About four hours after we pulled shut our Paris apartment’s door for the final time, Cunard employees met us as at London’s St Pancras Station and guided us to shuttle buses, where we made sure our suitcases got into the baggage bins. The ride to Southampton and the Queen Mary 2, much of it through green and pleasant countryside, took about as long as the train journey from Paris to London. England looks different from France. It’s something about the architecture and the cemeteries and the parks. And they drive on the opposite side of the road.
A Cunard ship generally arrives in port in the morning and departs with a mostly new set of passengers in mid-afternoon. Meanwhile, it is fueled and provisioned, waste is removed (nothing is jettisoned at sea), and staterooms are prepared. Maintenance is on-going throughout the voyage.
When our bus arrived in Southampton, our rolling luggage was handled by crew and delivered to our stateroom door within a couple of hours… except for the one that had been opened at security in Paris. For reasons undisclosed, but probably those pesky kitchen utensils, it did not arrive until after dinner the second day, much to Gordon’s relief, as it contained his dress shoes, and he did not fancy wearing his tuxedo with his walking shoes even though they are solid black. We always find “security” a bit strange. A pocket knife might be confiscated,* but sharp-enough knives are readily available in the dining rooms, and the water glasses in the staterooms could be broken to make dandy weapons.
The first order of business on any crossing is the emergency procedures drill. When the signal and announcement came, all passengers returned to their staterooms if necessary, gathered up their flotation device, warm clothing, and any medications they require, then made their way, via stairs, to a designated station on Deck 7 (ours was in the Winter Garden). That taken care of, we were free to enjoy ourselves during the seven days and nights at sea. Unusually placid waters made it very pleasant indeed.
>> Awaiting departure from Southampton. A morning walk around Deck 7.
>> Lounge chairs (Yes, we are still at the dock). Life rafts.
I did not keep a journal during the voyage. We were never bored.
We conversed with many delightful people, including our dinner-mates Penny & Perry from Kentucky and Jacquetta & Bill from Maine; our various Trivia partners; and several Australian couples who were on the third leg of a “Queens” cruise, having already spent a week in the Mediterranean on the Queen Victoria and a week around the Baltic and England on the Queen Elizabeth. The three ships had met in the Mersey River at Liverpool and performed a pirouette to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Cunard. The QM2 is so agile that she slips into berths without the aid of tugs, parallel parking with more finesse than many car drivers I have seen.
We ate delicious snacks and meals. It would have been easy to pig out (many people did). I pretty much limited piggishness to the platters of lox.
>> Plates ready to be grilled at the buffet; our meals in the Britannia Room were considerably less flamboyant, though very good. Have some smoked salmon?
We walked around the decks (3x around Deck 7 = 1.1 mile) and gazed out to sea, where we spotted a school of dolphins one afternoon. Several people reported whale sightings.
A large, well-equipped exercise room is available at no extra charge, as are indoor and outdoor swimming and relaxation pools. Both Penny and Jacquetta enjoyed the pools, but we never got around to using them. Instead, we indulged ourselves in the steam room, saunas, hot-tub, bubbling/jetting waters, and relaxation room of the Canyon Ranch Spa (6-day pass = $105, 3-day pass = $75). Our backs said, “Thank you!”
>> The indoor pool on Deck 12 (use included in the price of passage).
We listened to a string quartet, a harpist, and several pianists playing throughout the ship and attended two piano concerts by Dominic John. I enjoyed a recital by tenor Benjamin Makisi and singer-comedian Mike Doyle, as well as condensed versions of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Romeo and Juliette” performed by the six members of RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts). I went to an enthusiastic and very loud review by the Royal Cunard Singers & Dancers. We attended a short show (“Search for life”) in the planetarium and a couple of lectures: “The Blitz” by Joshua Levine and “Gateway to the world: the great port of New York” by Bill Miller. In hindsight, we regretted having missed their other lectures, as well as those by Robert Neal Marshall, John Mariani, and air pilot David Henderson. We played a lot of Trivia** and even tied for top score three times; the first two times we blew the tie-breaker question, but the third time both teams simply shared the glory (19 out of 20).
>> The Sunrise String Quartet in the Chart Room and Harpist Fiona McGee in the Grand Lobby.***
We did not learn or play bridge or take watercolour or flower-arranging or scarf-tying or napkin-folding lessons or attend lectures about the art and jewelry on display and for sale or participate in the Transatlantic Olympic Games or play darts or bingo or gamble in the casino or dance all night (or at all) in the disco or learn to line- or ballroom dance. Nor did we attend the fruit and vegetable carving demo, though we enjoyed seeing the results at the buffet. We did not go to screenings of “Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot” or “The Theory of Everything” or ”Black Sea” or “Mr. Turner” or “Still Alice” or “Into the Woods,” but I did watch a 3-D version of a stage production of Puccini’s “Madam Butterfly” (and found the special effect pointless and distracting, though the music was a delight). We missed several other RADA workshops and performances.
>> Panels throughout the ship highlight the history of Cunard Lines, 1840 to the present. Many famous people have crossed the seas on its liners. Several of its liners were requisitioned during wars, stripped of all their finery for the duration. The Carpathia was the first to respond to the Titanic’s SOS. The development of technology is traced, and all the various crew positions are discussed. Philip cheerfully kept our room clean and tidy; he turned our beds down at night, with properly folded night clothes and two pieces of chocolate.
All in all, it was a most pleasant way to cross the Atlantic.****
Something we hope to remember if we ever take the QM2 again is to roll our own suitcases off at the end of the voyage, a matter of merely trundling them on and off an elevator and down the zig-zag gangway. We could have debarked at least 90 minutes sooner and would not have had to search for our widely spaced bags in the huge hall before going through customs. By the time we secured a taxi into New York, we had to give up our plan of checking bags at Penn Station before meeting our friends Jill and Jerry for lunch.
>> Jill and Jerry.
Fortunately, staff at the Standard Grill were very helpful about storing six bags while we enjoyed a delicious meal and lively conversation. Jerry directed the next cabbie to the correct entrance to Penn Station: ticket verification kiosks and baggage checking were at the bottom of the escalator, and we easily checked our rolling bags in preparation for the train journey across the northern states.
* We met a couple who had been staying in self-catering accommodations during their travels. They checked bags containing good knives on the flight over, but mailed them home rather than risk having them confiscated on the ocean liner. A “left-luggage” service would be a boon: Check those knives when boarding, pick them up after debarking, but before going through processing at the other end.
** We now know that the orange in Orange Pekoe tea is bergamot (i.e., the essential oil of the bitter bergamot orange; I thought bergamot was a flower), that the Daiquiri was invented in Cuba, and that Napoléon Bonaparte designed the Italian flag (even though Italy did not come into existence as a unified country until decades after his death).
*** Our inside stateroom overlooked the Grand Lobby. Although the window did not open, the (artificial) light prevented the room from seeming like a cell. We did not feel cramped. There was plenty of closet and drawer space, and even our largest suitcase fit under the bed.
**** For more information about traveling on the QM2 see any number of web sites and YouTubes. Our favourite is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxOSoQFzSjk.