A Royal Crossing

The QM2 lives up to her legendary fanfare

By: Marcia Levin

My April trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 from New York to Southampton was a two-for-one experience: a wonderful shipboard travel adventure as well as the chance to enjoy an uninterrupted glamorous and sophisticated lifestyle for six whole days!

What was it like? Think Crystal or Silversea ships without port calls and aboard a considerably larger vessel. Launched with much fanfare in January 2004, the Queen Mary 2 is the world’s largest passenger ship. She’s decorated in marvelous muted colors with rich wood tone accents, amazingly comfortable furniture and some $6 million worth of art. What’s not to like?

I thoroughly enjoyed the pampering and care evident on the six-day trans-Atlantic crossing. Excellent personalized service was the order of the day from the moment I checked in, through a speedy boarding process that included a white-gloved attendant escorting me to the cabin.

Anyone who has sailed a trans-Atlantic crossing can tell you that they are indeed an experience. Quite different from cruises with a heavy-duty party atmosphere, crossings are an elegant way of getting from one continent to another the stuff books and movies are made of as well as a salute to an earlier time when travel was a gracious adventure.

Queen Mary 2, like other liners before her (including the Queen Elizabeth 2, which has made close to 800 trips across the Atlantic), was built for crossings. The 17-deck, 151,000-ton ship is longer than four football fields. She retains a traditional nautical quality, blending 21st-century technology and engineering with large public areas, good-sized staterooms and minimal noise and vibration levels even at extraordinary speed. Powered by two gas turbines and four diesel engines, her normal cruising speed is between 24 and 26 knots, with an impressive maximum speed of 30-plus knots.

But there’s nothing fast-paced about life on board. On the Queen Mary 2, passengers “come with an expectation of a past when things like fine dining and history were more important. Elegance and formality are alive and well,” said hotel director David Stephenson. It is “like driving a classic car but still enjoying air conditioning and a radio.”

Indeed, highlights for me included the afternoon high tea service and the two formal balls. Both of them the black and white ball, and the ascot ball were very well attended, and the ball gowns and jewelry were fabulous.

Crossings are not for everyone, nor an ideal “first cruise.” A trans-Atlantic crossing is perfect for veteran cruisers who have sailed the Caribbean and the Mediterranean many times, ogled the fjords in Alaska and gone through the Panama Canal. And for those who enjoy “sea days,” a crossing is perfect.

You’ll never want for activities during sea days on the Queen Mary 2. There’s an 8,000-volume library, outstanding lectures from Oxford University professors and the only planetarium at sea, Illusions, which features a variety of programs about the constellations at four half-hour viewings daily and shows movies as well. Many first-run films are also offered in the staterooms. The Canyon Ranch Gym was particularly impressive, as was the adjacent Canyon Ranch Spa. I had a great facial and a terrific aromatherapy massage with lots of lavender, which is so relaxing. The hydrotherapy suite with steam, sauna, footbath and a wonderful pool was another plus, and thoroughly enjoyable! The gym features state-of-the-art equipment and plenty of room between machines, which is not always the case on ships.

Many people discuss the “class” concept of QM2 and in fact they are referring to the dining rooms. The only part of the cruise impacted by the location of a guest’s stateroom is where that passenger dines. Everything else on the ship is open to all passengers.

Guests with cabins in “Grill” categories dine in the Princess (junior suites) or Queens Grill (more elaborate junior suites, suites, penthouse, royal suites and higher), where they enjoy open-seating dining. All other guests dine in the beautiful two-sitting, three-tiered Brittania, a tribute to liners of an earlier day with its sweeping staircase, huge and dramatic wall hanging of the New York skyline, and a menu similar to the one in the Grill restaurants. I had lunch in Brittania one day and nothing on the menu tempted me. I asked for a simple chef’s salad and was quite pleased with the result. The attitude and service were both superb.

Grill guests also can be served full breakfasts from room service, while others get a Continental offering in their cabins. Grill guests enjoy butler service, can receive a daily newspaper in their suite each morning, and have stationery on which their name is imprinted.

Alternative dining options include the stellar Todd English, named for the celebrity chef, and featuring a Mediterranean menu; Chef’s Galley, where a chef prepares the three-course meal served to guests in front of them; and the Kings Court where Asian, Italian and Carvery menus offer Lido-style foods and tea. Both Todd English and Chef’s Galley require reservations and a $30 per person fee. Lunch in Todd English is $20. Smoking is prohibited in dining rooms and limited to specific areas of lounges. The aptly named Churchill’s Cigar Lounge is where stogie aficionados do their thing.

All cabins come equipped with interactive television that is almost like having a personal bellboy. Passengers can order drinks, choose a video or book a spa treatment from their stateroom. For example, I asked my butler to book a table in Todd English, but I could have done it myself on the television/computer. I did use the interactive television to check the weather forecast, which is always important in the middle of the Atlantic.

Entertainment is spelled with a capital “E” on QM2. One memorable production, called “Zing Went the Strings,” was a tribute to Judy Garland. Kyle Esplin was another standout. His piano playing skills so completely mimicked Jerry Lee Lewis that I expected to look up and see the rock star at any second. Other performers in the ship’s many lounges were a bit more subdued, but every bit as enjoyable.

Very few children were aboard during our crossing, but those who were aboard and participated in the children’s program, appeared to have a good time. The children’s area is roomy and well planned and features authentic British nanny service.

In March 2005, Cunard launched White Star Service, named after the venerable line with which Cunard merged in 1934. White Star service is a training program for officers and staff designed to acquaint them with Cunard’s impressive 165-year history.

“We felt we needed to go back to our roots,” said Stephenson.

The training program focuses on three words, which are inscribed on a black enamel pin worn by all staff: legendary, elegant and memorable.
I can’t think of three more appropriate words to describe my experience on the Queen Mary 2.