Traveling Transatlantic on the Queen Mary 2
It was on the list of things to do in my lifetime. I did not expect to get the opportunity to take a transatlantic voyage at this time in my life, but when opportunity knocks, you have to answer. The trip is called a “voyage,” not a “cruise,” and one travels on an “ocean liner,” not a “cruise ship.” As we approached the terminal we could see the Queen Mary 2 in all her glory. She stood so proud waiting to take another group of passengers across the Atlantic from New York, as did many of her predecessors. The QM2’s hull is painted black with a trim of red at water level and a band of white where the decks begin, with big letters spelling out QUEEN MARY 2, so boldly shouting to everyone its presence.
The voyage started at the new cruise terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This terminal sets the tone for the entire voyage. The terminal is a sheer delight. It is a one cruise, or, in our case, voyage, at a time terminal. The staff is pleasant and helpful. The facility is only a couple of years old, and is very bright and clean.
There is such an excitement as you walk up the gangway. I was so excited to be sailing on this magnificent, classy liner that I started to run. As you step foot on the QM2, you cannot help but think what it must have been like in the Golden Age of ocean travel. The “well to do” experienced a voyage such as this, and here I was, about to embark on a similar voyage! As you embark, you are welcomed by Cunard staff and directed to your cabin. The grand lobby was breathtaking, and one could not help but feel the warmth and comfort of one’s new “home” for the week.
The first stop, of course, had to be our cabin. As I opened the door, I was impressed that our luggage was already in the room and that I was immediately able to settle in! Our cabin was on deck 8, and we had a balcony. I was impressed with the cleanliness and care taken with a ship that was four years old. We met our cabin steward, Charles, and then were off to investigate the rest of the ship! Of course, we needed to eat. I rarely miss a meal! We headed to the King’s Court buffet on deck 7. There are four main areas in the buffet which transform into four unique restaurants in the evening. La Piazza serves authentic Italian cuisine; Lotus serves delightful tastes from the Far East; The Carvery features British-style dining and the Chef’s Gallery is a unique interactive culinary experience with the chef. We made our way through all the areas and had a small taste from each. The food was very good, and I am not a huge buffet fan.
The other dining options on board include the Britannia Restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While breakfast and lunch are open seating, dinner is served at one of two different times at an assigned table. You can see the matre’d to change your dining time, if you so choose. The Golden Lion’s Pub serves a classic pub lunch. Sir Samuel’s is open for morning coffee and pastries, light lunches, and fine wines in the evening. Todd English has a restaurant on board which has a small service fee, but is worth every penny. The first time there we ordered too much food, as our eyes were much bigger than our stomachs. I knew that I would not want any other passenger to have to suffer through bad food, so I made it my job to test just about everything. We did make room for dessert, and it was worth it! Reservations are recommended for this venue. We ate there twice, and also had pre-dinner drinks to see the beautiful sunset that evening. It was awesome!
When we were planning this trip, I was not sure how spending a week on the QM2 would play out. I brought two books with me to read, and did not open either one. Although there were no shore excursions, the days went so fast. Even if I had not carried the books with me, there is a library on board (Deck 8) with 8,000 books! The QM2 has computers, in the library, along with a computer and conference center. Courses ranging from software programs to foreign languages are offered plus full internet access. The spa, also on Deck 8, is run by Canyon Ranch SpaClub and had a long list of treatments available to pamper oneself with, along with a well-equipped Fitness Center and salon. I decided to experience a traditional Thai massage. It was very different from the deep tissue massages that I am used to, but quite enjoyable and relaxing. The waiting area of the spa is so serene and relaxing that you feel your spa treatment begins as soon as you step through the doors. The spa has chaise lounges set along the side of the ship with floor to ceiling windows, looking out onto the beautiful sea. I was almost disappointed when called for my treatment. I had set out to use the gym daily, but we all know how that usually pans out once you get into vacation mode. The gym was clean and well kept. There was an assortment of weight machines, along with different cardio machines.
I was unsure how the crew would interact with passengers. I had heard that they did not warm up to the passengers and were always proper - even stuffy. This was not the case at all. Every crew member was pleasant and helpful. If a crew member passed you anywhere on the ship, he or she greeted you. I also found the passengers on board to be one of the most courteous and pleasant groups I have ever seen at sea.
