Passengers struck by virus

EVENING Star reader Mavis Bensley got the surprise of her life when she arrived in Fort Lauderdale - to find her daughter waiting for her. In the third of her weekly reports we catch up with her aboard the QE2, where many passengers are struck down by a virus.

EVENING Star reader Mavis Bensley got the surprise of her life when she arrived in Fort Lauderdale - to find her daughter waiting for her. In the third of her weekly reports we catch up with her aboard the QE2, where many passengers are struck down by a virus.

TODAY was a washout, literally.

I took a transfer coach to Manhattan, the skyscrapers were shrouded in mist and the rain was lashing it down at street level. Gusting winds blew umbrellas inside out.

Undaunted I set off for the United Nations building and did the official tour. It was very impressive with beautiful murals donated by different countries. The Security Council was in session so I didn't see that but we toured the Social and Economic debating chamber and the General Assembly Hall where heads of state have spoken.

I'm glad I went even though I was soaked through. I saw Ground Zero, which is still a building site. There was a competition to decide what to do with the area - memorial gardens perhaps? Replica of twin towers? No - they decidedon two new skyscraper apartment blocks. The ground is too valuable to be “wasted”. The dollar talks.

The atmosphere round the ship has changed. It is much more lively since a slightly younger element embarked in New York.

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Then we cruised the East Coast of the USA. I didn't do much except eat, drink, read, walk the decks and chat to people. In Fort Lauderdale, my daughter Wendy had booked for me to go on a tour of the everglades.

“It's all fixed mum,” she said. “Someone will meet you off the ship with your name on a board”.

Imagine how I felt when that person was Wendy herself!

She had flown in from Colorado to spend a few hours with me - I could have wept. We “did” the everglades on an air boat - very noisy and windy, saw a 12ft 'gator sashaying through the water towards us. We soon high-tailed it out of there.

Wendy and I went back to her hotel and sunbathed by the pool, wandered through a big shopping mall, had a bite to eat and returned to the ship. What a wonderful Christmas present that was.

The Queen Mary 2 had docked alongside us. Some passengers transferred across to do a different route round South America. We are due to meet up again in Sydney. She is a beautiful ship; bigger than the QE2 and newer of course. It was a wonderful sight to see the two sisters almost nose-to-nose and a historic moment when they sailed out of harbour together.

Is it me?

We've had the roughest crossing in a decade, lashing rain in New York, Grand Cayman visit cancelled because of bad weather - too rough for safety of passengers to use the tenders, and now Costa Rica is a “no-go” area because they haven't dredged the harbour sufficiently or something.

So today is just another day at sea, there are one or two “lobsters” around who foolishly stayed out in the sun too long yesterday. I sunned awhile then went to the gym and did aerobics - I'm so unfit.

Many of the passengers have been hit by the gastrointestinal novo virus. There is a frenzy of cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing going on everywhere. I'm told we were almost at “code red” whatever that means.

The crew wear disposable gloves. Anything which can be handled is removed, for example salt and pepper pots, menu folders, no milk jugs on the tables. Passengers who have been affected have had their rooms fumigated by men in anti-contamination suits and masks. Every doorway has hand sanitizers nearby.

We have been told that the outbreak has peaked and fewer new cases have been reported. I hope so anyway.

On a lighter note, I got an invitation today to a special 2007 World Cruise Dinner at the Sky Convention Centre in Auckland on February 11, this should be a real treat that I am looking forward to.

Tomorrow we will be in South America - Columbia. I am doing a tour of Cartog, this is an unscheduled port of call so I don't know that to expect.

N

Find out how Mavis gets on next week.

IT'S hot, sunny and wonderful to sit with a frosted glass, chinking ice cubes in something exotic with a parasol and cherry on top. This is the life for me.

I am amazed at the amount of paper circulating. Newspapers, daily activity sheets, info on the next port of call, specialist sheets on spa treatments, art auctions, jewellery sales, TV programmes, crew notices, invitations, menus, memos, note pads, the list is endless. Everything is printed on board. One machine, one printer and one assistant.

