Crossing the North Atlantic - Again

Last week, I was again on the QE2 for a transatlantic crossing, a route that has become more and more appealing to me. I won't bore you all with a day-by-day account of what I did, nor will I go into rabid detail about the ship, itself. I've written past accounts of my trips onboard the QE2, and many of you have sailed on her many more times than I have, so I'll just highlight some things that stand out in my mind as being either memorable, interesting or important for a future QE2 passenger to know.

As for my recent "cruising" history, I'm almost at the point where I won't do a cruise just to go to islands I've been to many times before. IMHO, it's just not worth it. I'd rather just keep going until I either arrive at someplace interesting to me (right now, I have the Med or more South Pacific islands in mind) or arrive back home again.

This was my second of three transatlantic crossings this year. What was different about *this* time was that we flew to London for a few days and left from Southampton to do an east-west crossing, which I enjoyed far more than the other way around. I liked getting the long plane ride out of the way at the beginning, although the flight was shorter because we were headed eastbound. I liked the idea of getting a series of twenty five hour days while onboard going westbound. I liked being able to just walk off the ship in New York and being home in forty five minutes at the end of my trip.

Yes, I think I'm becoming more of a transatlantic passenger than I am a cruiser. I'm far beyond the point where I want to lay out on deck all afternoon and soak up the sun. I'd much prefer snuggling under a deck woolen with a cup of tea, something I never drink at home except maybe when I have a cold . . . and I unfortunately did have a bit of one on this journey . . . but that did not dissuade me from having a great time.

I also like Cunard more and more. I'm translating this overall positive feeling of goodwill towards Cunard as a sign I'll like the Queen Mary 2 when she arrives. Since my all-time favorite, Rotterdam V, has as much of a chance of ever sailing again at this point in time as I have of fitting into my high school prom dress, this Queen is my new favorite . . . for the time being. She has it all: graceful lines inside and out, a stunningly competent crew and staff, unstintingly fine dining and the best North Atlantic ride for the money.

There's truly something for everyone on this ship. For those who see the QE2 as old, stodgy or too traditional, I say they should really re-examine their mindset. There's both enrichment lectures AND karaoke, quiet private corners AND lively group activities. There's the onboard art auctions at sea and shopping, but there's also unique opportunities to meet fascinating people, to learn and to grow, and all the while on a vacation.

On this particular trip, I was privileged to meet and talk with a man who loomed large in the news years ago when his ordeal was being broadcast around the world, hostage negotiator and hostage himself, Terry Waite. I came away with a newfound respect for someone whose name I knew only from the evening news prior to this trip. Other speakers on this "Beyond the Human Limit" theme voyage (and what an amusingly appropriate one for our thirtieth wedding anniversary trip) were Tom Mc Clean who has crossed the North Atlantic alone several times via tiny sail boat or row boat and Dr Kenneth Kamler, who has done ice climbing in Antarctica and has climbed Mount Everest. Erudite Academy Award-winning scriptwriter Frederic Raphael was onboard and gave almost-daily talks. I got to meet and know several new ship friends who shared mutual friends of ours, too.

There's also six days of peaceful relaxation. I took advantage of the great food, the Roman Spa, the indoor pool and steam room deep in the ship's belly, and also of my own private deck chair just about every afternoon up on Sun Deck. I enjoyed bundling up against the North Atlantic and sipping afternoon tea as I watched huge mountains of frosty black sea rise and fall, producing tiny rainbow arcs above the crests, while the horizon stayed ever-true. A bit of soot in my cream was actually a mid-ocean delight as I sat under the funnel on Sun Deck, rather than what would be a squeamish bit of matter back on shore. The ship started to dip and heave during our first day out, but I wouldn't be happy with anything less.

