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Been-There-Done-That: The Thimbleberry Inn

I was forwarded this by a fellow traveler and writer… sounds like an eventful experience, and thought I would share it with you. Heidi

The Been-There-Done-That Traveler

By Edward Garrett

The Thimbleberry Inn, Bayfield Wisconsin. As a travel writer with over 40 years experience in the Hotel & Tourism industry, I have often confidently said that I had Been-There-Done-That. At least I thought so until I recently visited the Thimbleberry Inn in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

To be fair, the large guest rooms and Lake Superior lakefront grounds of the Inn are lovely. The private decks and wooden loveseats overlooking the Apostle Islands are romantic and peaceful; exactly what we expected.

Then there is the owner of the property, and where the similarity with the infamous “Bates Motel” comes in.

Following our first night at the Inn we took a short drive into the charming lakeside village of Bayfield for lunch, returning mid-afternoon to accept our hostessÔÇÖs offer to make a dinner reservation for us at a local restaurant. Upon knocking on her door, however, I noticed that she approached in a somewhat crab-like sidewise gate, glaring over her raised shoulder at us. As the door opened she launched into a disturbingly shrill eye-rolling rant about our unpardonable lack of adherence to her (unspoken until now) guest policies. We must leave at once!

Among our sins were that I had fondled our shower head to increase water pressure, we had not made our beds, I had slept in and not come to breakfast, and that we had not socialized enough with the other guests. We were also not married, an offense that had resulted in her throwing out another couple once before.

In addition, we strongly suspect that my companion had not bowed her head deeply enough under the proprietorÔÇÖs watchful eyes at the hand-holding prayer breakfast of canned peaches over waffles earlier that morning. This was especially distressing as it was fresh peach season.

Her alarming tirade lasted an incessant 10 minutes recounting our transgressions numerous times, insisting that the increased water flow from our shower head had nearly torn down her home, that her husband had now left her because of it, and she would now be forced to sell off the property.

Just for a moment I considered reminding her of the legal and customer service obligations of Inn ownership, but her shrill fanatical rant, and how it was related to a shower, gave me an uneasy Alfred Hitchcock flashback, so it seemed safer to leave without dispute.

Upon relating our experience at the front desk of a substitute accommodation in town we were greeted with wide grins and knowing looks; “Did she make you pray?” they laughed. Mrs. Bates, it turns out, is a legend in her own time.

Been-There-Done-That so you donÔÇÖt have to.

More About This Fabulous Cruise

Little Important Items – We Noticed

The Wedgwood China and Waterford Crystal are extremely beautiful. Cunard did not miss a thing in designing the dining rooms. Breathtaking heights, small lamps, pieces of art strategically placed through out the dining areas – you do feel part of a bygone era when people had time to sit and watch life go by.

Extremely nice laundry rooms with soap provided – no charge for anything in these cute launderettes.

What Will We Do for Six Days at Sea?

If you are worried about what you will do for 6 days at sea, worry not. I sat and watched the wave’s hit the ship from a hallway with window seats and little chairs scattered about. Almost each evening we were late for dinner as there were so many things to do.

From lectures given by learned Oxford Professors to accomplished physicians to art exhibits from some of the masters (the art on the ship is museum quality) to Latin dancing, we could not fit in everything we wanted to do.

Children

There were certainly a few, yet this is probably not the type of cruise for little ones. But this would be a fabulous ship for a Caribbean cruise for the entire family.

The Guests

Our cruise was from London to New York. The guests list was diverse with people from all around the world and all were extremely friendly, as was the more-than competent crew.

The Weather

The weather at sea changed drastically. The first day it was quite chilly and then the second day it was at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Friday Morning

Around 5 am we were up on deck, (surprised so many were up early) to view the breathtaking skyline as the ship entered the port of New York. The Statue of Liberty, truly an awe inspiring sight, a view that has encouraged the millions who have come to the USA to make this their new home. Plenty of cabs and drivers await those departing to take them to the city or airport. We opted for a quick trip to the city and this ends my little diary of a very glamorous and wonderful trip. What a feeling to have been a part of a history-making voyage aboard the Queen Mary 2.

We decided to spend an unstructured day, with nothing scheduled (or “winging it,” as it were.) With the weather in the 70s (Fahrenheit) we decided to enjoy both the indoor and outdoor pools situated on three QM2 decks. I counted at least seven hot tubs (we can speak for enjoying five of them.) I finished the book I was reading and visited the ship’s well-stocked bookstore for another title to tide me over (no pun intended) on the way home. If you’re disinclined to accumulate your reading material out-of-pocket, note that the QM2 also features the cruise industry’s largest floating library.

Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed the view from our balcony and played a very spirited game of Monopoly before packing our bags for our upcoming arrival in the “Big Apple.

Wednesday afternoon – You, Too, Can Steer This Ship

We took a tour of the ship’s bridge, where all steering and navigational decisions are made. The information we learned was fascinating. Did you know, for example?

