Queen Mary 2, May 22-28, 2005

"We sail the ocean blue
And our saucy shipís a beauty"
(H.M.S. Pinafore, Gilbert & Sullivan)

Itís my second crossing on the Queen Mary 2. Will Princess take over the Queen, or will she prevail as a Cunarder? I donít know who Iím ultimately routing for, but I do want a quality ship. If that means a "Princess-ification" of the Cunard brand, then so be it. Princess touches seem ubiquitous, but as far as the passengers are concerned, they are all in good ways.

I have to be honest about this "take over," if I can even call it that, just as Iíve become more honest about the fate of the older liners. Lately they are marching off to the beaches of South Asia at an alarming rate. I canít do anything about that. Nobody can. They just werenít built to last as long as some of us wanted them to last. Thankfully, they were built to last long enough for many to have had a chance at them. Now, I - we all - have to move on to the new builds and determine whether they can take the place of the ships weíve known later in their lives and learned to love. Time marches on, and itís marching faster lately.

Okay, enough moaning.

This time on the QM2, I had no need to pack everything into a six-day crossing, although once again, I was personal witness to my ongoing need to learn to pack lighter. But I digress for the sake of humor. Last April, I roamed the ship like an ancient mariner, trying to see everything, experience everything, walk every deck, check out every corner. This time, a calming "been there, done that" attitude befell me. Hans and I didnít get a chance to get up to Churchillís for cigars. Next time. We didnít get down to G32. Next time. We had a wonderful trip without feeling like we had a ship to tour. We enjoyed several production shows after dinner, something we didnít do last time, went to the planetarium "Illuminations" this time, too. Note to first timers on this ship: Donít miss "Illuminations." Again, we had another great afternoon at Canyon Ranch and just generally relaxed and enjoyed ourselves after a few very busy days in the U.K. pre-crossing.

One point Iíd like to include before I forget is the exceedingly quick check-in at Southampton, plus disembarkation in New York handled smoothly and as fast as humanly possible for a ship so large. Kudos to whomever is in charge of that.

We were in cabin 5140, port side amidships, just down the hall and around the corner from our cabin last year. The hull balcony was not so much to my liking this trip. It wasnít as cozy as I remembered it from last year, and I donít know why. Our two other cruises last year had us in cabins with regular ďopenĒ balconies, and maybe the hull balcony seemed too enclosed after them. Our cabin was just the right size, clean, comfortable and inviting, a treat to retreat to once the day was over. I had a chance to see a few inside cabins, a suite on deck nine forward, plus a few regular outside cabins, and they all seemed roomy, bright and comfortable. I might opt for a regular non-balcony outside cabin for a transatlantic trip next time. I guess Iím just reacting to the hull balcony again, but my spouse will probably change my mind.

Our cabin steward was one of the best weíve had, ever. He was at once friendly, accommodating, inconspicuous, hard working and resourceful. Staff and crew are now smiling and greeting passengers, I suppose because theyíve been told to do so, another very definite Princess touch and, even though I have never sailed Princess (or have I?), itís something I remembered from a visit onboard the Grand Princess several years ago. Our Indonesian cabin steward, Jeffrey, was very different from our gregarious Halifaxian stewardess, Shelly, who was trained on a Carnival ship for QM2 service. Her ship-to-ship transplant was obvious. Other staff seemed in better humor. Last year, everybody was a bit cranky. Maybe it was just inaugural year jitters. Maybe they just needed a bit of Princess.

Letís talk about food, one of my favorite subjects, especially while on a cruise since my diet is always suspended for that length of time. Such fineries as caviar and a decent onboard lobster Ė tails or otherwise - (found in the Princess Grill of the QE2, a dining venue comparable to the Britannia dining room on QM2) are as scarce as snailís teeth. Scrambled eggs, if these are a morning favorite of yours, are to be avoided. Iíve heard they are not powdered or reconstituted, but they taste very much that way. Thereís always afternoon tea, and may I suggest taking it in the Queens Room.

Just for comparisonís sake: Food was a teensy bit better in the Britannia dining room than it was in the regular dining room on-board RCIís Voyager of the Seas last September. Service has improved considerably, but this is something only we may have experienced. There were reports amongst acquaintances on-board that their table service was not as good as what we had throughout our trip. Funny thing is, to the person, the folks I had a chance to speak with in the Grills were not happy with both the food and the service. While on the QE2, Princess Grill rules. On the QM2 it seems (to me, anyway) that Britannia does indeed rule.

