Life Is Like A Ship, Part Two

“When does this place get to England?”
-Bea Lillie aboard the Queen Mary

Bea Lillie
Bea Lillie

So now it’s time to chat about our crossing on QM2.

As I mentioned in my last post, when you make a crossing, you’re part of an oceanic community that’ll be in the same boat for a week. What kind of a crossing do you want to have? Do you want to be the life of the party and close all the bars and dance until dawn? Do you “vant to be alone” and hide out in your cabin for the entire voyage? Or are you like AAC CPA and me and split the difference?

On our voyage, the ship was “fully committed”, meaning that there were about 2,600 passengers on board. That’s a lot of people, but the ship never really felt crowded. Yes, it’s true that attempting your morning run on the Promenade Deck could be challenging with all those classic teak deckchairs and all the strolling around you but, other than that, we felt that we had the run of the ship.

So, what was a typical day at sea like? We’d usually wake around 8, and make ourselves presentable for breakfast. Our version of “presentable”: During the day just about anything goes. Having said that, we felt that we wanted to look good, so certain sartorial choices were not an option: t-shirts, short shorts, flip-flops – no, no, no. We took along a fetching selection of slacks (gabardine or khaki), button down and polo shirts, cute sweaters and boat shoes. In other words, we wouldn’t be unwelcome anywhere on the ship (or in the Hamptons of a summer weekend).

Our Maitre d’Hotel, Osman, was at the podium at the entrance to Queens Grill every time we arrived (did he sleep there, too?) to escort us to our window table. From there our wait staff attended to our every whim. It could be challenging, because the first thing to appear every day was the pastry tray and we were trying so hard to be good (but not TOO good). Then came the coffee and the juice and the smoothies and whatever else we fancied for breakfast.

While at breakfast, we’d review the Daily Programme and decide what we might like to do. Take a look:

QM Daily Programme
Vintage Daily Programme – April 16, 2004

For instance, there were several lecturers on board and our favorite, Brian Hawley, was quite wonderful. His area of expertise is the grand old ocean liners, and he gave several totally absorbing lectures on the great ships from the turn of the century up through the first Queen Mary. This series of lectures was his first for Cunard, but you never would have known – he was a real pro.

Brian also has a fascinating website – Luxury Liner Row – which is loaded with ocean liner memorabilia and, should you be a collector, there are items that will delight you. For instance, how about an Acquitania bud vase? Or an Il de France brochure? If you want to go all out, how about a life jacket from the famed ocean liner Normandie? It’s all there and more. If you do pay a visit, be sure to check out the Online Museum. Visiting Luxury Liner Row was like going on an archeological dig and making all kinds of exciting discoveries. Here’s his website:

Luxury Liner Row

Other than Brian’s lectures, there were all kinds of activities for body and mind. The gym, located forward on deck 7, is one of the best at sea. Great collection of weights and machines. Likewise, the spa was quite luxe.

How about some shuffleboard? Or table tennis? You want to work your mind? There were several sessions of Team Trivia every day. Also duplicate bridge games every afternoon. And there is that library with over 8,000 volumes. All competitive activities gave passengers the opportunity to accrue “stamps” (remember green stamps??) which could be traded at the end of the voyage for prizes. We’re not talking about free cruises or anything like that, but I got myself a Cunard key chain and pen. Woo-hoo.

Oh, have I mentioned Illuminations, QM2’s on-board Planetarium? Crazy, huh? Lectures and movies are also presented here.

Illuminations – QM2’s Planetarium at Sea

By noon or thereabouts, it’s time for lunch. You have your choice of either your dedicated restaurant or, if you prefer, you can go to the Kings Court for a casual meal, served buffet style. In fact, there are those passengers who prefer to take all of their meals in this venue, as it’s the most casual meal service on the ship.

We spent our afternoons walking on deck, spending time in the library or, in my case, playing duplicate bridge for a couple of hours. Then, at 3:30, it’s time for afternoon tea, which is a long-held tradition and properly observed: first you get your tea and sandwiches, followed by scones with jam and clotted cream, followed by assorted pastries.