One should not miss the experience of afternoon tea, served in the Queen’s Room, the largest ballroom at sea. This is also where spectacular themed nights were held. Afternoon tea is one of the most civilized things I have ever witnessed. Scones, finger sandwiches, and premium tea are all served with white- gloved service. One afternoon, there was a band entertaining us with Big Band tunes, while another afternoon featured a harpist. It was nice to see people taking time out in the afternoon for some socializing and ballroom dancing, not to mention a snack. Can’t miss a meal!
The casino was very entertaining. In addition to table games there were 115 slot machines. One afternoon featured a slot tournament, and another, a Blackjack tournament. There is a cigar bar called Churchill’s, a very warm and clubby lounge. A couple of evenings before dinner my group would meet in either the Commodore Club or Chart Room for cocktails. The Commodore Club is an intimate piano bar in the forward part of the QM2. It was relaxing to sip a Cosmo, look out and see nothing but ocean! A detailed scale model of the QM2 sits behind the bar in this venue. The Chart Room is a comfortable lounge in which to meet and drink while listening to live jazz. Of course, after dinner one needs to dance off what one has eaten, and have a cocktail to wash down all that great food. On more than one evening we wound up in G32, the nightclub. It is in the aft part of the ship, and was named after the job number that was assigned to the QM2 when being built. The nightclub has a dance floor, tables and a second level.
In the afternoon, there were many activities from which to choose. Illuminations is the only Planetarium at sea. There were four different shows shown over four days, each shown four times daily. In the theater a dome lowers over a section of seats, on which the show is projected. This was also the venue for lectures, plays, concerts, movies and even daily Mass. Maritime Quest is the museum exhibit on board that allows you to trace Cunard history since Sir Samuel Cunard launched the first passenger vessel in 1840. The Mayfair shops are a group of fashionable boutiques, including such names as H. Stern, Chopard, Hermes, Escada and Swarovski. There were bridge classes, water coloring classes, ballroom dance classes and art auctions offered. I could not believe that although we were at sea for seven days with no shore excursions, I still did not have enough time on board. I expected to be anxious to get off the ship by the end of the voyage, but it was quite the opposite. I wish I had the time to return to New York on board the QM2.
We had arranged for a van to take our group from Southampton to London. It was a great decision. We got to see the countryside and had a pleasant driver, who gave us “the tour.” When we arrived in London, we went to our hotel, directly behind Buckingham Palace. The Hotel Rubens was quite an experience. The manager was kind enough to give me a tour of the hotel, along with the connecting hotel “41”. “41” occupies the fifth floor of the Hotel Rubens. The rich dark woods, soft leather chairs, and open skylight were impressive. The staff at the Hotel Rubens was pleasant and accommodating. The rooms are being renovated one by one and no detail is being left out. The hotel has a bar and two restaurants. There was also a lounge area right off of the main lobby where afternoon tea was served. The concierge was very helpful in securing us tickets for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, along with a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour. Having pre-purchased the tickets for the museum saved us from waiting in a long line. Personalities from all walks of life (politicians, royalty, entertainers and athletes) are realistically recreated. Two of my favorite wax figures were Queen Elizabeth II and Johnny Depp. The Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour is a great was to see London, and included audio commentary along the way.
The Tower of London is one of my favorite sights. This trip we did the tour with a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) and found him to be both insightful and humorous. It is always more fun to learn while laughing! The Crown Jewels are kept at the Tower and are quite a sight to see. It is hard to believe that one is actually walking in the footsteps of some very famous people. Tower Bridge is right there on the Thames River - not to be confused with London Bridge - a common mistake made by Americans, it seems. A river cruise to Greenwich is about 45 minutes from the Tower and was well worth the trip. Greenwich features the Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum, and the town is a nice diversion from the bustle of London proper.
London is so rich in history and architecture. We forget how young America really is. Adding a two day stay in London was a nice way to round out a wonderful trip. Monte Carlo Travel is planning similar future trips (transatlantic voyage and stay in London.) Please contact us for more information. (888-580-7188 or email@example.com)
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