Traveling on an ocean liner is the epitome of the luxury cruise travel experience.
I have been fortunate enough to enjoy several transatlantic voyages on lovely Cunard Line, and am looking forward to the next one. Please enjoy reading about our voyage aboard the Queen Mary 2.
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Warmest regards, Heidi
Pre-Sailing: A Stroll in Olde Londontowne
We departed for London on British Airways (try the bed-seats in Business Class – definitely the way to go!) and arrived about six hours later. Check-in at the Four Seasons Hotel was surprisingly quick (instead of going to the front desk to register, the front desk came to us – a representative showed us to our room and checked us in there on the spot.) The hotel exhibited an Old-World European charm, featuring ornate all-wood hallways, large guest rooms with soaking bathtubs and bidets, and windows that opened to a beautiful park below. We could see Buckingham Palace (and Her Majesty the Queen was home, no less).
After a brief nap on a very cozy bed, we decided to explore the city. London is one of the most wondrous melting pots of nationalities and cultures found anywhere in the world. At Buckingham Palace, we saw the Queen swept away in her limousine with an army of guards. Her Majesty waved to us as they passed by. A quaint custom: when the Queen is residing in Buckingham Palace, they fly a flag different than the usual “Union Jack.” When Her Majesty isn’t staying at Buckingham Palace, she’s usually at one of her two other residences, in the English countryside or in Scotland.
We also wanted to see Princess Diana’s former home, Kensington Palace. It’s largely hidden in a residential area, with gates locked, along what’s known as “billionaire’s row.” We were able to see the driveway with a Rolls Royce sitting there in wait. The Palace was similar to a large mansion in the U.S. and nothing too elaborate from what we could see from the residential street. Later, we visited the National Museum of History in London. It left quite an impression and the price was right, as there’s no charge to visit any museum in London. “Jolly good show” as they’d say in Londontowne!
We did some shopping and were intrigued by a quaint little shop called “Taylor’s on Old Bond Street.” They offered my husband an old-fashioned shave using a straight razor (complete with hot towels and face massage) for US$30. Then off to other stores, and plenty of other good “buys” that caught my fancy, including exquisite little perfume bottles and cashmere gloves. (My husband considered a kilt with a tuxedo top, although he already has two kilts.) Splendid little restaurants were everywhere, and we had “high tea” and scones that afternoon in one of them. The quaint formality of the experience was a joy – we almost expected “Prince Charlie,” as the cabbies call him, to stroll into our restaurant at any moment.
On our way to these shops, we passed the 5-star “Mandarin Hotel” packed with reporters and paparazzi clearly awaiting the arrival of someone very famous. Was it Her Majesty?
Our cruise ship departed from Southampton, about 90 minutes south of London. We were told to allow two and a half hours for the drive, but light traffic and our rented BMW made short work of the trip. This allowed us extra time to meander through the suburban countryside of Southampton before heading to the port. The country homes had the same charm reminiscent of those in London, but more spacious size and lots.
Entering the port, our gaze was irresistibly drawn to the Queen Mary 2. It is simply awe-inspiring, even for the veteran cruiser. The QM2 is a ponderously large ship – a blessing given that the high Atlantic seas can be a little choppy this time of year! At 14 stories tall, the ship sports a black hull, a bright red-and-black smokestack, with everything else painted white. We made our way on board and found our cheerful, immaculate cabin with our luggage already delivered. It was technically a B3 class stateroom (a lovely room) that included a very private hull balcony. Halfway through the cruise we upgraded to a Q4 suite. After all, how could we sell this cabin without experience? This spectacular suite had amenities such as a deep, oversized whirlpool bath, a private butler and a private dining room. 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 throughout the dining areas – you do indeed feel part of a bygone era when people had time to sit and watch life go by.
So, this is what it feels like to be part of the Royal Family!
Cruises are known for their world-class dining opportunities and the QM2 lifts this reputation to a truly new level with stellar cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus tea time on the British ship. We discovered there are three main common dining areas on the ship. Where you dine depends on your status, i.e., price of your cabin. As the result of a complimentary cabin upgrade, we received a special invitation to the Queen’s Grill, typically designated for those staying in suites and the premium-class apartments. Guests in junior suites typically dine in the Princess Grill. Britannia Restaurant is the main dining room for Britannia Balcony, Oceanview and Inside staterooms. The Britannia Club Restaurant is an intimate formal dining room, reserved for guests residing in Britannia Club Balcony staterooms.
We dined in all of these dining areas and can report that the food is comparable in each. To be sure, there were subtle differences in the amenities offered by each, but diners will be more than pleased with their experiences wherever they dine on board. The ornate settings, lamps and strategically placed art featured in the dining areas and throughout the ship contributed to the aura of being a part of a bygone era.
The Queens Grill on deck 7 has its own bar & terrace, available exclusively to passengers staying in the Queens Grill Suites. They offer a delectable a la carte menu that is provided in addition to their regular menu (Queens Grill regulars also know they can order specials at any time). The overall dining experience can only be described as sumptuous – it allowed my husband to dine on unlimited caviar at every meal, something he thought he could get used to on a regular basis.
If your cabin is in one of the P categories – typically the Junior Suites – you will be fortunate enough to enjoy exquisite dining in the Princess Grill, located on deck 7. As with the Queens Grill and Britannia Restaurant, the Princess Grill features deliciously creative menus, as well as an exceptional wine offering and the legendary service that Cunard is known for. While dining here, my husband and I ordered the Croquette of Suckling Pig, a dish I can surely recommend to any traveler fortunate enough to travel on Cunard.
This restaurant on decks 2 & 3 is the QM2’s main dining room and is designated for guests in the Britannia Restaurant is the main dining room for Britannia Balcony, Oceanview and Inside staterooms. The showpiece of the restaurant is a breathtaking three-story grand staircase. Our impression was that the Britannia Restaurant was the dining venue most “alive” with people who really seemed to be enjoying themselves and their companions. We both ordered the Chateaubriand and, to put it mildly, were not disappointed.
Activities & Amenities
“Total Relaxation (or, Chilling Out in the Spa, Not the North Atlantic)”
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: was I dozing, or was that really Prime Minister Tony Blair sitting next to me?
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 Hermes.
We were thrilled to get a “deal” on a pair of pink diamond earrings and a silver-and-gold bracelet.
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 everything I wanted to do on this fabulous transatlantic cruise.)
Illuminating Entertainment (or, From the Ocean to the Stars)
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.
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 US$5 million. My husband also snuck away for a while 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.
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 crewmembers 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, no more than one bottle of wine prior to that moonlight deck stroll, please.)
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 waves 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.
On some occasions, 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.
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.
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