Friday, September 30, 2016

Queen Elizabeth / Queen Mary 2 – Mediterranean and Transatlantic Cruise – September 4 – 28, 2016

We have done several back to back cruises in the past and we have also switched ships (different cruise lines) for back to backs.  On this trip, we are “transshipping” from the Queen Elizabeth (Mediterranean) to the Queen Mary 2 (Transatlantic) with a stay in Bath, England in between.

September 4, 2016 – Travel Day

Usually our flights to Europe depart between 5 and 7 PM – however, our flight today to Dubrovnik, Croatia via Frankfurt, Germany departs at 10:30 PM.  We are on Lufthansa 433, which will leave from United’s Terminal 1 (much more convenient than the International Terminal).  We basically had the whole day before leaving for the airport at 8:00 PM. 

Our cab came right on time (The American Taxi mobile app allows you to track your cab so you can meet him when he gets there) and it took only about 15 minutes to get to O’Hare.  I was surprised to find that the first section of Terminal 1 belonged to Lufthansa.  We checked our luggage and got our boarding passes.  Just a week ago, we had completed our Global Entry application, which entitled us to TSA Pre-Chek status.  Lufthansa just recently joined other major airlines in using Pre-Chek and our passes contained the Pre-Chek stamp.  It was actually academic since, due to the low number of passengers in Terminal 1 at that hour, the Pre-Chek lines were closed.  After showing the TSA agent our passes, I was able to keep my shoes on but I still had to take out my laptop (regular Pre-Chek does not make you take out any computers).  The trip through security was very fast and soon we were off to our gate, B17. 

The waiting area was warm and not all that comfortable (definitely needed a refit).  However, there were chargers available and nearby bathrooms so we made do.


Ellen Looking Comfortable Pre-Flight

Lufthansa’s loading process was innovative and effective.  Passengers lined up in separate lines according to seat assignment.  Each line entered the plane (starting from the rear of the aircraft) – this prevented people from climbing all over each other.  Everyone got on the plane very quickly.  US carriers could learn from Lufthansa’s process.

Lufthansa 433 is a B-747-800.  I chose seats 45B and 45B, which while they were in the rear of the plane, did had advantages.  They were one of only two rows containing only two seats (more leg room) and they were close to the rear wash rooms (people didn’t congregate here like they do around the mid plane bathrooms).  The flight wasn’t full and as soon as the doors closed, I moved across the aisle and grabbed the aisle seat – the only other person in that aisle was a young girl on the other aisle.  I quickly realized the downside of that move – she spent most of the time stretched out sleeping on the remaining nearly three seats of the aisle so I couldn’t really stretch out -  I think she even took one of my pillows.

The plane must have been almost brand new – no wear and tear on the seats of the carpeting.  The rear washrooms were not cramped and the faucets were hand free (sensors).  The seats had USB power slots on the bottom side of the arm rests (not easy to find) and an excellent entertainment system – really new movies and lots of them.

The takeoff and climbout were smooth and the flight toward the Canadian coast was pretty much bump free.  The rear of the plane has more yaw and a different kind of bounce. 

Our kosher meals were on board – barbecued chicken bits and risotto (both OK) but the best part of the meal was the chocolate pudding.

I watched “Batman vs Superman” (only the second time I’ve see it) and I still liked it (even though Superman was still oblivious to things around him – on purpose or bad writing and direction?).  I caught a few things I’d missed first time around.  I also started “Captain America – Civil War” but couldn’t really get into it.  There were a lot of European films I had never heard of. 

When I wasn’t watching movies I was checking out the flight status screen.  On this plane, the system was quite different – it offered less in the way of actual status (air speed, altitude, compass heading) and more map like information.  It showed the plane relative to the location and even gave us views of the cockpit.  More like a video game than flight status.





Flight Information Screens

Monday, September 5, 2016 -  Enroute

The flight was smooth until we skirted Greenland – while the plane was moderately bumpy, the pilot did not turn on the seat belt sign.  After about an hour of bumps, he finally turned it on.  The more than moderate chop continued for about an hour (I did make a run for the washroom after sensing a lull) but eventually, the light did go out (an American pilot would have kept the light on the entire time). 


Over the English Channel (An Hour Out)

The air was smoother as we crossed into Ireland and made our way to Germany. 



Over Germany

Even though we were nearing lunch time, the second meal consisted of a continental breakfast (fruit cocktail, orange juice, a roll, and coffee).  Not great but I was hungry.

The 747 did a little bit of circling (I could tell by the altimeter – the display began showing altitude on descent) before finally beginning its final approach to Frankfurt Airport. 

We arrived at the Z gates and our connecting flight to Dubrovnik was at B47. 

I couldn’t get a picture of LH433 in Chicago because of the configuration of the terminal.  I did get a shot of our jet parked at Frankfurt.


LH433 – Frankfurt – Main International Airport

There were directional signs for B gates everywhere so it was a simple task of following the signs.  Frankfurt is a huge airport and we walked.  Well, about 45 minutes later, 5000 plus steps, and one train, we arrived at the B Concourse.  We had to pass through some serious security checks (I got a double pat down and my carry-on had “too many electronics” so it was X-rayed and checked several times).  We tossed our waters from the plane after taking a big swig in front of the security guy.  My sense was, even though they looked like they were really careful, the security personnel looked confused (after my bag was nuked, it sat there while three security guys walked by it.  Eventually, someone realized it was sitting there and asked me if it was mine).  German efficiency – NOT. 

