Last week I was lucky enough to be on the most famous, the most well-known ocean liner in the world. Hans and I sailed on Queen Elizabeth 2's "Maritime Enthusiast Cruise" from New York to Bermuda, Nassau in the Bahamas and Newport News, Virginia leaving July 3rd and returning July 10th. Over 500 people from several ship and ocean liner historical organizations were onboard. It was a veritable "Who's Who" of the liners world. Members of the Ocean Liner Museum, The Steamship Historical Society of America, The World Ship Society, The John Noble Society, Project Liberty Ship, National Maritime Historical Society and others were represented, as well as a fair representation of Internet Liners List members.
This might be a good place for a disclaimer: The following comments are my own and do not reflect the opinions of any of the above groups. Should anyone have issue with anything written herein, please contact me personally via private e-mail, and not my friends ... nor my husband.
First I must say that this grand and elegant ship is quickly filling the gap left by the SS Rotterdam V for both Hans and myself. We've been able to visit her frequently whenever she visits New York, and we've had the opportunity to sail on her three times. I had no trouble at all convincing Hans that we should, indeed, be onboard for the first transatlantic trip after the November refit and her final transatlantic journey of the millennium. If the millennium hype is to be good for anything at all, I'll milk it to sail on this lovely ship again soon.
Boarding was to commence in New York at 3 PM ( a bit late, I though); however, folks were allowed to begin this process at about 1 PM. Needless to say, those of us (yours truly) who arrived at the appointed time stood in long lines and it was hot, slow going. There was an ‘oom-pah' band playing requests (music to soothe the hot, savage beast waiting to get on the ship, perhaps?). I requested something by Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Mason ( I was getting antsy) which fell on deaf ears. Conversely, disembarking was a bit of a free-for-all. Although tags were distributed the night before and numbered up to 37 (the highest I saw), announcements the next morning to disembark were made according to cabin decks. Instead of all luggage tags numbered 3, for example, all passengers on deck 2 were allowed to leave and claim their luggage on the pier.
Back to the beginnings, though: Our luggage arrived in our cabin before we did, and by the time we'd answered our cabin phone a half dozen times and located friends onboard, it was time to sail. Up to Boat Deck to experience this. And I must say, there's no more wonderful feeling than to be on a ship when it's leaving New York instead of being left on the pier, watching and waving good bye. Our thanks to friends both virtual and in Real Life for being there to see us off. It was indeed a relief to get out into the Hudson River and catch that breeze portside in the shade of the afternoon sun. Little did we know we were leaving behind the heat plus the brownouts and blackouts to come that week in the City because of the heat wave.
Our cabin (a P2 category) was wonderful. Lots of room, plenty of storage, comfortably laid out and understatedly designed. There was a small personal safe in the walk-in closet as well as a mini-fridge. The large bath was loaded with amenities and the evening brought plush terry robes on our beds as well as those neat little Cunard terry slippers. I took my first bubble bath of the trip (to soak away the grime of a hot early summer Saturday) after I walked the deck after midnight under a bright orange three-quarter moon. Plenty of room in that tub with no worry about "shower curtain cling" as on many a new cruise ship. The beds were actually fluffy, with crisp white comforters. Our cabin stewardess was a sweetie and took good care of us the entire trip. The only complaint I could make about our cabin would be the temperature control. It could have been cooler and there was little relief when we adjusted the thermostat. We normally would not chose to cruise in the dead of summer, but because this was a special gathering of folks, we wanted very much to go, and so braved the summer heat and crowds. As one walked around the various interior public areas, one noticed very warm, uncomfortable spots where the air conditioning was either not working well or at all.
July Fourth (Saturday) began with John Maxtone Graham, who gave a history and overview in the theatre of some of the major changes in the QE2 since it's launch. He made particular references several times to Stephen Payne and the QMP ("I do hope the new ship has *this* or *that*", he said as he drew comparisons to the older Queen Mary), as Stephen shifted in his seat next to me. Seems everybody wants a say in this new ship. John Maxtone Graham was to speak again about the Titanic on the next at sea day (Tuesday) and again he held the large audience absolutely captive with his storytelling. And just when I thought we were all Titanic-ed out, it was truly one if the best presentations I've ever heard him give and I've been to many. The woman next to me in the theatre ( a regular passenger and not one of the many "ship freaks" onboard) turned to me at the conclusion and commented about how much she enjoyed him and asked about the book that had been mentioned by the Cruise Director in his introduction of Maxtone-Graham (The Only Way To Cross). I think she ran right up to the ship's well-stocked bookstore, mumbling about how she told her husband he should have come along to the lecture with her and "why don't husbands listen to their wives". Alas, I had no answer to that.
