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The Queen Mary 2: a transatlantic adventure fit for a king

The champagne sailaway from Hamburg aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 went off with a bang — the sounds of fireworks, that is — as we slowly sailed along the Elbe.

People lined the shore for miles, waving and cheering from sidewalks and plazas, cafés and restaurants, private homes and public buildings, monuments, hotels, and beaches–anywhere with space to gather.

Boats of all shapes and sizes-from kayaks to a large paddle wheeler–followed us. We stood by the railings and waved to the crowd, feeling like royalty.

Rule Britannia blared while hotel guests waved sheets from the windows of the Hotel Louis C. Jacob. Fireworks exploded, the ship’s horn blared, and cheers rang out from the shore.

We watched the glorious sunset as we began our journey–a time to stretch out on the deck chairs, read, and savor the serenity of the sea. Our time would be measured by sunsets, and there would be eight more.

Opting to cruise

An email featuring transatlantic promotional fares arrived just as we were arranging transportation home from a visit to France and northern Germany. This sailing departed from our final destination, Hamburg, just a day after our intended departure and sailed to New York.

By cruising in a westward direction would gain an hour each time we passed through one of the six time zones, and arrive home well-rested and without jet lag. The fare was just a little more than that of a flight home. The opportunity to experience one of Cunard’s legendary ships was irresistible.

We wondered about the formal nights and dressy events onboard. We would be carrying our luggage on and off trains before the cruise, and were determined not to let baggage limit our travels. I packed my long basic black washable dress, some lightweight scarves, shawls, and sparkly jewelry to add a touch of elegance. Roger’s black walking shoes and my lightweight dressy sandals do double duty on formal nights. Nearly all our travel clothes can be washed by hand and dry quickly, and the QM2 has self-service laundry rooms.

But what would two destination-oriented cruisers do with this much time aboard a cruise ship and only one port along the way?

The cruise experience

We were given a white-glove welcome by officers and crew. We sipped iced tea, enjoyed the lunch buffet, and relaxed onboard, thinking of how much better this was than clearing security and waiting around at an airport.

This very British ship has a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in the Grand Lobby. Corridors and stairwells have displays on Cunard’s history from the first transatlantic adventure in 1840 to the QM2. Its history includes the golden age of elegant and luxurious vessels, when Cunard served the rich and famous, including top Hollywood celebrities. It also includes voyages of emigrants and war brides dreaming of a new life.

detail from silver cup aboard the Queen Mary 2
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detail from silver cup aboard the Queen Mary 2

Bostonians were delighted when their was seaport chosen for Cunard’s early transatlantic voyages, and in July, 1840, presented Samuel Cunard with an elaborate silver cup to commemorate the Britannia’s maiden voyage. It stands in a display case for all to see.

We relaxed with the view over the bow in the library and returned to our stateroom to find the program for the next day’s activities. We soon learned that even with so many days at sea there were not enough hours to try all that interested us.

Because the Queen Mary 2 was built to be a transatlantic liner with few if any ports along the way, it was designed to offer more onboard entertainment and enrichment activities options to entertain its guests.

There was, of course, the sort of entertainment expected on such voyages–singers and dancers, dancing and dance lessons, pools, movies (some 3D), music, balls and afternoon tea. There were classes on bridge, watercolor painting, flower arranging, makeup, vegetable carving demonstrations, games like bingo, darts, table tennis, trivia and tournaments, and a computer learning center. The fitness center was state-of-the art and the spa and wellness presentations and services were by the renowned Canyon Ranch.

Charles Barclay, onboard lecturer and astronomer from the Royal Astronomical Society
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Charles Barclay, onboard lecturer and astronomer from the Royal Astronomical Society

The Queen Mary 2‘s Illuminations is the only planetarium at sea. Charles Barclay, an astronomer from the Royal Astronomical Society, led Insights Lectures like “Demystifying the Night Sky” that enhanced our stargazing experiences.

The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) presented the Canterbury Tales and Richard III. The soothing sounds of harpist Fionna McGee’s music could be heard in the dining room, Grand Lobby, or at afternoon tea. Musicians from the Juilliard School performed throughout the ship.

