Life Is Like A Ship, Part One

Well, now that we’re back on terra firma (with NORMAL internet service), it’s time to tell you about our crossing on Queen Mary 2. Before I get into all that, I want to tell you about the ship we called “home” for a week.

QM2
There she is!

At the time of QM2’s maiden voyage in January, 2004, she was the largest ship in the world: built at Chantiers de L’Antique in France, she is 1,132 feet in length (the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet high; the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet high), gross tonnage is 150,000, cruising speed is 28.5 knots, the ship has 17 decks (rising to a height of 200 feet above the waterline), passenger capacity is 2,260 and there are 1,253 officers and crew (including, as we learned from executive chef, Klaus Kremer, 150 chefs in the many galleys aboard – more about that later). In a word, QM2 is BIG!

(Sad to note that, within two years of QM2’s launch, Liberty of the Seas became – at that time – the world’s largest ship. Currently, the largest ocean vessel is Allure of the Seas, weighing in at 225,282 gross tonnage and over 6,200 passengers. That’s one big ship.)

Queen Mary 2 is also – although neither Cunard nor any of the ship’s crew will say it – a class ship. What does that mean, exactly? Well, if you think about flying on an airplane (ugh!!!), you have your first class, your business class, and your coach class. When you travel on QM2, it is the cabin in which you sail that determines your “class”. 

Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about this so-called class structure. What it really means is that the cabin in which you sail determines the restaurant in which you take your meals. Every passenger has access to almost every other part of the ship, except as noted below.

The “first class” option is the Queens Grill cabins. These cabins, all with private balcony, range from the standard 506 sf option to the fabulous Grand Duplexes that are 2,249 sf. All of these cabins include butler service and other lovely amenities. All Queens Grill passengers (about 200 in all) dine in – where else? – the Queens Grill, located on deck 7, starboard aft. You are given a designated table which is yours’ for the entire voyage. For dinner, there is no early or late seating – you show up when you like – typically 6:30 – 9:00 PM. The menu here is the most luxe on the ship and it’s here that the caviar flows, if caviar is your thing (it’s definitely NOT AAC CPA’s thing). You also have the same service staff and they are VERY accommodating. The Senior Maitre d’Hotel, Osman, actually remembered us from our last voyage, and made sure that we had a swell time. Which we did.

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Queens Grill Cabin

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One of the Grand Duplexes

Queens Grill
Queens Grill

The other Queens Grill perks are access to the Queens Grill Lounge, which is located directly across from the Queens Grill, and is the perfect venue for an intimate cocktail or afternoon tea (which is so much better than fighting over tea sandwiches and scones in the Queens Room down on deck 3). Also, and this you have to find for yourself because no one talks about it and it’s not on the deck plan, you have access to the Queens Grill Terrace, located aft on Deck 11. It’s a place to take some sun, read a book, or use the hot tub. It’s generally quiet and a lovely place to relax.

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Queens Grill Lounge

One last perk, which can be of great help, is the Concierge Lounge located midship on deck 9. It’s there that you can get assistance with on-board reservations, tour details, travel arrangements, etc. They also have snacks all day long, should you feel peckish between meals.

The “business class” option is the Princess Grill cabins. These cabins, also with private balcony, are about 381 sf. Princess Grill passengers (also about 200) eat in the Princess Grill, located just across from Queens Grill on the port side. As with Queens Grill, you are assigned your own table, which is yours’ for the evening. The Princess Grill menu is also quite good, but not as yummy or extensive as the one in Queens Grill. Princess Grill passengers also have access to the Queens Grill Lounge, Terrace and the Concierge Lounge.

Princess Grill Cabin
Princess Grill Cabin

Princess Grill
Princess Grill

Both Queens Grill and Princess Grill passengers have early embarkation and early disembarkation, which can be a great benefit, as you’ll see in my next post.

Almost all other passengers dine in the Britannia Restaurant, perhaps the most dramatic location on the ship: a grand two-story dining venue. Here, you are assigned either an early or late seating, each of which serves up to 1,100 passengers at a time. Let’s say that, while you’ll eat well in Britannia, your dining experience will be decidedly different than in the Queens or Princess Grills. Britannia cabins are typically between 248 sf for a cabin with balcony to an inside cabin, which measures about 159 sf (which is about smaller than the closet space in the Grand Duplex). 

Britannia
Britannia Restaurant

Britannia Cabin
Britannia Cabin

There is one other option – the “premium economy” option, if you will – and that is Britannia Club, which is essentially a 248 sf cabin, but you get a specially designated section of the Britannia Restaurant.

So, as with any real estate, for some people it’s location, location, location! For most, it’s about making the voyage, and these are the passengers who will say: “Why should I care where my cabin is? I’m not going to spend any time there.” And there are others who will say: “I love hanging out in my digs and the bigger and more luxe, the better. Bring it ON!” As with many things, there are no wrong answers. Whatever floats your boat, right?

So how do you feel about it?

The larger point that I want to make – and I am passionate about it – is that, when you make a crossing, you’re part of a maritime community. New friendships will be forged, unique experiences will be shared and wonderful memories will be made. As I’ve said before, I think it’s the best way to travel. It doesn’t matter in which cabin you sleep or restaurant you eat, you’re going to have an experience you will never forget.

Now that you have the lay of the land, as it were, we haven’t even discussed how you might spends your days (and nights) while aboard QM2. AAC CPA and I always try to encourage friends to join us one of our many crossings, and the response is somewhere between total boredom and abject terror. “What would I DO stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean for a week or more?” they shriek. 

Well, the simple answer is this: you have options. You might choose, for instance, to go into the ship’s library (which has over 8,000 volumes – yes, I said that) and just take out a few books, sit on your balcony or in some cozy nook and read a book a day, take an afternoon nap, a brisk walk around the promenade deck and eat yourself into oblivion. Or, you might take advantage of the myriad activities that are occurring around you all day long: lectures, performances, computer workshops, games, daily duplicate bridge (YAY!), competitions, luxurious spa treatments, gym workouts, movies, barhopping (there are many bars on board). It’s all there for you to enjoy – or not.

And, in my next post, I’ll tell you all about our week on board the glorious QM2.

To be continued……..

The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea

Good evening and greetings from somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic. How is everyone today?

I have to begin by mentioning that the internet service on the QM2 is not good, and that’s being very charitable. So it may happen that you won’t be hearing from me too much during our crossing – I guess you could all use a break from my meanderings, right?

We’ve now been on the ship for a little over 36 hours and, so far, we’re having a very pleasant time. All of the crew we’ve met – our butler, the staff in the Queen’s Grill (Osman the maître ‘d and the team that serves us), and others are very friendly and professional and seem to want one thing only: for us to have a good time. And that’s how it should be!

There must be something about sailing across the Atlantic on an ocean liner (more about that in a bit) that agrees with me: last night I slept for 8 hours (unaided, if you receive my meaning). In my case, that’s basically miraculous. Since we set our clocks back last night, we had the benefit of an extra hour of sleep or play, and I put mine to good use. I was up bright and early and off for a lovely run. I had hoped to run around the promenade deck, but it was too wet and windy for that, so I made my way to the gym that, by the way, is amongst the best we’ve seen at sea. And at 7:30 this morning, it was PACKED! I guess we all have to burn off the calories that we’re consuming.

So, remember a few posts ago where I harangued all of you about the difference between a cruise and a crossing? I wanted to expand on that thought today so we all know what we’re talking about (especially me). I’ve heard people – you know who you are – refer to ships as boats (boats are small, ships are not), and talk about cruises that are not really cruises. And what is this thing called an ocean liner? Is that a ship, too, and what’s the difference?

Note: If you could care less about this minutia, please skip ahead – I’ve got a couple of cute pictures of our cabin and a shot of the ocean below. Don’t worry – I won’t be disappointed.

Here’s the deal: a cruise ship’s itinerary is almost exclusively port-intensive. You sail to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean or the Greek Islands or the fjords and every day or so, you’re docking in some exotic place, getting off the ship and seeing the sights and going shopping. Or, if you’re like AAC CPA and me, you find the good Margarita place and watch the people go by, most of who are passengers from the ship you just left. Note that these itineraries are sailing in bodies of water that are not particularly challenging to the vessel. There will be wear and tear, but that comes with years of sailing.

An ocean liner, on the other hand, is made of sterner stuff. Its role in life is to cross the ocean (no ports – just go from point A to point B), turn around and return. And then repeat.

In Philip Dawson’s excellent book entitled Queen Mary 2, he differentiates the difference in design between a cruise ship and a “true ocean liner”:

“ Essentially the liner would need to have a relatively deep draft and refined hull form for good stability and seakeeping during sustained high-speed sailing in deep waters. The liner would need the power to cover longer sea passages at higher speeds than normally needed for cruise service, reserve power to make up for lost headway due to fog, gales and heavy seas and the structural stamina to withstand North Atlantic sailing conditions as comfortably as possible.”

This is to say that you never know what the North Atlantic is going to do to you when you’re sailing across it and you need a vessel that can withstand the worst weather imaginable.

Remember when QM2 made its inaugural crossing from Southampton to New York back in April 2004? The ship was in service for just 3 months at the time and we were scheduled to sail on the 3rd crossing, about 2 weeks later, and were very curious to know how the 1st crossing had gone. So, it was with some surprise (and not a little bit of fear) when a friend of ours’ told us that Cindy Adams, syndicated columnist for the NY Post, was aboard, and posted her column from the ship reporting that she and many other passengers were extremely unhappy. Apparently, over the 6 days of the crossing, the ship went through 2 major storms with waves crashing 60-70 feet up the side of the ship. Ever heard that phrase: “Batten up the hatches”? I think there was a lot of battening on that voyage.

In spite of the bad seas, the ship arrived on schedule in New York and the passengers had an exciting adventure to share.

Just two weeks later, we were on the same vessel, making the same voyage. Would you believe me if I told you that the ocean was so smooth the entire time, you wouldn’t know you were on a ship unless you looked out to see the ocean all around you?

As I said above, you never know what’s going to happen – and that’s part of the excitement of traveling by ship across the ocean.

01 - 1st day at sea
1st day at sea – nice, huh?

02 - Cabin 1
Our cabin

03 - Cabin 2
And another view of our cabin.

PS. Oh yeah, and we won $100 at the blackjack table tonight – WOO-HOO!!

Embarkation Day

So, greetings from Deck 9 aft on Queen Mary 2. It’s now about 11:30 PM and we’re out on the open seas. There’s nothing like a crossing to get the pulse racing. Think about it. For the next week, there’s nothing around or near us but the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s kind of thrilling, in a way. For those of you whose ancestors may have come to America from Europe in “the old days”, they most likely sailed on a ship to get to the new country. Perhaps not like we’re doing this week, but you get the idea.

Backing up, we were picked up at the hotel this morning at 10:30. Our driver, Pan, took great care of us and delivered us to the ship just before 1:00 PM. We were whisked through check-in and on board within 15 minutes. Surprisingly, our luggage made it to the cabin before we did.

Here’s AAC CPA just getting on board:

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AAC CPA Deck 3 – Boarding

We got settled in, met our butler, Michael, and headed up to Queen’s Grill to check our table and have a bite of lunch. So far, so good.

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Queens Grill on Queen Mary 2

Then we took a walk around the ship to reacquaint ourselves with the layout. After many years of sailing on Crystal, this ship is very different and much bigger.

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Veuve Cliquot Bar – One of many watering holes

02-Propellers
AAC CPA on board posing with an extra set of propellers

03 - Vogue
AAC CPA vogueing out on deck – Thanks, Nick, for the caption

By 4:30 it was tie for the life boat drill – mandated by law and kind of like the safety announcement you hear whenever you fly. Nobody really pays attention but you have to know how to get into your life jacket and where to go in case of emergency. So there it is

08 - Life Boat Muster
The obligatory life jacket photo

Then back to the cabin to get ready to sail away. There was some kind of “party” on 8 deck aft with champagne, which was not free. As it turned out, we received a bottle of the bubbly in our cabin and decided to have our own party on our balcony. We put a little Ella on the boom box thing, popped the cork, and watched our departure from Southampton. Perfect.

09 - Bon Voyage
Hail and Farewell (with champagne)

Then it was time to get ready for dinner. Tonight is “informal” meaning jackets with or without ties. We decided to go for it.

But first: a pre-dinner cocktail at the Queen’s Grill Lounge. Guess what we had?

10 - Negroni
First Negroni of the Voyage

Then over to Queen’s Grill for our first dinner. We have a lovely window table for two, in the front of the Grill. (Thanks, Osman.) We have a team of 3 waiters and a sommelier to spoil us. We like it. Tonight, it’s Dover Sole, which just might have been caught in Dover today – it’s that fresh. And a lovely Chassagne-Montrachet to accompany our meal.

Then a brisk stroll around deck 7 – the promenade deck. It’s just a bit brisk this evening. Hope we packed the right wardrobe. We’ll see.

The ship is very quiet tonight. It’s as if everyone disappeared into their cabins after a long day making their way aboard. Tomorrow we’ll see who’s here and what everyone is up to – this will be our community and neighborhood for the next week. And it’s up to us to make an adventure out of it.

Stay tuned.

PS. We turn the clocks back tonight, so everyone gets an extra hour of sleep – or an extra hour to play.

A Quick Check-In From London

Greetings, everyone. It’s just about 12:30 AM in London on a Sunday morning. We’re leaving in exactly 10 hours for Southampton where we’ll board Queen Mary 2 and I thought I’d give you a VERY quick check-in from our whirlwind day in London.

If you read my post from the other day, you’ll know that we had a fast and furious day here. Our flight landed Friday evening and it was non-stop since then.

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Our intrepid AAC CPA getting ready to fly

We got into our hotel room around 10:00 PM Friday evening and here’s a little look at our room. Quite nice.

Shangri-La Premiere Room
Premiere Room at the Shangri-La

And here’s what we saw when we awoke this morning:

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Good morning, St. Paul’s

After a lovely breakfast down at Ting Lounge, we were on the run. Off to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Audrey Hepburn Exhibit. While it wasn’t large, what was there was cherce. And we enjoyed it. And the place was filthy packed. I guess there are a lot of Hepburn fans out there. Us, too. She was a good woman.

From there, back to the Shangri-La for lunch with the aforesaid Lynne and Garry. It was so good to see them. We did have a bit of a kerfuffle at the restaurant, however. I must say that the hotel has some issues with service in the restaurants. Getting seated was a bit of an adventure, even with a reservation. And then we had the most leisurely lunch. Too leisurely, in fact. I mean, does it really take almost 2 hours for an appetizer and a burger? I mean it was wonderful visiting with good friends, but we were all getting a bit anxious about it all. We took it in stride but I may have to have a word with the manager before we leave, don’t you think?

Anyway, here are the lovely Garry and Lynne with our own AAC CPA:

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Garry, Lynne and AAC CPA

And check out Garry’s fashion statement:

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Garry is one stylish dude!!

Because lunch ran SO long, AAC CPA and I had to make a decision: nap or cocktails at the Corinthia. No chance to do both. For better (at least for our livers) or for worse, we opted for the nap. Good thing, too. We were out like lights!! Woke up in time to clean up and head out, over to the Duke of York’s Theatre.

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Duke of York’s Theatre

The theatre was packed, a hit in the making.

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A little unauthorized pre-show activity – shhhhh!

So, what did we think of the show? Enjoyed it – marvelous cast and production, didn’t really fulfill our expectations, and that’ll teach us to have expectations!! Actually, as AAC CPA says, sometimes you need to sleep on it and see how you feel the next day. We’ll get back to you on it.

Intermission was interesting, however – look at the entrance to the bar:

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Finding Neverland, anybody?I

Got out of the play and walked over to The Ivy – one of our favorite London establishments. We always feel so welcome there and the place has a great vibe.

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The Ivy, all gussied up on a Saturday nightI

And, here’s our own AAC CPA enjoying his evening out:

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AAC CPA after his 1st cocktail

And, so that was our day in London. Have to be up and out in the morning for our drive down to Southampton, where we’ll embark Queen Mary 2 bound for lil’ ‘ol New York.

Next time you hear from me, we’ll be somewhere on the Atlantic!

Good night, Mrs. Kalabash, wherever you are!!

Taking Flight

Good morning, everyone, and greetings from the Galleries Lounge at British Airways/JFK. We’re all ready to board our flight in about 20 minutes, so here’s a quick check-in before we go. No wireless on the plane – what? – so we’ll be incommunicado until we’ve crossed the pond.

Went to bed last night at 10:00 (thank you, Ambien), but we both woke up around 3:00 – don’t know why. Tossed and turned ’til 5:00 then got up and finished the packing.

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Too much luggage?

Then it was into the car (thank you, GroundLink), and off to JFK. Check in was a breeze, and then off to security.

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Dropping off the baggage (no, not AAC CPA)

And then, it happened. Somewhere in security, I lost my iPhone. Well, for a minute or 2, anyway. It was an anxious moment, and not just for me. Cut off my hand, but don’t take away my iPhone.

