Few ships over the past eight to nine years have received the world-wide attention and publicity that Queen Mary 2 has. In 2003, When Queen Mary 2 (QM2) first set out on her sea trials, she was the culmination of directives initiated by billionaire Mickey Arison, and designed by Stephen Payne, the perfect man for the job considering Payne was not only a ship designer, but a fan of the old ocean liners of the past. Recognizing that the aging QE2 was nearing the end of her sea going career, Cunard Line was about to be re-energized as a company with the first true ocean liner to be constructed in thirty years. When the original Queen Mary set out on her maiden voyage in 1936, the hope and dreams of an entire country followed her successful introduction into the trans-Atlantic market. The original Queen Mary became an instant celebrity because she represented a transformation out of an economic depression, and all eyes from England and America were on this incredible ship that seemed to have a soul capable of lifting the spirits of her passengers. That was another era when ships like the Queen Mary were ambassadors of an entire nation. Today, the Queen Mary 2 aspires to lift the spirits of her passengers, but in this age and time, she carries mostly the legacy of a glorious past, while forging out her own role in history as a ship of dreams.
With many books and articles already written about the Queen Mary 2, as a Cruise Journalist, I had my work cut out for me as I embarked on the journey of a lifetime on a trans-Atlantic crossing aboard this incredible ocean liner. Our crossing was scheduled for June 17th, 2012 from New York (or Brooklyn) across the Atlantic to Southampton, England. A special voyage like this means something different to everyone, but for me, this was the fulfillment of a dream. I had made numerous Atlantic crossings onboard the QE2 as a member of the crew, however; now as a married man I have wanted to share this unique experience of a trans-Atlantic crossing with my wife. Since 1977, I have had a passion for the original Queen Mary and studied all I could about her history. In 1997, I proposed to a woman on the deck of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, and she has now been my wife for fifteen years. As a Cruise Journalist, I have had the privilege and honor of bringing my wife all around the world on incredible cruise adventures, but this one experience of a trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 was for me, the pinnacle of all my past cruise experiences. This was no ‘cruise’ aboard the QM2, it was a crossing that transcends the usual cruise vacation because of the nostalgia, the legacy and rich history of the trans-Atlantic crossing by ocean liner.
Considering the interest and passion I have carried for most of my adult life regarding the Queen Mary, the QM2 and the trans-Atlantic era, I will share with you my thoughts about this QM2 trans-Atlantic crossing in this very special review.
The ship – There is a difference between a cruise ship and an ocean liner. An ocean liner is built for a very unique purpose, to conduct line voyages across the ocean in all weather and sea conditions. Queen Mary 2 was designed and built to push her way through any sea conditions and she has the reserve power to make-up time lost to maintain a schedule. It was fascinating to notice the complexities of this massive structure, and like a finely-crafted watch all the parts work together for one purpose, comfortable transportation across the ocean for all it’s crew and passengers.
The dinning – We dinned in the Princess Grill. One afternoon we ate in the Britannia Restaurant to capture the experience in this incredible room that is reminiscent of the trans-Atlantic liners of old. In the Princess Grill, service was exceptional. Our waiter staff paid very close attention to the details of properly serving our dining needs and requests. My wife enjoys sweet tea, so we asked the waiter staff to prepare her tea just the way she likes it, specially brewed just for her for lunch and dinner. The only observation I have that might be considered constructive advice would be the employment of mostly Indian service staff in our part of the restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to India, I enjoy Indian food and I don’t have any issues with people from India. At times it felt more like we were dining in an Indian restaurant as opposed to a British dining experience. There was even an Indian dish, Chicken Tikka Masala, available on the menu. Although the dining room staff and the menus in Princess Grill were excellent, my expectations were for a quintessential British experience. If that is your expectation too, I would suggest you prepare for a more international experience. This is not a criticism, simply an observation.
