The excitement is palpable as the world’s largest ocean liner eases out of the Southampton docks for her passage across the Atlantic to New York. A steel band pounds out catchy tunes that reverberate on the teak deck, where passengers line the railings. Veuve Clicquot champagne flows. Toddlers scamper about. A silver-haired gentleman nattily dressed in a navy blazer and scarf boogies with a laughing woman half his age.
Joining the sail-away party, we too are excited. This passage on the Queen Mary 2 isn’t just an ordinary cruise. It’s a grand voyage that promises to recreate the great golden age of ocean travel in the first half of the 20th century. We’re following in the wake of the society hostesses and Hollywood stars, the millionaires and politicians, who danced and drank and dined in style on the original Queen Mary, before airplanes took flight and offered an alternative to traveling by ship between North America and Europe.
The wind picks up, and it gets chilly as we enter the open sea, so we head back to our cabin to change for dinner. We have a Princess Grill mini-suite. At 381 square feet, it’s very spacious, with two beds draped with white European-style duvets, plus a sitting area with sofa and coffee table. I’m particularly delighted with the hotel-size marble bathroom, with loads of cupboards underneath the counter top.
Elegant Rooms, Meals
In a nod to the former glory days, the Queen Mary 2 has retained remnants of the class system with its Britannia, Princess and Queens Grill cabins. Passengers in Britannia staterooms dine at two fixed seatings in the Britannia Restaurant (a stunning three-deck-high salon with a massive translucent blue skylight), passengers booked in mini-suites like ours dine at a single seating in the 180-seat Princess Grill dining room, and the Queens Grill is reserved for guests in the ship’s most lavish suites. But the menu is the same in all three restaurants, except for the addition of an a la carte menu in the two Grill rooms, where items are cooked table-side.
In all other respects, everyone shares the same experience.
As in times gone by, elegant wining and dining is a hallmark of the Queen Mary 2’s transatlantic crossings. Dressed in gowns and tuxes (three of the six nights are formal), passengers gather at tables set with Wedgwood bone china, candles and fresh flowers. The menu? Perhaps an endive salad with mushrooms and honey ginger dressing to start, followed by baby shrimp thermidor in walnut brioche, then roast duck a l’Orange, and for dessert, berry shortcake with vanilla sauce.
All our dinners are delicious; a favorite is enjoyed in the Todd English specialty restaurant, which features Mediterranean cuisine from acclaimed American chef Todd English. Though a tad pricey ($30 per person supplement), it serves the most divine “truffled potato love letters” (potato ravioli with truffle and Madeira glaze).
After dinner our second evening at sea, we wander into the ballroom for the Black-and-White Ball, the first of two balls (the other is the Ascot Ball, where the ladies wear feathers and jewels in their hair). The Queen Mary 2 attracts an equal mix of North American and European guests, from couples in their 20s to multi-generational families to mature cruisers. All are represented on the dance floor, and it’s a pleasure to watch both young and old waltz and tango away to the songs of the 12-musician orchestra.
Back when passengers cruised on the original Queen Mary, walking the deck, shooting clay pigeons and playing shuffleboard were pretty much the only leisure options available. By contrast, the Queen Mary 2 boasts a host of onboard amenities and activities for today’s cruise passenger. I’m cruising with my mother, and we never get bored.
Early in the six-night crossing, we hit the modern, well-equipped gym. After, we indulge in spa treatments. Operated by Canyon Ranch, the ship’s spa is a sumptuous, two-story facility. Mom opts for a massage. I spoil myself with an “aqualift replenishing facial.” Warm sea foam mud is placed under my back and wrapped around my feet while my face is misted, exfoliated and slathered in soothing creams.
As for entertainment, shows tend to be “classic.” Along with recitals by a soprano singer and flutist, graduates from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts perform Shakespearean and other theater productions.
As well, there’s the Illuminations Planetarium, the world’s only shipboard planetarium. Three different screenings are shown throughout the voyage, projected on a huge overhead dome. The seats even push back so we sit semi-reclined looking up to watch “The Search for Life,” narrated by actor Harrison Ford.
Throughout the ship, corridors display black-and-white photographs of the celebrities who sailed on the original Queen Mary. The accompanying stories of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are particularly fascinating. “[They] regularly traveled with their dog,” we read. “On one visit to the Queen Mary, the Duke of Windsor remarked that it was a shame that there was no lamppost for dogs handy for their kennels beside the ship’s second funnel. Cunard immediately obeyed the royal command…” Curious, we check out the kennel on the top deck of the Queen Mary 2 one day, but we find no such lamppost on this ship.
By the time we reach New York, we’ve eaten lobster and caviar, danced the night away in our long dresses, sampled a $250 bottle of S de Salon 1995 champagne at a wine tasting, eyed the glittering diamonds up for bid at the diamond auction, and been pampered by Cunard’s attentive trademark White Star Service. For six days, we’ve lived much like the privileged who sailed in luxury decades ago when ocean travel reigned supreme. We’re glad the experience is now available to more than just the rich and famous.