TRAVEL TIP: Be sure to pack plenty of elasticized pants on these voyages. You’ll thank me.

QM2 - Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea, QM2 Style

After all that eating and exercise (physical and otherwise), we liked to head back to the cabin for a little nap. It’s one of the great things to do on a ship, letting the gentle motion of the ship lull you to sleep.

Then it’s time to prepare for your evening’s activities. On the 7-day crossing, there will be 3 formal nights. Before dinner, you may want to drop by one of the many watering holes located all over the ship: the Commodore Club located at the very front of the ship on deck 9, the Chart Room or the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar, amongst other drinking establishments. While your libations are not included in your fare, the prices for cocktails are reasonable, especially compared to what you’d pay in New York for a proper Negroni.

QM2 Commodore Club
Commodore Club

QM2 Chart Room
Chart Room

QM2 Veuve Cliquot Bar
Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar

Our dinners in Queens Grill were delicious, well-prepared and served. Osman always dropped by to see if we wanted anything special that may not have appeared on the menu. That’s when the fun began. He’d make suggestions and, mostly, we’d just let him run with it. We were never disappointed.

As a possible dining alternative, I’d like to share with you one of our favorite places to eat on the ship: Todd English, which is the specialty restaurant on board. Intimate and with its own chef, menu and wine list, it’s a delightful way to spend an evening. There is a modest surcharge of $30 per person to eat there but, believe me, it’s more than worth it. We dined there twice during our voyage and had a superb meal each time. It’s also open for lunch and for $12, you can have a delicious panini.

QM2 - Todd English
Todd English

Let me share with you perhaps the most special dining experience we had during the voyage. If it hadn’t been for our sommelier, we never would have known about it. For one evening on each crossing, the ship’s Executive chef, Klaus Kremer, collaborates with Chief Sommelier, John Baskar, to create the “Chef’s Table”, a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings. This feast is available to only 12 guests, keeping it exquisitely intimate. Best of all, the venue is the Chef’s Galley on Deck 7 which has a private kitchen where Klaus prepares the meal in front of us. Before each course, John explains each wine we’re about to drink and why he chose it to serve with each course.

QM2 - Chef's Galley
The Chef’s Galley set up for us.

QM2 - Chef Klaus AAC
AAC CPA and Chef before dinner

QM2 - Wine Pairings
Our wines waiting to be served

Lasting about 4 hours, we ate and drank ourselves into oblivion. And then waddled back to our cabin.

All good things much come to an end and, soon enough, it was time to pack up and get out! QM2’s arrival into New York must be strictly coordinated with the tides. Because the ship is so tall, the Captain has to make sure that it can pass under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. Would you believe me if I told you that there are times when there are less than 10 feet between the top of the ship and the bottom of the bridge. I kid you not.

The only downside is that the ship was scheduled to be at the bridge at 4:45 AM. Having done it before, we had NO INTENTION WHATSOEVER of getting up that early to see it but, well, you know. We just woke up and there we were. Although it was very cool outside, there happened to be a full moon and it was totally worth being awake to see it and the bridge from our balcony.

QM2 - Verrazamp
Just after passing under the bridge

QM2 - Downtown Manhattan
Pre-Dawn Downtown Manhattan

QM2 - Sunrise Over Manhattan
Sunrise Over Manhattan

At this point, there was nothing left to do but get dressed, go down for a final breakfast, take a last stroll around the Promenade Deck and disembark.

QM2 - AAC Gets Off
AAC CPA gets ready to disembark

One of the great benefits for us New Yorkers is that QM2 docks in Red Hook, which is just over the Brooklyn Bridge. We were off the ship at about 8:15 AM, picked up our luggage, went through customs, hopped into a cab, and were back in our apartment within an hour. Not a bad way to end our trip.

Conclusion: This post is much longer than I had intended, but I wanted to share with you the many flavors of the experience. For anyone who has the romantic notion about getting onto a ship and sailing across the ocean (and who doesn’t?), booking passage on QM2 is the quintessential experience. It’s a true ocean liner, has 175 years of Cunard tradition behind it, and sails into the future assured of its place in history.

I encourage you to try it at least once.