  • The ship’s radar can pick up objects from 12 nautical miles away. Even so, individual crew members are still used as “lookouts” since some objects – such as wooden ships – might not appear on radar.
  • The QM2 has the capability of being 100 percent on autopilot. This means that – at least in theory – a “captain” isn’t needed for steering and navigation unless problems arise. (I emphasize “in theory” – the captain is ever-present and very much in command of his vessel.)
  • In the event that danger is spotted on the route ahead (icebergs, etc.) the ship can stop or change/reverse course in less than one mile. For a ship this size, that’s the equivalent of “turning on a dime.”
  • Speaking of icebergs, we “mirrored” the route of the Titanic almost the entire transatlantic route. This was per “captain’s choice” – this (northerly) route is sometimes more dangerous late in the sailing season (i.e., near year’s end) but is usually not problematic in October. In the event of any concerns, the ship can switch to a “southerly” route, which takes it into warmer waters.
  • And lastly – if you were to fall off the ship’s deck into the North Atlantic, would the ship turn around to get you? Probably not, but don’t panic – a small jetty and the equivalent of a “SWAT” team would be quickly dispatched to pick you up, then rendezvous back with the QM2. However, the First Mate assured us that no one had ever fallen off the deck into the ocean. (But just to be safe├óÔé¼┬ªno more than one bottle of wine prior to that moonlight deck stroll, please.)

Wednesday morning – An Art Lover’s Masterpiece

From the moment we stepped on board the QM2, one of the first things we noticed were the many pieces of art on display in the public areas of the ship, as well as its art gallery. No matter what your artistic tastes, there seemed to be something for everyone. Our personal butler told us that more than 300 international artists were commissioned to produce original works for the ship, valued in excess of USD $5 million. My husband also snuck away for a while today to check out the Maritime Quest Exhibit on board that takes one back to the golden era of ocean cruising. “Not to be missed,” he assured me.

Our out-of-this-world experience on board the QM2 was taken to another level this afternoon with a visit to Illuminations, the ship’s full-scale planetarium. Here we enjoyed a virtual tour of the stars and other visual spectacles in outer space during a crash course in celestial navigation narrated by actor Harrison Ford. I learned how the QM2 crew’s predecessors used the stars of the night sky to navigate the seas long ago. (A nice back-up, perhaps, to the QM2’s navigational system except that they have not one but TWO sophisticated backup systems already in place, if required.) The planetarium also doubles as the ship’s grand cinema, 500-seat lecture hall and broadcasting studio. One way or another, you’ll likely spend some time in it during your cruise.

Monday – Back to School on the QM2

We decided to take a break from luxurious living today and experience the QM2 enrichment and lecture programs. No matter what your passion, there surely is something for everyone to expand educational horizons during this cruise. We started with a “Chefs at Sea” demonstration filled with culinary tips – do you know how to make Crepes Suzette? I didn’t. Later, we enjoyed a lecture part of the Cunard ConneXions program. ConneXions provides guests with the chance to meet a variety of eminent personalities from around the world invited on board to share their literary and academic experiences. Other enrichment opportunities include Oxford Discovery, Cunard’s unique “academy at sea” seminar series hosted by professors from the prestigious University of Oxford. Special readings and architectural design and horticultural workshops are hosted by editors of The New Yorker, Architectural Digest and House & Garden magazines, among others.

(Note: I wanted to take the acting class hosted by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but alas, there really was not time for every thing I wanted to do on this fabulous transatlantic cruise.)

Sunday – World-Class Shopping at Sea

Never ones to miss an opportunity to shop, we spent time today perusing the QM2 shopping district. The mix of boutiques was guaranteed to accommodate every elegant taste, whether you’re in the market for jewelry, fine clothing and the like from luxury retailers such as Herm├â┬®s. We were thrilled to get a “deal” on a pair of pink diamond earrings and a silver-and-gold bracelet. All items are duty-free (no taxes) and Cunard will pay any shipping/taxes anywhere in the world for purchases you’d prefer not to carry.

The spa options on the QM2 seem nearly endless and can meet the needs of the most discerning cruise travelers. Today’s goal: to be pampered, and the acclaimed Canyon Ranch SpaClub did not disappoint us. This 20,000 square-foot facility features a range of spa options from traditional massages and facials to more exotic acupuncture and seaweed-wrap treatments. Guests can also enjoy special treatments for stress relief, anti-aging, and disease prevention.

I opted for a massage and fell into a blissful sleep halfway through the experience. After that, it was time for the thalassotherapy pool – in essence, a giant whirlpool bath complete with “deluge” waterfall (just like it sounds) and hot tub. We visited the thermal suite with herbal and Finnish saunas and decompressed further in the aromatic steam room. Ah, the relaxation├óÔé¼┬ªwas I dozing, or was that really Prime Minister Tony Blair sitting next to me?