ABOARD QUEEN MARY 2-When the Queen Mary 2 made its way toward the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, beneath which we could see New York’s skyline peeking into the purple sunrise, half the ship’s passengers already were on deck.
Passengers began arriving from their cabins by 5 a.m. Clad in bathrobes and other early morning garb, we lined the deck railings to watch the city emerge as Queen Mary 2 glided smoothly toward Manhattan (in the middle of the picture above), finishing our crossing of the North Atlantic from Southampton and Liverpool, England, to Halifax, Nova Scotia; Boston, and New York.
In little more than an hour after passing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge — the ship was built to have 13 feet clearance below the bridge at high tide — we were docked in Brooklyn, in full view of the Statue of Liberty and passing Staten Island ferries on the starboard side (we backed into our docking space) and, from the aft end, the skyline of Lower Manhattan.
Such a crossing of the Atlantic, even in July 2015, is a special travel treat, one of those Bucket List events. It is unlike any other cruise because of its style and its historical purpose in the development of the world as we now know it.
A crossing on Queen Mary 2 is a grand voyage, with dinners in formal attire on a real ocean liner, in the style of last century’s golden age of travel. As well, the trip is a reminder of successful and failed crossings from the past. We would, for instance, pass less than two miles from the geographical spot above the hulk of the Titanic, which lies on the ocean floor as a reminder of how nature can deal with unprepared humans. The Titanic was not a Cunard ship, but a Cunard ship, the Carpathia, heroically rushed through icy waters to rescue the 705 Titanic passengers who survived.
175 years of Cunard crossings with passengers
Until July of 1840, Europe and North America had no regularly scheduled transportation between them. Ships sailed, slowly, from one continent to the other, until Samuel Cunard’s new Britannia crossed with a steam engine — and sails to help.
Hundreds of ships followed in Cunard’s wake over the next 130 years. But when airplanes became the most popular mode to cross the Atlantic, starting in 1958, the days of the great ocean liners that linked Europe and North America, that brought thousands of immigrants from east to west to start new lives, that moved thousands troops west to east to help end world wars, were nearing an end.
Today, there is one grand ocean liner left, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which will undergo major changes and refurbishing in drydock starting in May 2016. Refurbishment is essential to maintaining an international treasure. No one in the cruise industry can imagine building another ocean liner, because of the costs involved and the slowly decreasing interest in spending nearly a week crossing back and forth on the North Atlantic, from spring into fall.
What makes this an ocean liner?
A fine bow for slicing through the sea, said Captain Kevin Oprey, and a deep draft for stability. She is heavier than other ships, with a thicker, stronger, re-enforced hull. Queen Mary 2 has a great deal of power, he said, and can reach 29.6 knots (nautical miles per hour). These days, the ship usually crosses the Atlantic in about seven days at an average of 21-22 knots.
Queen Mary 2 was full on my July 2015 cruise, with 2,600 passengers aboard to celebrate Cunard’s 175 years of crossings. We saluted the first of Cunard’s passenger steamships, the Britannia, which Cunard says was so small it could fit inside the Britannia dining room on Queen Mary 2.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published regularly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com