to throw away all of my luggage, put all the stuffed animals in a bag in the freezer and hope beyond hope that they hadn’t come with us off the ship.  Luckily, they had not and within a few days, the bumps were gone.

That is my rant on Queen Mary II.  I wish it weren’t like that.  I wish it had been a wonderful experience like we have always had on Holland America, but it was not.  The fact that you pay just as much for a 7 day crossing on Cunard, with no shore days, that you would pay on a 20+ day crossing on Holland America, with many shore days, is just insane.  You are truly paying for a name only.

I was so disgusted with this ship, I didn’t even bother to take pictures.  I was just too put off , I hardly left the room.  The next time we take a cruise, it will be with Holland America, and I’ll take tons of photos so you can see how absolutely amazing their ships are.

Thanks for listening.


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Somewhere in the Atlantic…

We’re taking the Queen Mary II back to the US.  I’ve been on this ship once before, and I swore I wouldn’t take it again because of our terrible experience.  The staff members were rude to me, like rolling their eyes and mumbling under their breath rude, the Lido restaurant was terrible, the options were non existent.  The girls lived on rolls for a week and I’m not exaggerating. As a parent, that was really upsetting.  However, we have no choice in the matter this time, as we are limited on time and needed to make a move before our visas ran out.  So I decided to give it another shot.  Maybe it was just a bad run before.

The weather’s been less than favourable, but it is October.  Today is the first calm day in 2 days, and there are still white caps out there.  Sky wouldn’t even try going to Kids Zone, it’s been so bad.  You know things are going to only get worse, when you see sick bag stands beside all the lifts!

Yesterday, while having breakfast, the captain came over the intercom to tell us the conditions.  He said overnight, we had sustained winds of 95mph with gusts of 110mph!!  There were also some broken windows, so all weather decks are closed off.  I’m so glad we all slept through that!

For the rest of Sunday, winds were between 50-60mph and both kids called out sick after only 45 minutes in Kids Zone.  We spent the rest of the day in our room with room service (which was WAY better than the Lido), Sky napped for 4 hours, and I turned out the lights at 8:30pm.  Of course, we’ve had 3 time changes already, so it felt like 11:30pm.

Today things have calmed down quite a bit.  Winds are only about 5mph, it’s foggy and drizzling but the kids are back at Kids Zone and feeling good!


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Cobh

Cobh (pronounced cove) is a short train ride from Cork City.  We went for the day to visit the Titanic museum, go to Lord Goulsley’s Manor (a Halloween special event) and to walk around the town where some of my ancestors left Ireland for Prince Edward Island, Canada way back in the 1800’s.

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Lovely waterfront area

There was a very cold, and consistent wind coming off the ocean and I hadn’t brought Sky’s fleece, (always wear a fleece under your raincoat in Ireland) so I gave her my raincoat to keep out the wind and I tried not to shiver too much in front of her.

The Titanic museum looks like a very small building, but it’s huge inside (like the Tardis).  Cobh was the last stop the Titanic made before heading off to America on it’s first and final voyage.  The museum has lots of neat things in it, photos, luggage, short videos, a Morse code machine where kids can type out the last message sent by Titanic.  The kids really liked that the entry ticket has the name of a passenger that they can find details on as they walk through the museum.  There is also information on Lusitania that is very interesting.

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The Morse code machine

We had a great time at Ghoulsley’s Manor, the kids had a blast, it was very well done.  I don’t have pictures because, I notice a lot that Irish people don’t take pictures of everything like American’s do.  They are almost never seen on a smart phone, they are just in the moment.  So I felt like taking pictures would have ruined the vibe, especially as I would have needed to use my flash.  It was fantastically done though, and if we’re here for Halloween again, I would definitely go back.  Lord Ghoulsley’s Manor

Afterwards, we took a taxi back into town and stopped for fish and chips before getting back on the train and heading home.  It was a wonderful day out and I’d definitely recommend visiting this little seaside village.

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Beautiful colours

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St Coleman’s Cathedral

You can’t go to Ireland without making a stop at Blarney Castle, it’s just not on.  It’s so incredibly easy to get there from Cork City too, there’s a city bus that takes you right to it in about 25 minutes.  The castle itself is a ruin, there are no artifacts or recreated rooms, it’s basically a shell.  But if you can brave the claustrophobia inducing narrow spiral staircase, that seems to go on for days, the views from the top are outstanding.  This is where the famous Blarney Stone is located.  No, I did not kiss it, germs aren’t my thing.  It’s all in good fun, you say.  Well, it’s the same as kissing all 200+ people wandering around the grounds.  I’m all set.  If you do decide you want to give it a smooch, it’s not for the faint of heart.  I saw grown men looking pretty terrified as they leaned backwards and pulled themselves out into mid air, with nothing but a few bars between them and a straight drop to the ground below.