All the information is channelled through to the print shop where Pascale prints, collates and distributes it to 1,200 cabins or back to the departments. Three pallets of paper each containing 192 packets (500 sheets each) was taken on board in Fort Lauderdale and it is hoped it will last to LA where more is taken on board.

Some paper is re-collected, compressed and will be recycled. The rest is washed clean of inks and spirits, shredded and finally disposed of in the ocean with no harm to the fish.

While I was talking to Pascale in a small office, I was aware of Terry Waite wanting to squeeze past through the doorway. “Excuse me little lady,” he said.

“OK big fella,” I replied - he is 6ft 7in.

My nose was almost level with his stomach which is huge, so I headbutted him, I can't think why, but he laughed!

pics of boat and venice in feats called 'cunard':

need pic of boat as it looks now inside, and how it will look, ceremony pic, exterior pic

Venice pic as backdrop?

pic of champagne bottle to cut out for panel 2

Pics by Tracey and cunard>

CUNARD'S new ship The Queen Victoria is due to be finished in December at a cost of £300million.

Travel editor TRACEY SPARLING flew to Venice for the day to see her being built.

HOW bizarre to step inside the empty shell of an ocean liner, before a drop of water touches her.

Once I'd got over the sheer size of the 90,000-ton, 1,000ft vessel which stretches the length of the dock, - and looks twice as large with her pristine red hull exposed - I ventured along the red carpet to see inside.

Our footsteps echoed through the gaping steel spaces, as coils of green power cables and red communication lines hung knotted overhead. The cold grey interiors were lit by harsh halogen lamps. The ship's windows were not yet in, let alone the paintings and porcelain which her guests will expect when they descend grand staircases to the ballroom, casino and theatre.

Towers of scaffolding still mask the glory of double and triple-height rooms, but through the gloom I could just about make out the shells of private boxes reminiscent of a victorian West End theatre. There will also be mahogany and marble, intricate mosaics and gleaming chandeliers gracing this opulent liner.

Much work remains to be done by the crew at Fincantieri dockyard, until she launches in December.

This week Cunard's managing director Carol Marlow and Maureen Ryan who joined the company in 1963 and is the only known person to have served on all Cunard Queens, the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, QE2 and Queen Mary, 2 flew out to see the progress.

They donned welding gear to melt a Euro and a gold Queen Victoria sovereign beneath the mast of the Queen Victoria for good luck.

Carol said: “Cunard came into being at the very beginning of the Victorian era- Queen Victoria had been on the throne for only three years when Samuel Cunard's first ship set sail. Today the company is probably the most famous name in shipping and the birth of this great liner confirms for all to see, the continuing renaissance of the great name of Cunard. The Cunard lion roars again!”

Mrs Ryan pressed a button to release a bottle of Italian prosecco to smash against the hull, and the valves of the dry dock were then opened to flood water around the base of the ship for the first time.

Italian dockworkers in their hundreds turned out to witness the occasion, then as the sun sank over the Venice skyline in the distance, it was back to work.

She will depart Southampton for her maiden voyage on December 11, to Christmas markets in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, Hamburg and Bruges.

After spending Christmas in the Canaries, she will star a 106-night round-the-world cruise calling at 23 countries. Prices start at £10,999 for an inside cabin up to £115,869 for a grand suite.

She will have 1,007 passenger rooms, of which 86 per cent will be outside and 71pc will have balconies.

There will be 900 crew.

She will be powered by six diesel engines, four 16-cylinder engines, and two 12-cylinder engines, powering to a maximum speed of 23.7 knots.

Her three anchors will weigh over 11 tonnes.

119,400 bottles of champagne

351,900 bottles of wine

954,681 tea bags

59,060 coffee

12,940lbs smoked salmon

440,600lbs potatoes

1.5m eggs

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