The wine list in the Britannia dining room and Todd English seems to be lacking in supply even though knowledgeable in choice. The by-the-bottle choices dwindled as the week went on, and we found favorite selections crossed out more and more frequently at dinnertime. Whoever is responsible for the wine purchasing should look at this.

Todd English is a place to go for alternative dining, but Iíd suggest doing it only once. The second time up there produces a feeling of a bellyful of heavy, over-the-top nouvelle cuisine that is no longer a novelty and something that one can only take so much of. That, I think, is a personal thing, however.

The Kings Court for an evening meal is out of the question now, as far as Iím concerned. I found the Kings Court areas too bustling and not at all conducive to a nice meal, even breakfast or lunch. Too much searching for eats, searching for a table with a tray in hand, staff standing around getting in passengersí way, too many people flying past you as you try to decompress from a morning of seminars, scarf-tying (although itís always lovely to see Maureen Ryan doing ANYTHING on board a Cunard ship - a vestige of the Good Old Days) and art auctions.

Let me pound this last bit a bit. Art auctions and main deck sales are the norm these days on the QM2, just as they are on cruise ships. The tables were out with amber jewelry for sale one day, wristwatches another day. Then, thereís the "Prices slashed on all logo items!" sale. I donít even go to the mall at home. Please, not on vacation.

The Oxford enrichment seminars are an entirely different thing. I attended Professor Keith Thomsonís four part series on life before Darwin, and Iím so energized that Iím about ready to go back to university, thatís how enriched I felt. I was sorry I missed some of the seminars on the other topics that week (authors Jonathan Lowy and Frank Mc Court, as well as Dr Jon Whitely on Renaissance art and Professor Andrew OíShaughnessey on history.) Iím very big on this type of thing, ever since our 1997 trip on the Crystal Symphony, which also had wonderful enrichment programs.

For other enrichment, I was very happy to be sailing again with several folks who support my own need for ship information. Sailing with them is like having my own enrichment seminars because I learn so much and have my questions answered on the spot. Itís my own personal version of "Ships for Dummies." A special thank you to Stephen Payne for his gracious good humor, his patience and his friendship. Thanks to Second Officer Ben Lyons for making the whales come out to play.

More on the ship itself, the hardware, as it were. Little used areas on a transat are the Boardwalk Cafť (too windy) and the pools, although the Germans seemed to love the outdoor aft pool. The same was true on our first trip last April. In fact, the Germans, as a group, love the QM2 so much that in the future, stops will be made at Hamburg then Síhampton then on to New York for crossings. One day, Iíd like to take the ship on a trip someplace warm to see how she functions as a cruise vessel.

The kennels were in use this trip, carrying four dogs, including a very handsome Dalmatian who seemed to be enjoying his crossing whenever I spotted him.

The Queens Room is out of the way and sometimes forgotten, but itís a lovely public room. It occurred to me that I enjoy seeing a public room called the Queens Room/Lounge/Bar/whatever on any ship because it harkens back to the fleets of nations. And youíre all thinking, "There she goes again, getting all nostalgic."

"ConneXions" is a bustling place, what with computer lessons, logging on for e-mailing, web surfing and IM-ing, plus computer and enrichment seminars, all the while being supplied with coffee, tea or a cool beverage. Board games are available in an adjacent area close to a nice ocean view. You can buy Park Place, move your bishop or spell "quartz," all while watching the North Atlantic go by.

The Winter Garden seemed ignored and abandoned on this trip, when I was around the area anyway, but the Veuve Clicquot seemed busier than last time. Maybe there were just more champagne drinkers on board. Maybe there was just more overflow from the Chart Room.

We had a British-style fish and chips lunch at the Golden Lion Pub again on this trip, another small treat. The Library and the Commodore Club, both forward and high above the bow, were lovely spots to spend time. As always, the Chart Room was a favorite, although the noise levels drove many people across the way to Sir Samuelís. The musical interludes in the Chart Room proved to be a bit too loud, and conversations could not be had there. I missed the harpist on the QE2, and she would have been perfect in this room. Another lovely musical touch was a string quartet that played alternately in the Grand Lobby, the Britannia Restaurant and during afternoon tea in the Queens Room.

Police presence is still strong accompanying the ship into port in New York. Donít know how that is in Síhampton. I understand that The Company pays for this security. The bill must be high, as thereís still quite a bit of it around almost four years post-September 11th. Will we all, as a nation, ever recover from that day? Just a rhetorical question.