The entrance fee is very inexpensive and, although there’s a children’s rate, mine were not charged that day, nor was my friends child.   There are 2 small playgrounds, a poison garden, giant trees to climb, acres and acres of running space, waterfalls, trails, and so much more.  It’s a truly magnificent place that I will be visiting again and again.

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Blarney House from the top of the castle

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From the top looking down

The grounds are something out of a fairy tale.  They go on for miles and they are superb!  My Irish friends say, you can go there a hundred times and still find new places.  It’s truly magical.  I can’t possibly post enough photos to do it justice, but if you ever get the chance, go to Blarney Castle, You won’t be disappointed.  http://www.blarneycastle.ie/

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I’m telling you, it’s incredible.

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Willow tunnel

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Careful now!

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This is one tree!

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….It’s easy going back again but it’s hard to say goodbye.

Back across the ocean to my home away from home
Glad to be returning but sad to have to go.
I’d like to find a way to be two places at one time
It’s easy going back again but it’s hard to say goodbye.  -Robbie O’Connell

 

Our time here is almost over but I feel like we’ve only just arrived.  Three months is really no time at all; as soon as you start to settle in, it’s time to start packing up again.  Reconnecting with our wonderful community of friends here has been worth it.  I love these ladies so much, I can’t express it in words.

Because our trip over was so expensive, I really didn’t have the funds to go crazy and travel back through to Italy, like last time, to catch the Holland America ships out of Rome or Barcelona.  Also, the timing of those ships this year would have us miss either Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, and that just wasn’t an option for us.  So I very reluctantly booked a return on Queen Mary II, but not after searching every other cruise line out there.

We took Queen Mary II over on our last trip to Ireland and it was an awful experience.  Awful.  I didn’t write about it here because it made me angry inside just remembering it.  Also, I don’t want to blog about negativity, there’s enough of that out there.  So I am hoping that this trip will see Queen Mary II redeemed and a lovely experience had by all.  (I’m not going to hold my breath)

We won’t be going back to our island home this time.  We have rented a small house on the mainland, and it will be ours until spring.  Because of the nature of seaside towns, most rentals are available at one rate in winter, and another rate in the summer, when the influx of tourists can bring in more money.

Like the verse above, I am looking forward to the familiarity of being back, but I will miss Ireland terribly, and as soon as I’m home, I know I will start longing to be here again.  If only we could be in two places at one time.

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Fitzgerald Park, Cork City

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Fitzgerald Park, Cork City

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A beautiful walk, Cork City

 


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I love Cork City

With the exception of my own beautiful island, no place else on earth feels as much like home as Cork City does.  If it weren’t for the politics of visas and residency restrictions, I would live there forever.

We love the south side, we’re true south-siders, but on this trip, our first few weeks were spend on the north side, by the Shandon tower.  You can go up inside the tower and ring the bells and they can be heard all over town.  They even have playlists, so sometimes it’s Over The Rainbow and other times it’s Abba’s Fernando.  No kidding, I’ve heard it a few times.  So I’d get up in the morning, open my window and listen to these bells every morning while I have my tea.  It was like living in some kind of fairy land.  After about 3 weeks, however, I was instead waking up to these beautiful bells thinking, “don’t those people know what time it is!!!”  Ha ha!  Well, what can I say.

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Shandon clock tower

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It’s a steep, but delightful, downhill to get to the city centre

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A Saturday farmers market


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Amsterdam

So close to Ireland right now, I can almost smell it.  …Or maybe that’s the weed :/

So Amsterdam.  Not a fan.

I don’t know, maybe it was the stress of the impending journey, but I didn’t really like Amsterdam.  It was packed, I mean PACKED with people.  You could barely walk down the street it was so jammed with pedestrians.  The architecture is extraordinary, and we took the canal boats all around so we could see the gorgeous construction.  The kids enjoyed the canal boats, but they didn’t like the busyness.

If you plan on going to the Van Gogh museum or Anne Frank house, book your tickets online in advance.  We couldn’t get into either, the lines were insane.  The Anne Frank house had a 5.5 hour wait when we walked by.  Yikes!

This is an over night stop that ends this crossing, so we get off tomorrow and make our way to Ireland

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The architecture is amazing

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Train station

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Canal boat water taxi