We found Gate B47 (last bunch of gates on the concourse).  Our plane, Croatia 5990, was not there (it would be delayed about 40 minutes).  The seating area was comfortable and there were chargers. 

I was really hungry so I snacked on my Gardettos Party Mix.


Snack Time

The plane arrived – an Airbus A-320 with colorful squares on its tail.  The design reminded me of the Purina logo (dog and cat chow). 


LH 5990 (Croatia Airlines)

The plane was turned around pretty quickly and we boarded about an hour late.  We were OK because we had brought snacks to tide us over. 

The plane was nice – we were aisle across in 10C and 10D.  This was our first ever flight on Croatia Airlines – we had two very Croatian flight attendants who were friendly and courteous.  The flight was smooth and we were offered boxed snacks “Tastes of Croatia” consisting of cheese squares and olives in olive oil and bite size crackers. I liked them.  I also had a glass of white wine from Croatia – didn’t like that all that much.  It was dinner of sorts.

The flight was short – less than two hours  - and smooth until we approached the Croatian coastline.  The flight got REAL bumpy with sudden drops and lateral shakes – some ooos and aaahs were heard.  Apparently it was stormy outside.  We were in clouds until about 1000 feet when we realized we were flying right between hills on both sides.  They seemed quite close.  The pilot was dealing with the wind and rain and came in really hot.  A bouncy landing and major engine thrust reversal and we were in Croatia. 

Our bags made it as well, although they were wet from their time on the tarmac.  We knew that Croatia is very fond of its currency, the Kuna (Croatian for “Marten”, a fox like critter – Marten pelts used to be currency, hence the Kuna).  The Atlas Shuttle Bus ticket window was right there in the baggage claim area so I purchased two tickets (40 Kn/pp total – they only take cash and only kunas) to the main bus station in Gruz.  I found an ATM and withdrew 200 Kn (the exchange rate is about 6.7 kn to the dollar). 

The bus was comfortable enough and the ride to Gruz took about 45 minutes – longer than usual due to the rain and impossible traffic.  We couldn’t see a thing out of the windows (the windows had a mesh – for keeping the sun out – which caught the rain and reduced visibility to zero).  The bus driver pointed us in the direction of the Hotel Petka, which I knew from previous emails from the hotel, was only a few hundred meters down the road.  What made the situation impossible was the heavy rain and flooding – our poor suitcases and shoes were both totally soaked from the standing water and we were dripping wet from the rain. 

We found the hotel – It was huge with a very visible sign – and made  our way to check in.  The desk clerk could have been friendlier especially since we were walking puddles.  Our room, 419, was a modest room with a comfortable bed, the smallest flat screen TV I had ever seen in a hotel, and a pretty roomy bathroom with a tiny shower.  We had to take most of the items out of our bags to dry them out and to let our bags dry as well. 

We were both pretty tired and jet lagged.  There were no options for dinner (too late and too rainy) so we ate what we had collected from the plane.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Don’t remember how I slept – jet lagged fever dream.  I do recall that the room was quiet. 

The rain has cleared out of the area and we are treated to sunny skies.  Our room does not have a harbor view but it does have a city view. 


View From Room 419

We had breakfast in the Hotel’s large and nice eating area.  The breakfast looked better than it tasted but there was a large variety of items.  I had dry cereal with milk, scrambled eggs, breads, pastries, and coffee.  Our goal was to make breakfast last through lunch.


Hotel Petka (from the Cruise Port Entrance)

Our plan today, jet lagged as we are, is to walk from the Gruz port area to the old city of Dubrovnik – 2.8 km – about 1.7 miles.  It seemed like a good idea when we checked out the route on a map.  What we didn’t count on was the fact that the entire walk was uphill.

Our hotel is located right across the street from the Cruise Port (where the larger ship dock).  This will be very convenient tomorrow when we embark.



Farmers Market - Gruz


The Schooner Dubrovnik



The Other Side of Gruz Bay

After stopping a few times along the way, we made it to the Old City (about 8000 steps). 


The Old City from the Hill


Part Way Down the Stairs to the Old City

To get to the actual City, you need to go down a large number of stairs.  We finally made it to the Pile Gate and were met by a solid wall of tourists – amazing considering there was only one small ship in port.  It was also very hot and humid so we decided we would not stay long in the Old City (besides, we had seen it many times before).  We did stop in at the “Star Wars Store” before we left – both “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars – The Force Awakens” were filmed here.


The way home was a lot easier – we took the bus for about three kn each. 

We wanted to find a spa to get a nice massage (to ease the jet lag) but the only spa nearby was totally booked for the day.

In the early afternoon, we decided to get dinner – we didn’t want to walk very far (no feeling in our feet) so we stopped at a pizza place close to the hotel.  We had a Margherita pizza, a Greek Salad, and two coke lites for a total bill of about 100 kn.  The pizza was good, the salad also good, and the cokes very refreshing.

We spent the rest of the evening in our hotel room (air conditioned and comfortable) watching a little Croatian TV on that small TV – I couldn’t read the scores for the US Open Tennis Match I was watching.

The room is still quiet and all of our stuff has dried out.

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