Now we’re hanging in the Galleries Lounge ’til it’s time to board. AAC, of course, had to check out the food and grab a bite, whilst I post.

And here he is looking dapper:

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The dapper AAC CPA

That’s all, folks! In just a few hours, it’ll be wheels down in LondonI

Leavin’ On A Jet Plane

Greetings from a beautifully sunny Thursday morning in New York City.

Packing is well-underway and we’re now less than 24 hours from lift-off to London. We’ve checked in for our flight (isn’t it great how we can load our boarding passes into our mobiles? I just LOVE that.), and we’re taking care of this ‘n that. Have to be up at 5:00 AM tomorrow to get ourselves out to the airport. But it’s great to be able to take an AM flight to London so that we arrive in the evening, have a light dinner, hit the sheets and then hit the streets first thing on Saturday (our only day there, as it turns out).

Speaking of which, remember how I said that we’re going to be in London for only about 36 hours before motoring to Southampton to board Queen Mary 2? And that our “dance card” is full, as they say? I thought it might be interesting to share our London itinerary with you for Saturday. Here goes:

Following a lovely (and included) breakfast at the Shangri-La at the Shard (courtesy of AmEx FHR Program) here’s how our day unfolds:

11:00 AM – We’re off and running to the National Portrait Gallery to see the “Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon” exhibit. For those of you who might be able to make it, the exhibit is on until October 18th.

Hepburn

CULTURE TIP:  Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon

After a leisurely stroll through the exhibit, we’re hoping to have time to drop by Anya Hindmarch (the bespoke store only a stone’s throw from Harrods), where we did some shopping last May. I needed a new travel portfolio (long story short: we got the referral from the Concierge at the Peninsula Hotel in Paris, and he was SO right), and got a beautiful one there. This store is amazing, even just to walk through to see their merchandise.

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AAC shops at Anya Hindmarch

SHOPPING TIP:  Anya Hindmarch

1:30 PM – Lunch back at the hotel – Ting – with our dear friends, Lynne & Garry. They are a lovely couple we’ve sailed with aboard the Crystal ships on several occasions. We have so much fun with them and it’s always a pleasure to be in their company.

Ting
Ting at the Shangri-La

3:45 – Nap!!!!!! (Is there anything better than an afternoon nappy?)

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From last May aboard Crystal Serenity

6:30 – Pre-Theatre cocktails at the Corinthia. The Bassoon Bar there is a must. I mentioned the other day that we’ve stayed at that property several times over the past few years. The hotel is perfectly placed: just 5 minutes from Trafalgar Square and the Strand and, in just a few minutes more, you’re on the West End. The bar is very snazzy. Last time we were there, the manager (who always makes sure we have a really good time), waltzed over to our table, and said (in a very low tone of voice): “Don’t look, but to your left – – – – – OPRAH!” And indeed, there she was.

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The Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

TRAVEL TIP: Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

7:30 PM – Farinelli and the King, now in previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre. This is the West End engagement of a production which started at Shakespeare’s Globe and stars Mark Rylance as King Philip V of Spain. Mark Rylance is such a sensation that tickets to this production are impossible to obtain. I tried for months before getting lucky. (Persistance pays off.) This play is a cinch to transfer to Broadway, so keep an eye out for it.

Rylance
Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King

CULTURE TIP:  Farinelli and the King

10:15 PM – Post supper at The Ivy. Who doesn’t love the Ivy, I ask? It’s been around for over 30 years and never fails to impress. The place closed down earlier this year for a complete renovation and we were there last Spring for its soft opening. The place is gorgeous, the service impeccable, and the food delicious, whether you’re enjoying a burger, a steak, or fish ‘n chips. I’d say it’s the go-to place in London for your post-theatre supper. And you never know who’s going to turn up. We’ll never forget the night many years ago when Princess Margaret was two tables away and having a “really good time”. Then there’s the time in 2012 when AAC CPA and I were shown to our table, and who turned up at the next table but the cast of Sweeney Todd, which we’d just seen. The Ivy is a place you should try at least once.

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AAC enjoys his fish and chips at the Ivy

The Ivy
The Ivy refurbished and renewed

FOOD TIP:  The Ivy

And that’s our planned whirlwind day in London on Saturday. I figured that I should post it now as I may not have time when we’re actually there and doing it.

Bon voyage to us?