Next up was writer and historian Bill Miller, always a delightful storyteller, about the history of cruising. On Thursday, our last full day at sea, Stephen Payne, Senior Naval Architect for Carnival Corporation gave a presentation about the recently decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia to a packed house in the theatre. Then, the real treat. Stephen held a good portion of the ship captive during an interview with the Cruise Director followed by a question and answer session for the audience in the Grand Lounge on the new Project Queen Mary from Cunard, which is to be a companion transatlantic liner for the QE2. He gave enough information away to tease the masses, but gingerly cha-cha'ed around any more detailed questions. I'll tease you all by telling you Hans and I (and I understand, another Lister onboard, as well) had a first peak at the PQM plans, which Stephen had onboard with him. I must say, I was impressed. I'm still not sure this will be an ocean liner (in fact, I think it will not be an ocean liner) but I liked what I saw (whatever it was).
Also onboard was ship memorabilia-man Richard Faber and a viewing of the works of maritime artist John Noble, as well as an illustrated presentation by Peter Stanford, president of the National Maritime Historical Society. Shown in the theatre one afternoon was the British adaption of Walter Lord's definitive Titanic book, A Night To Remember. Another highlight of the week was the Captain's Marine Charity Auction, where passengers got to bid on a variety of items in support of established marine charities worldwide. In Newport News, Virginia, us liners folk went ashore long enough to visit the Mariners Museum.
Bermuda was as it always is, beautiful. The weather was almost too hot and this reinforced my thoughts about not vacationing during the summer months because of vacation time crowds and the oppressive heat. We found a place to take a swim at the snorkel beach at the Naval Dockyard, someplace I'd heard of, but never tried before trip.
The Princess Grill: Caviar, large portions of it with accutrements, every night. Such treats as crepes, duck l'orange and cherries jubilee made tableside whenever we asked for them. Great fish and beef dishes. Lunches in the dining room were also a sort of a mini-feast, what with the conscientious menus and food preparation. Crisp, quiet service from our wait staff, as well. For anyone wondering what the difference is between the Grill rooms and the Caronia or Mauritania dining rooms: I had duck l'orange one evening as an entre, it was prepared tableside and it was excellent. The same entre was offered in the Caronia dining room and a friend who had it there gave it thumbs down. He also mentioned that it had been served straight from the kitchen and not prepared tableside. Our friends who had come from London to New York onboard the week before ate in the Caronia dining room that week and said it was awful, between the food being just plain ordinary and the service being worse. He told of the wait staff arguing between themselves by their service stations, ignoring guests, bickering about whose table was belonged to who.
The ship seems in good shape and maintenance was very good. One of the only complaints I might speak of was the air conditioning in our cabin. It could have been cooler, but I discovered that most public rooms on the port side of the ship were having trouble controlling the heat, as well, and that's where our cabin was located. Another would be the condition of the Heritage Trail, the Cunard history display that has always been highly touted. It needs some tender loving care. There were several Cunard items in the display case that had literally disintegrated and had been ignored and left there. The whole thing needed to be cleaned or at least dusted. The ship will be going in for a major refit in November, with the first sailing after leaving Southampton on December 12, 1999, the last QE2 transatlantic crossing of the millennium. That should give Cunard plenty of time to get the ship up to speed. She does need new paint on the hull and will be sandblasted down to bare metal and quickly re-painted. That should get rid of the bumps and flakes of paint that are now about a quarter inch thick on her hull. Interiors are in for an overhaul, as well, so it should be interesting to compare and contrast when I get back on board December 12th.
The usual activities took place onboard. The art auctions, to my dismay, still seem to be going strong. Hans, much to my surprise, decided to sit in on origami sessions one afternoon. I envision a brand new look to our paper recyclables when we get home.
On this trip, we got to see the Ocean Breeze out on charter as the Imperial Majesty, as well as the Oceanic (The Big Red Boat with a banner draped over the port side that read "There's Party Animals On This Boat") while in Nassau, the Bahamas. We were able to get onboard the Ocean Breeze for a look around (we had *our* Captain radio *their* Captain for permission ... it's nice to travel with "juice"), but we ran out of time for a tour of the Oceanic before she left port that day. I must say here that the Ocean Breeze (the former Southern Cross) looks to be in fine shape and maintenance was on-going and nicely obvious. I've never sailed on this particular Premier ship but I would love to some day soon.
What could be better than to spend a week with a bevy of good friends, eating fine meals every day (I gained eight pounds I DID NOT need), enjoying after-dinner coffees and ports with Cuban cigars in elegant public rooms, all the while traveling with an even larger contingency of like-minded ship fans on the most famous ship in the world, discussing our *next* trip? This ship is a continuum of the way things should be at sea on a luxury liner. Sitting next to the new cruise ships in the ports she visits is like a scene at my local manicurist. The QE2 is a chic society matriarch with simply buffed, nicely trimmed fingernails. The others are young upstarts with long claws painted hot pink and air brushed with glitter. The QE2 displays her elegance quietly. There's no need to shout about her virtues, her attributes or her status in the ocean-going world. She wears that stamp well and with honor. I can only hope the PQM lives up to it's hope as a true ocean-going vessel, and does not become one of those "dumpy" cruise ships (like Rotterdam VI?), as Mr Payne so described in one of his lectures.
I very much look forward to sailing on this lovely ship again soon.