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.

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.

Queens Grill Cabin

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.

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 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……..

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.

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:

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:

Garry, Lynne and AAC CPA

And check out Garry’s fashion statement:

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.

Duke of York’s Theatre

The theatre was packed, a hit in the making.

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:

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.

The Ivy, all gussied up on a Saturday nightI

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

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!!

Planning Our London and QM2 Adventure

Why, you may ask, are we off to London when we were just there this past May and have already planned to return for Christmas week (more about that during the Yuletide season)?

Well, gentle readers, it’s like this: It starts when you’re made an offer that you cannot refuse.

To wit: some months ago, I received a promotion from Cunard, in celebration of its 175th anniversary, to sail on Queen Mary 2 at a pretty fine price point and with all kinds of swag thrown in:

$60 per day Onboard Credit per stateroom
Complimentary Gratuities
The Captain’s Wine Collection
Alternative Dining Credit
Internet Minutes (whew!)
Keepsake Photo (meh!)
Specialty Coffee Card (AAC will be SO pleased)

Plus, we’d get to do one of our favorite things: cross the pond in style from Southampton (the British one) to New York City over a leisurely 7 days (and nights).

Queen Mary 2

So, naturally, I went into full-on travel mode, multitasking to find the best deal on a flight over to London, contacting what is, arguably, the best service for booking travel by ship, Tully Luxury Travel, and arranging our digs in London, via AmEx Platinum.

I’d like to take a little detour to tell you about Tully Luxury Travel. We’ve been working with them for the past 10 years and they are sensational. Should you be planning to sail anywhere on the seven seas (or, perhaps, on some fabulous river), they will weave their magic to get you onto that gangplank. My go-to ladies there are Nada and Monika and I am in such good hands with them. They are real sweethearts.

You should also know that, over the past few months, Tully Luxury Travel has rebranded itself, under the stewardship of founder and CEO Mary Jean Tully, and expanded its services in a very meaningful way.

TRAVEL TIP: Tully Luxury Travel

While my ladies were getting me information on this voyage, I was checking out flights. For better or worse – and I welcome your comments on same – AAC CPA and I have lifetime gold status on American Airlines, which gets us, basically, not much of anything. But, we have accrued lots of miles (note to self: future post on my Excel spreadsheet keeping track of AA miles for travel for the next 2 years), and use them as strategically as possible.

For this trip, however, I found that it was better to purchase our flight over to London rather than using miles (which, believe it or not, do have some value attached). The reason is that I happened to find on a codeshare for a British Airways flight and the business class fare was at least 70% below the regular fare. (For kicks, I checked out the same flight on the website and, yesiree, the codeshare fare was some kind of red hot deal.) So before hitting the “purchase” button, I checked with AAC CPA and said to him, “Can we please take this trip???” Between the Cunard promotion and this fab fare, it’s like a sign telling us that we must go. And there it is and so we will (go, that is).

In the meantime, Nada got back to us and said that she could get us the cabin of our choice – Deck 9 on the sunny side of the ship, natch – and that Tully Travel Service would throw in another $600 in shipboard credit. So now we’ll have about $1,020 in mad money to spend on the ship. I’m telling you, it’s like we have this great travel karma.

Next stop was to contact my other favorite travel guru: Vernonica at AmEx Platinum. For those of you who like to travel, having the AmEx Plantinum card can definitely work to your advantage if you know how to use it. It’s true that you’ll pay an annual fee of $450 but, again, if you travel and make use of the perks through the AmEx Fine Hotel and Resorts Program (FHR) it is well worth the price.

When you make a reservation at a hotel in the FHR program, you get several amenities, including your breakfast, an upgrade at check-in (when available), an early check-in (whenever possible) and a special amenity (which can be a property or spa credit, for instance). When you stay in one of those fancypants hotels in Europe, the free breakfasts alone can offset the annual fee you’re charged for the card, not to mention the possibility of a room upgrade.

