By Patti Pietschmann
We sailed across the Atlantic on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 from New York to England with no land in sight for seven days. Veteran seafarers that we are, we were ready for it, yet a little anxious. No worries, really.
Cunard Owns It
There are lots of activities offered on this beautifully refurbished and stylish vessel that we were always entertained (see activities list).
Also Halloween fell during our voyage and the crew went of its way to make it fun and festive with pumpkin carving contests and costume balls.
Cunard operates the only ocean liners to regularly cross between New York and Southampton. Be advised there are time changes required. Which means moving ahead (or behind) by four five hours.
Our genial caption Christopher Wells soothed the loss of time (not overnight, but at noon), by telling us we would now be “leaping ahead” by an hour, as if it were a parlor game.
The speed record for the classic North Atlantic crossing is four days, set by the S.S. United States in 1952. The previous record was held by the same Queen Mary. Now, with swift sea travel made irrelevant jet aircraft, as Captain Wells put it, “With speed no longer the essence, we like to travel the elegant way.”
Weathering the storms and swells
What hasn’t changed is the weather on the traditional circle route taken by QM2. Even in later October there were two days of rough seas and high winds that closed some outside decks and made negotiating stairways (as well as sleep) something of an adventure.
Long swells with steep sides and Force 8 winds caused the ship to roll, pitch and shudder when the hull slapped down.
Through it all, the day’s ship’s daily program advised us to expect “fair with some swell” conditions. Yes, stay calm and carry on. Nothing like that British pluck. We had a Britannia Club stateroom with a balcony, generously described as “suite.”
This is a fairly new category that is something akin to the extra perks of economy-plus air travel. The renovated Club staterooms are the same size as ordinary Britannia staterooms, but reside on the upper two decks and have upgraded features such as included mineral water and a dedicated space within the main dining room called Britannia Club that shares the same menu but has more individualized service.
We did open the balcony windows once in awhile to let fresh air and quickly monitor outside conditions, but wind, cold and salt spray rendered it otherwise useless. Our quarters were cozy. Not at all cramped. We had a big flat-screen TV to watch that was mounted on the wall where it could be seen easily from bed—not always the case with many cruise ships. Our Filipino steward Zaldy was cheerful, efficient and always managed to figure out the right time to make up our cabin. We gave high marks to the excellent full-breakfast room service.
Old fashion English class system
The otherwise outdated English class system survives on QM2. Queens and Princess Grill passengers have their own serene dining rooms, bar lounges and other amenities that are strictly off-limits to the hoi-polloi. The rest of us dine in the Britannia Restaurant, the Kings Court buffet (usually a madhouse at breakfast and lunch), from room service (efficient and surprisingly good), or in one of the added-cost alternative restaurants (anywhere from $17.50 to $49.50 per person).
The classes do mingle in common areas, such as entertainment venues, and for lectures and other activities. This is where QM2 shined. One might think that a solid week at sea with no port stops might tend to monotony and boredom. Not true on this trip. Sometimes, there was barely time to finish a meal or dress before rushing off to a must-do activity or performance.
That was especially so on this Blue Note Jazz at Sea theme voyage. Jazz greats and Grammy-winners Gregory Porter and Dee Dee Bridgewater both performed more than once, and a highlight was the impromptu informal performance by Bridgewater’s dynamic quartet, which was eventually joined by the scat diva herself. Cruise passengers often tend to inattentive lethargy, but our of complement of 2,500 (majority Brits, close second Americans) was enthralled and enthusiastic.
When was the last time you saw an audience rise to its feet to cheer shipboard entertainment? And music was just one highlight of the week’s entertainment. Actors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art gave several varied performances, including a remarkable dramatization of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Another rapturous full house.
Making great shows even better were the performance spaces themselves. The Royal Court Theatre and Illuminations are some of the best designed, elegant and comfortable entertainment venues at sea. The two showrooms are used for multiple purposes, including the amazing Planetarium presentations in Illuminations—a dome is lowered over the audience and half-hour projected on it rotate between six programs (a new one every three days) is like nothing else found afloat. The same showroom also serves as a wonderful movie theater showing recent films with digital projection and Dolby 7.1 sound; it is hands-down the best cruise ship movie theater.
Many of the passengers on our voyage were regulars who sail the Queen Mary2 back and forth from England. Some use it to get to New York on business. Others to get to a home they own in the area. orjust to get to Manhattan without having to fly. And/or just for the fun of it. The demographics are 60 and older with some grand kids along for the ride.
A transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 is highly recommended if: you want to sail one way to Europe while vacationing abroad, love to be on the open ocean and want to completely leave the fast lane in the wake.