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The golden age of Atlantic Ocean crossings recalls images of elegant ladies arriving with huge steamer trunks, filled with elegant gowns and jewels, for their journey by sea. The jet plane might have taken over most trans-Atlantic journeys of today, but that doesn’t stop golden age-style romance and adventure from continuing onboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 (QM2). Fascinating displays of photographs, artwork and memorabilia remind QM2 guests of the line’s 175 years of service as they become a part of Cunard’s historic role in trans-Atlantic crossings.
QM2 is defined as an ocean liner rather than a cruise ship. And although a large percentage of its passengers are taking a leisure trip across the Atlantic, there are some who sail with the intention of relocating, accompanied by their life’s possessions and sometimes even their pets. Therefore, the QM2 carries a mix of passengers from many countries, celebrating significant occasions, moving to new homes and jobs or just enjoying a relaxed, civilized way to travel between North America and Europe.
On my June cruise, some first-time North American guests were intimidated by the stringent dress codes — three formal nights on a weeklong crossing, some with themes including a masquerade ball. Anyone wishing to be truly casual on a formal night is restricted to the Kings Court buffet restaurant and the Winter Garden. Those who attended the formal nights in the Britannia Restaurant, however, mingled with guests wearing everything from cocktail dresses to full black-tie attire.
The Britannia staff was exceptionally warm and accommodating, and the menu was an interesting mix of English classics with continental selections. At lunch and dinner, Canyon Ranch SpaClub selections are denoted with nutritional information, and the line aims to accommodate special dietary needs, from vegetarian to gluten-free.
Kings Court is plentiful and varied, too. Its table configuration, with screened nooks, creates intimate spaces, but it also produces a wandering clientele as they search for their table companions. The buffet is set up in a series of rooms, and it took some guests a day or two to discover the adjoining Chef’s Galley for healthy breakfasts and lunchtime burgers and sandwiches.
Many opted for the large Golden Lion Pub, where shepherd’s pie, a ploughman’s lunch and fish and chips provide English comfort food. Those who chose to pay the very reasonable a la carte rates at Todd English Restaurant enjoyed exquisite meals, which were beautifully presented and served.
Trans-Atlantic crossings without ports of call are very different from other voyages. Even in summer, the winds and chill of the open sea limit time spent on deck. So the 2,600-passenger QM2 — with the highest space to passenger ratio in the cruise industry — becomes the world to its passengers for a week. They swim in its enclosed pools, line up in the mornings for tickets to the planetarium and attend enrichment lectures, concerts and classes, which range from Internet techniques at the Apple Learning Centre to elaborate napkin folding. There are readings of plays by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, games of bridge, traditional afternoon tea, an outstanding library, movies, ballroom and Latin dancing classes, films and challenging trivia contests.
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub and fitness rooms deserve special mention — they are outstanding. Classes from stretch to yoga and Pilates are held in additional public rooms, but the areas designated for individual fitness are very well-equipped and in use from early morning until closing. The spa offers a broad range of treatments, including chiropractic sessions, acupuncture and noteworthy reflexology. The facilities include a marvelous steam room with mosaic-tiled individual recesses.
Accommodations are especially important during a crossing with no time spent on shore, and QM2 has choices from 157-square-foot inside cabins, some looking onto the atrium, to two-level Queens Grill duplex apartments, measuring up to 1,566 square feet. Two Grand Duplex suites offer 2,249-square feet of space, including individual kitchens and exercise equipment.
Spending a whole week onboard creates a special relationship between passengers and the ship. Both first-timers and passengers who cross every year tend to be proud of their part in the decades of maritime history QM2 represents.