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Trip Report Roughing It on the QM2 Transatlantic

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The first impression of Cunard was at Brooklyn’s Red Hook terminal on July 6th. I don’t know why but I had this absolute folly of an over-the-top image of what the initial greeting would be like. Some Jeeves-like-butler fellow with British snobbery oozing out of his veins and white gloves would extend a warm welcome as we descended from our NYC yellow cab saying “Let me get that for you, sir”. So I was kind of disappointed that a perfunctory NYC baggage handler slapped our baggage check forms on… then we went through a chaotic long line, security check and check-in with as much personal touch as one would get in oh I don’t know Miami International Airport, followed by waiting on chairs in a hangar that would not have been out of place at La Guardia Aiport. Once called onto that magnificent vessel that is the Queen Mary 2, however…

In my opinion, anybody who finds reason to complain about the QM2 needs to come to grips with the fact that they’re extremely spoiled. Let’s just say, it was one of the most magnificent experiences I’ve ever had… I felt spoiled rotten from beginning to end. There’s so much going on, far more going on than you’ll even have time to do! Anyone who’s bored in my opinion truly didn’t try or let themselves be bored. Since there are many trip reports in cyberspace on the QM2, I’ll try to focus on what are the highlights.

1. RADA performances and acting classes. Their renditions of “The Importance of Being Earnest”, “The Spotted Handkerchief (Othello)” as well as the poetry readings… speechlessly magnificent. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts should be extremely proud of what talent emerges from their doors. The acting classes were a highlight of the trip… a great way to meet fellow passengers in a very relaxed, open setting… not to mention, an absolute hoot (character development classes where you’d walk emphasizing or under-emphasizing a body part, reading a Shakespeare text)! A lot of the passengers even I felt had budding talent! Everything RADA touched for me was gold… the true pièce de resistance of the journey.

2. The food was stellar. I wasn’t surprised that the meals would be excellent in the Britannia Restaurant, but what DID surprise me was the quality of the dishes served in the King’s Court. What I had expected to be Bob’s Big Boy/Denny’s/Pizza Hut type-fare ended being some often deliciously cooked pasta gratiné with salmon & vegetable… really quite elegant! I recommend getting a table for 8 for supper if you go Britannia, as these will be your main social partners for the next 5 nights. The amount of work and staff that are required for meal preparation, service and clean-up is truly mind-blowing.

3. Dolphins. I only saw one dolphin once in the 10 days of travel (I took both eastbound and westbound crossings), so don’t expect them (there were whales but I missed them) all the time. Nevertheless, seeing it doing croquet hoops out of the water, looking so small beside the QM2, was a truly special moment. I also saw some fish jumping out of the water and this bird that seemed to pilot us the entire journey. Don't go expecting a ton of wildlife.

4. Dances. These were a highlight for my friend, especially since all of them, men and women, are not only incredibly talented and flexible, but totally HOT.

5. Canyon Ranch Spa. $75 extra for the 3 day pass. I’m glad I did this on the westbound as I really tend not to do these sorts of things. Really quite an indulgence, with the thalassotherapy pool, herbal sauna with relaxation music, Finnish sauna, reflexology basins and aromasteam room. The massaging water in the thalassotherapy pool felt great against my back and shoulders. Like I said to a fellow passenger and in the title, “it’s a rough life here on the Queen Mary 2”. I would recommend the spa to people who enjoy this idea of total indulgence… I found I would have rather been DOING something like acting classes or going to the…

6. Gym. Great selection of equipment. Be aware though that things are busy at times and it may be difficult to get on a cross-trainer or pectoral-working-machine at certain hours. I’d recommend getting there early or during the first dinner seating if you want to get on the desired machine.

7. Internet. The one ick… it’s quite expensive to use. $89 for 4 hours, $49 for 2 hours roughly. Although amazing how one can be so well-connected in the middle of nowhere Atlantic Ocean.

8. The water. Only one evening did the waves reach “rough” category. I was surprised, however. Even that day I was not sea-sick, although a bit concerned. Mostly the waves were moderate or slight. Occasionally, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean was just a heavenly vision… very calm with the moonlight creating a streak in the water… or beautifully calm & blue in all directions with blue sky & few clouds at times.

9. Afternoon tea. Absolutely the best scones with clotted cream & jam one could have… come right out of the oven, fluffy and warm. And of course, those rectangular sandwiches with the edges cut-off and little petits-fours to enjoy… along with the tea. Even if the idea of eating between 3:30-4:30 seems strange to you, go! Go! Go!

10. Planetarium. Big-circular screen for films. I’d recommend going.

11. I could say that cliché, it’s the journey not the destination, but in a way the QM2 is a destination in itself. You are travelling with a roughly 55% British, 25% US, but gtruly international crowd, who throughout the journey shares in common that they are seeing the UK, US, Atlantic Ocean and that great boat with you. It’s not like you’re in London or Southampton or in NYC.

It’s hard to believe in some ways that some 100 years ago, transatlantic crossings were going on all the time. The Parthia, the Caronia, the Mauretania, and MANY other names were making regular crossings from Ireland, from Liverpool, from Boston, from Halifax… it was a way of living, it was the height of technology. 50-60 years ago, the magnificent Cunard liners were carrying a who’s who of celebrity… from Jackie Kennedy to Elizabeth Taylor to Pearl Bailey to Burt Lancaster to Charlie Chaplin to Buster Keaton to Laurel & Hardy and many more. Cunard was the height of elegance and sophistication… Nowadays, in our fast-paced world, only the Queen Mary 2 offers this lost and mostly-forgotten tradition via its regular transatlantic crossings. For those of you who the idea of crossing the Atlantic by ocean liner appeals, my advice is not to let yourself get intimidated or embarrassed by those of your acquaintances who say, “Why don’t you just fly? It’s faster and cheaper!” Go for it and I think you’ll be onto a relaxing, elegant secret that only those who bite the bullet get to find out.

*Price, put in perspective* I paid $945 per person based on double occupancy. Think you get 6 nights accommodation for that. How much does on pay in NYC for accommodation: $200/night plus? And RADA shows, how much might one pay for this? 50 pound per show? And meals taken care of, of high quality, how much would that cost over 5 days? Access to a gym and pools, how much would that cost? What about an elegant afternoon tea? Even the Planetarium which is kind of like an IMAX, how much would you pay for these kinds of films where you are? And on top of it, you’re getting, let’s not forget, a ride from the America to Europe! In my opinion, it really all seems rather reasonable.

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