Crossing the North Atlantic - "Nobody Does It Better"

Maybe someday soon, that musical question will be answered. The Queen Mary 2 is well on her way to completion, with first steel having been cut this past winter at the shipyard in St Nazaire, the keel ready to be put in place on our country's Independence Day and her first sea trials coming up this Fall. She will be ready to hand over to her owners from the shipyard by the very end of this year and should enter service by January 2004. The QM2 will take the place of the QE2 on the North Atlantic route when the QE2 goes to Europe permanently in 2004. There are plans right now for the two queens to pass on the North Atlantic only once in the new ship's inaugural season, which is a shame. Brochures with the routes and itineraries and rates should be available by the end of the summer for the new Queen.

The May 24th 2002 North Atlantic crossing from New York to Southampton took decidedly longer getting off than expected. It was Fleet Week in New York Harbor and security was tight as a drum. At first, when our ship was late leaving the Passenger Ship Terminal, we thought it might have been because of the delays and the traffic. Perhaps half the ship couldn't embark? Later we discovered that she had significant mechanical problems which required repairing a leaky condenser and kept us from leaving port until very early the following morning. I was sad for the folks who'd never taken that magical trip down the Hudson past Lady Liberty and under the V Narrows Bridge, past those skyscrapers that make New York gleam in the late afternoon sunlight.Unless they stayed up VERY late, they'd miss it this time.

Once underway, the ship turned on her charm. Captain Warwick kicked it up a notch or two by speeding up to an average of 28.5 knots every evening for the next few nights to catch up for the time we lost leaving New York almost twelve hours late. The QE2 handled just like only an ocean liner can. She plowed right through the North Atlantic and got us where we had to be on time. Although we heard about Force Twelve winds and high seas on the trip before us (QE2 coming westbound from S'hampton), our trip was smooth and without as much of a ripple. We had a few chilly days interspersed with a few bright, sunny ones. This was my fourth time on the QE2 and my third crossing.

This trip was themed "The Great Atlantic Liners" and offered such guest speakers as Australian maritime archivist and television producer Des Cox, John Maxtone-Graham and Stephen Payne with the Queen Mary 2 Project Team: Jeff Frier who is now the senior naval architect for Carnival Ship Building London and Deputy Project Manager Jean-Remy Villageois from the shipyard building the QM2 at St Nazaire. Retired Captain John Hutchinson was also onboard giving lectures on his days flying the Concorde and Shirley Stoler was a featured speaker, giving talks on handwriting analysis. I'm not quite sure what either of the latter had to do with the great Atlantic liners, but they were both entertaining.

Although booked in an outside M category cabin, we were graciously upgraded to a P3 cabin and were able to enjoy all the treats of the >Princess Grill with our friends from Great Britain. I was able to >catch up with all the Cunard news, as well as find out what's new >regarding the QM2 during our long, leisurely dinners nightly. Stephen Payne made sure there was caviar each evening and Andrew Nelder, maitre d' hotel for the Princess Grill, held nothing at all back during our trip. This past week onboard was reminiscent of another trip we three did on QE2 a few years ago and very like our very first cruise together on the Rotterdam V back in 1991. We grew to gather at that table for breakfasts and lunches, too, just to pick up conversations where we'd left them the evening before. There's nothing like six full days at sea to really and truly relax and have time for continuing conversations with good friends.

To make our trip even more lovely, we were invited to join Captain Warwick in his cabin for cocktails several evenings. He was traveling alone this trip, unlike the last time we were onboard and had the chance to meet his lovely wife then. One evening held out an invite for drinks with Chief Engineer Willy Robinson in his cabin. On yet another evening we were invited to The Wardroom by the president and officers of the Wardroom for cocktails. In between, everyone was either planning or going to smaller, private parties nightly. On another visit to the Wardroom, we were privy to the Captain's and crew's questions to Stephen Payne regarding the QM2 after a presentation was given to them privately by the Project Team.

Back to our trip: I personally think the food and service on QE2 has gotten better, if that's possible, from my last trip onboard. She IS "simply the best", as the song goes. The Lido area continues to be one of the better run self-serve food areas at sea. In the dining room, we had our choice of a' la carte dining, what Cunard calls "Simplicity" dining - which means eating healthier - with such items as chilled fruit cup, grilled Dover sole, sugar-free parfaits and vegetarian specialties. Then there was the wonderful entrees: roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and lamb curry, Scottish salmon, game terrine, chilled devon stone crab, seafood pie with puff pastry, Dover sole on British night; on another evening, roast stuffed duckling, veal, rack of lamb, pastas, everything from English fish and chips to American style roast turkey. And the desserts were to die for: coffee and Kahlua mousse, marzipan and raisin stuffed baked apple, baked rum and raisin cheese cake, sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce,bread and butter pudding with orange marmalade and hot vanilla pod sauce, German black forest cake plus sorbets, ice creams, frozen yoghurts with sauces. And not a pot for me to wash afterwards or a menu to plan all week. A working wife's Nirvana.

The week was filled with information about the Queen Mary 2. I was able to look over some excellent and very real-life computer generated animations of the various cabins and public rooms on Jean-Remy's laptop. It's amazing what computers can do now in the making of a ship. As far as the regular outside cabins are concerned, to me they seemed a bit on the small side and somewhat narrow. With the darker paneling, they looked to be smaller than I would like a cabin to be. I wasn't impressed with these, but we shall see what they look like in person. We'll be "visiting" the ship in France during next February,but I'm not sure how far along building will be. It's proceeding quite rapidly, as it's all prefab and ready to go, being constructed in "groupings" of blocks.

The QM2 suites, on the other hand, looked exquisite - large, roomy and very originally designed as far as lay-out. There are several "double decker" suites, complete with spiral staircases, floor to ceiling windows and wrap-around decks. These seemed to be lighter and brighter in contrast to the standard cabins, which truly needed more of a light touch.

The public rooms run the gamut from a light and airy winter garden to a fully equipped business center, a planetarium and a university at sea. I'd never heard of a winter garden on a British ship, so I asked Stephen about that. He simply shrugged and said "why not?" Why not,indeed.

Back to the QE2. The ship is in fine form. I've finally gotten used to those high backed chairs in the Queens Room after missing the leather club chairs after the last refurbishment. The cabins continue to be well-maintained for an "older" ship. We spent much of our time in the Chart Room before dinner and discovered the excellent band ("Energy") in the Yacht Club towards the end of the trip for after dinner. Daily afternoon tea was up on the Sun Deck, where you could bundle up against the North Atlantic while sipping a hot beverage with sandwiches and sweets. Hans took advantage of the spa facilities and I got a pedicure. Our cabin stewardess (we were in a Princess Grill cabin on 3 Deck) was a sweet girl from Ireland,Orla, who took excellent care of us. I couldn't have asked for a better time, and I'm anxious to go again as soon as possible.

Our few days in London afterwards was an extra added treat. The night of our debarking, we all met back at the Payne house for dinner and reminiscing. Next day, we went to Harrod's (oh, that Food Hall!) That morning we spent on a Thames River cruise to Greenwich and did the British Airways' "Eye" before going to afternoon tea at the Savoy.

My usual question to myself after a cruise is "would I do it again?"

Yes. In a heartbeat. I just hope the new Cunarder is half as good as this ol' girl. I had a fabulous time onboard.

Karen

(May, 2002)