And, by the way, AmEx Platinum benefits go far beyond the FHR program. There are discounts and credits and freebies galore.


Please allow me to tell you about Veronica. Again, we hit the travel karma jackpot. I don’t know how long Veronica and I have been working together, but it’s been well over 10 years, at least. She is the best and the most fun to work with. And, believe me, she puts up with a lot (working with me, that is). Not that I’m that demanding, but I do like to get a good deal, if you know what I mean. And Veronica always works with me to insure that will happen whenever possible. We also spend a lot of time laughing together, and why shouldn’t we?

Although our go-to hotel in London has been the elegant and well-located Corinthia for the past few years, we wanted to try something different this time, and we decided to book the Shangri-La at the Shard. We’ve previously stayed at Shangri-La properties in Paris and Tokyo and they were both wonderful experiences. (Note to self: remember to share how we got an upgrade at the Paris Shangri-La that had its own private terrace and a full-on view of the Eiffel Tower, which was only a stone’s throw away. Oh wait, I just did. Never mind.)

Shangri-La Shard
Shangri-La at the Shard

TRAVEL TIP: Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard 

So, within just a matter of hours, we’d purchased our flight over to London, put down a deposit for our cabin aboard QM2, and booked a lovely room at the Shangri-La.

As it turns out, we’ll have barely 36 hours in London that, I think, will set a record as our briefest stay there. And, wouldn’t you know that we’re already booked up for the entire time we’re there?

Stay tuned . . . . . . .

The First Post – Sunday, September 13, 2015

(OK. Telling myself to take a deep breath and then exhale.)

Here goes:

For many years, friends and acquaintances have encouraged me to start a blog, to which I have always replied: “HUH?”

Their arguments are that I do cool and interesting things regarding cuisine, culture and travel, not always in that order, but they are the things that I do do (as Cole Porter might have sung). My friends always seem to take interest in my exploits and, they say, why shouldn’t I share these experiences with others? After all, someone else might just be interested or, even, benefit from these shenanigans. To which I have always replied: “SERIOUSLY?”

I’ve finally decided to stick a big toe in the blog water (ewww) and see what happens. To get started, I (of course) googled “How To Start a Blog”. (I had no clue.) I was directed to check out this thing called “Word Press”, which seems to be the go-to for idiots like me who have no idea what they’re doing, blog-wise. I signed up (for free, just in case my blog is a disaster), chose a design template, and OFF WE GO! (Thank you, Word Press??!!!)

The leading roles in this enterprise will be played by me and my husband, AAC, CPA. And, for his first closeup, here he is aboard Crystal Serenity last Spring (yes, that’s a full moon in the background):


He is my muse, my best friend, my everything. He will be the face of The Cultured Traveler, as he’s the prettier one (and a pretty good sport in putting up with me nagging him about all these photos). On rare travel exploits, you may see the occasional photo of, for instance, my feet, but that’s about it. As Christopher Isherwood appropriately put it (at least, for me): “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

Well, maybe I’ll think while I blog, at least a little bit.

Rather than looking backwards and sharing past experiences, I’ll start with what’s on the food/arts/travel horizon.

First up:

We’re flying to London on Friday for a quick 36 hours and then motoring down to Southampton, where we will board QM2 for a crossing back to little old New York City. It’s a 7-day voyage across the pond, a trip we’ve made many times (12 or 13 times previously?), but not on QM2 since 2004. It will be interesting to see how the old girl is behaving and I’ll endeavor be your faithful reporter whilst we cross. Yes, new blog friends, to be precise and nautically correct, it’s a “crossing” or a “voyage” but NOT a “cruise”. I’m not even kidding about it. That’s the lingo.

So, I hope you enjoy The Cultured Traveler and I look forward to entertaining you.

Next Stop: London!

PS. Oh, and if you like what you’re reading (or even think there’s the remote chance that you will), please share with absolutely everyone you’ve ever met in your entire life. AAC, CPA and I thank you in advance.