Sir David Frost, speaker aboard the Queen Mary 2
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Sir David Frost, speaker aboard the Queen Mary 2

Sir David Frost, the former British talk show host best known for his post-Watergate interview with former President Richard Nixon was onboard to share anecdotes of his most memorable interviews and encounters. The movie Frost/Nixon aired in the theater.

art historian Christine Roussel speaks on the Art of Rockefeller Center
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art historian Christine Roussel speaks on the Art of Rockefeller Center

As we drew closer to New York there were talks on ‘How a Musical Reaches the Stage’ by author and theater director Julian Woolford and ‘The Art of Rockefeller Center’ and ‘The First Skyscrapers and the Iron Workers who Built Them” by art historian Christine Roussel.

Captain Chris Wells’ daily noontime navigational announcement was a time to contemplate the features of the Atlantic, an ocean covering about a fifth of our planet. We sailed north of the Azores, islands formed by volcanic activity, and about midway between the continents we passed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This undersea mountain range with volcanoes and plateaus runs length of the ocean, from the Arctic Circle to the southern tip of Africa. It is where magma wells up and expands the Atlantic Basin about an inch a year–over 14 feet in the 172 years Cunard had been sailing across it!

Staterooms

Regardless of stateroom, all guests enjoy legendary White Star Service, a legacy going back to 1929 when Cunard took over management of the White Star Transatlantic Fleet.

Today some of the finest amenities at sea are found in Queen Mary 2’s Grill Suites. Royal, Penthouse, and Queens suites range from 335 to 2249 square feet and have marble bathrooms, curving stairways, butlers or concierge service, in-suite strawberries and champagne, pre-dinner canapés, a pillow menu and priority disembarkation. Some of the duplex suites also have a private elevator.

Dining

Cunard’s dining options are based on the level of suite of stateroom. Guests of the Grill Suites may dine privately in their suites or in the elegant single-seating Grill Room.

The Queen Mary 2’s Britannia Dining Room
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The Queen Mary 2’s Britannia Dining Room

Guests in the other staterooms dine during early or late seating in the grand, two-story banquet-style Britannia Restaurant or pay a surcharge for premium dining at the Todd English restaurant. Those booking deluxe Club Balcony staterooms dine in the intimate single-seating Britannia Club restaurant. There is also a buffet restaurant open to all.

The port

Following a day at sea, we docked in Southampton, England, an early Roman settlement with a long seafaring history. If you opt, like us, to see the city on your own, you can save valuable time by sharing a taxi rather than standing in the long line for the complimentary shuttle. The return shuttles are less crowded since passengers go back to the ship at different times.

We began our tour at the SeaCity Museum. It opened to the public in April 10, 2012, a century after the Titanic tragedy. When the Titanic departed from here on her maiden voyage over 500 local households had a family member working onboard. The museum chronicles the wide range of jobs people held onboard and the tragedy’s profound impact on the city.

The Pilgrims departed from Southampton on the Mayflower on August 14, 1620.
Southampton was also home to the QE2 for nearly forty years.

The pedestrian route recently named the QE2 Mile runs through the city’s historic heart. It includes cultural and shopping areas and monuments like Bargate, the northern main gate through which many Kings and Queens of England passed to enter the walled city. Cunard gave the QE2’s thirteen ton anchor to the city. It stands in front of Holyrood Church.

Other walking trails include following the young Jane Austen’s footsteps when she lived here from 1807 to 1809 and a walk along the medieval walls. Henry V’s army marched through Westgate on their way to victory in Agincourt in 1415. Three men were beheaded in front of Bargate on charges of plotting to kill the king and replace him with Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, a scheme known as the Southampton Plot.

Tudor House and Garden, Southampton
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Tudor House and Garden, Southampton

We toured the newly restored timber-framed Tudor House and Garden. In 1491 Sir John Dawtrey joined three houses together to build a structure befitting his status. King John’s Palace is accessible through the gardens.

Back onboard the Queen Mary 2 we sailed past waterfront towns, castles, lighthouses, and a variety of commercial shipping vessels and ferries. We headed into a sunset that spanned the sea, with a week of nothing more than enjoying what the Queen Mary 2 had to offer.

As dawn approached on our final morning, we watched for a glowing torch, just as our grandparents had when they came to America nearly a century ago under far less fortunate circumstances. As we spotted the Statue of Liberty we were reminded of their hardships and how their dreams of a better life for their families had come true.

 view of Manhattan from the Queen Mary 2
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view of Manhattan from the Queen Mary 2

2 Comments

  1. What a wonderful read. We will be doing your exact trip, except we will sail from NY and back. Thank you for the pleasant interlude. Brigitte

    • Thank you. We enjoyed it so much that next time we hope to sail in both directions, as well. Have a wonderful trip! Linda and Roger

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