The Spa – The Canyon Ranch Spa onboard the Queen Mary 2 was a very exclusive experience that few onboard seemed to take advantage of. The thermal pool, steam room and sauna facilities were exceptional, and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the facilities. The thermal pool area was never crowded and offered a very relaxing environment where my wife and I indulged in relaxation and water therapy. I didn’t like the eucalyptus smell in the steam room too much, but that’s just me, I prefer pure steam in a steam room.
The suite accommodations – We were in Suite 10032 which is in the Princess Grill accommodations. Queen Mary 2 is broken-up into three basic categories of accommodations, Britannia Restaurant, Princess Grill and Queens Grill. The Grill accommodations of course are much more exclusive and offer a more upscale experience. Some of the most lavish suites available at sea are in the Queens Grill accommodations. My wife and I were quite pleased with our Princess Grill accommodations. There was plenty of space, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a tub. Our suite also had a veranda, a mini-bar area and vanity desk area. In the Grill accommodations our stewards also were available to pack our luggage at the end of our crossing, which my wife was very pleased with, since she dislikes packing.
The experience – I must be honest and mention that although this crossing on the Queen Mary 2 had tremendous meaning and was very relaxing, there was one element I felt was lacking that truly gave a crossing that unique energy, and that was speed. Queen Mary 2 only reached a maximum speed of about 22 knots, which is not much different than what most cruise ships cruise at. As an example, when I worked aboard the QE2, she pounded across the Atlantic at about 28 knots, which generated a unique feeling of purpose and power. Queen Mary 2 has the capability to achieve up to about 30 knots, and she would need to power-up her gas turbine engines built by GE to reach these speeds, but today the ship is more of a destination rather than transportation, so the journey has been stretched out to seven days as oppose to four days at sea. The weather was agreeable for the entire crossing, so we hardly experienced the Queen Mary 2 in challenging north Atlantic seas. There were times when QM2 navigated through patches of fog, but that was about it. I was also very introspective when we crossed over the exact spot where Titanic sank one hundred years earlier. I noticed we spent a lot of time in the Grill restaurant socializing with our adjacent table-mates typical of lazy days at sea. Despite the fact that my wife drank a considerable amount of ice tea, she was still able to take leisurely naps nearly every day. For those who have traveled the world and perhaps may not have even considered a cruise, a Queen Mary 2 voyage across the Atlantic is truly a unique experience that is filled with romance, history, a long legacy and cultural tradition that is a must for anyone’s bucket list.
Contrasted with the original Queen Mary – I chose to attend a college in southern California so that I could visit the original Queen Mary in Long Beach as often as possible. I worked on the QE2 so I have a unique level of experience with Cunard Line’s history, her ships and the fascinating culture aboard an ocean liner, which is very different than the culture aboard a cruise ship. The Queen Mary 2, without question, has inherited this culture unique to ocean liner voyages. Like the original Queen Mary, the QM2 has tall ceilings, large rooms and lounges that have the art deco look. Wood veneers and paneling adorn the QM2 throughout her public spaces, and although the veneers and paneling have the faux replicated appearance of real wood, the feeling of palatial interiors fit for royalty is evident. Queen Mary 2 is a solid vessel, a workhorse with a solid steel construction unique to ocean liners of the past. As times have changed, gone is the “class” system from the days of the original Queen Mary, however; the QM2 still maintains three basic social and economic levels of passengers with the dominant Britannia Restaurant-level of accommodations, then there is the Princess Grill and Queens Grill which all have separate dinning areas.
This voyage from New York to Southampton, again had a very special meaning for me personally, and the experience came around full-circle, when Captain Chris Wells conducted a surprise wedding vow renewal ceremony for my wife and I as we celebrated fifteen years of marriage. At this time, Cunard can now offer weddings at sea onboard the Queen Mary 2 to fulfill the ultimate romantic setting for any couple with the desire to “tie the knot” in a unique and memorable way. I long for the environment onboard the Queen Mary 2, an environment that coddles me like being in the womb. I miss life aboard this ocean liner and you will too, once you experience this unique culture exclusive to a powerful and luxurious ship like the Queen Mary 2.
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