We saw hardly anything out there this time, the ship taking a very northerly route back to New York to avoid the parameters of two storms we straddled all the way from Southampton. No other shipping at all, only a few bits of sea life in the form of dolphin, until the last sea day off the coast of Maine, which was just glorious. . . the sun was out, the sea was smooth as silk and the temperature was perfect for spending hours on deck. Hans sat close to our portholes one evening while I got ready for dinner, lying in wait for the next big wave to hit the side of the ship and splash our portholes. We were on Three Deck, so I imagine the folks below us on Four and Five Deck were beginning to feel like they were in a front-loading washing machine. We watched the sea splash up to the Princess Grill windows during lunch one day. A good show! On Friday, Captain Wright came on the loudspeaker for his noontime announcement to tell us we were lucky to be on an ocean liner rather than a cruise ship, since the seas remain rough, the swells and the winds high. The Lido was closed for lunch that day as the ship didn't want passengers wandering around with trays of food. We were all relegated to our respective dining rooms, which was certainly all right.

At the start of our trip, there was easy, quick check-in for repeat passengers and grill passengers on the pier at Southampton. We swept right through with no wait or no problems after using the bus transport provided by Cunard in conjunction with our two day stay in London at the Savoy. Also, as part of this Cunard package, we were met at the airport by a car service and wisked to our hotel upon our arrival at Heathrow.

Our cabin was even more appealing than the one on our May, 2002, voyage. It had a reconditioned bath with a "deco", but updated, sink, and lighted shower. I thought it'd be smaller than last time or even the trip in 1996, but it seems not to be at all. I guess the deck plans produced by the company really aren't to scale and can't be depended upon to give an accurate "feel" for size. It seemed to be a bit more aft than the one from May, away from the stabilizers and their rattle. I'd recommend anyone booking a transatlantic trip to consider this part of the ship for a quiet(er) nighttime ride.

The entertainment was spotty, but plentiful. I finally had the chance to see The Importance of Being Earnest with Dame Judi Dench. I like those deep cushy seats in the QE2's Theater. The harpist in the Chart Club was a delightful touch, as was the band playing in the Yacht Club nightly, althought not as fetching as the group on the May crossing. It seemed no one place on the ship was as crowded as it has been on previous trips. Even the captain's welcome cocktail party was not crowded at all and everybody who wanted one found a seat. The shows in the Grand Lounge were dreary, however. The "Broadway Bound Theater Company" was found to be no more Broadway bound than I am. Even I can sing and dance better than they could, and it's a well-known fact I can't sing nor dance. There was a decent featured male singer and a magician onboard, as well as a classical concert pianist and soprano (the singing kind, not the ones from New Jersey)

The food service onboard is as good as ever, and I spent my six days at sea with the equivalent of five meals a day. Breakfast in our cabin gave us a chance to relax every morning. Lunch in the dining room and afternoon tea, either in the Queens Room or on the Sun Deck and, of course, dinner again in the dining room. Last May, we never made it upstairs to the midnight buffet in the Lido. This time, I'm almost embarrassed to say we missed it only once. Needless to say, I'm back on the diet bandwagon now that I'm home again. Pheasant for dinner the first night, lots of my favorite caviar nightly, which, in my estimation, is a better find onboard ANY ship than lobster, which, for some reason, seems to be the common benchmark for good cruise food. Black mussels with white wine, shallots, garlic cream and parsley, slow roasted garlic soup with rye bread croutons, English steak and kidney pie, Nasi Goring with prawn crackers (almost an HAL staple menu item), rosemary-marinated lamb with herb butter, grilled beef mignons with herb crust on root vegetable tian and gorgonzola sauce. Desserts encompassed everything from the usual flambe and crepes done table side to traditional English sherry trifle, Jamaican ice cream sundaes with pineapple cubes and coconut ice cream, mango crème brulee, baba au rum and baked apple charlotte with calvados. The menus included diabetic selections as well as low fat and vegetarian items at every meal. If you saw nothing you liked, all you had to do was ask for what you wanted and didn't see on the menu. The chef de cuisine was up to any suggestion or request.

I had a grand time, such a grand time that I couldn't imagine leaving the ship in New York without knowing just when I'd be back onboard. To make me feel better, we booked the last transatlantic crossing the QE2 will make this year on December 15th and also the last regular transatlantic west to east crossing the ship will do out of New York in April 2004, when the QE2 joins the new QM2 for the trip back to the United Kingdom. We're also booked for the QM2 maiden transatlantic trip in January of 2004. I'm truly Cunard "stacked" and loving it.

(October, 2002)