Crossing the Atlantic onboard the QE2
an hour before sunrise, we watched the glittering lights of the Verrazano Narrows
Bridge twinkling before us and listened to the sound of cars for the first time
in six days. Soon, we moved to silently watch the Statue of Liberty glide by while
an emotionally poignant Manhattan rose above the low clouds on an overcast October
morning to greet us. With the passing streets dormant but still very urban at
this hour, the QE2 headed upriver to complete her Transatlantic crossing and we
onboard glumly started to think about having to hail a taxi on a Monday morning.
the last 33 years, the Queen Elizabeth 2 has been providing regularly scheduled
Transatlantic service, the last tangible link to when ocean liners provided the
only means of transportation across the oceans. Having just completed her 773rd
crossing, the ship has only 22 crossings left before being assigned to full time
cruising and turning the Atlantic run over to the fourth Cunard ship to be called
a Queen - the soon-to-be-completed Queen Mary 2.
those who seek the most traditional and evocative experience, however, book a
crossing in 2003 while the QE2 remains on the Atlantic. With time, the ship has
come to define the North Atlantic experience and evolve into a happy, settled
liner with an experienced and loyal crew. As wonderful as the QM2 will be with
her balconied cabins, dramatic public rooms and absolutely immense size, she will
be a very different ship, a 21st century product offering what will be a very
cross on the QE2 from Southampton to New York or vice versa is not to cruise -
traditionalists bristle at the term and rightly insist on calling it a crossing.
The five days at sea blend indistinguishably into each other and melt off into
the passing restless blue ocean. Without the daily intrusion of ports common on
a cruise - if it's Monday it must be St. Lucia - passengers quickly settle into
a comfortable rhythm as the ship develops an inner life and ambiance of its own
that cruise ships simply lack.
Cunard has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to keep QE2 fresh
and modern, and passengers who worry about boredom soon find an abundance of activities
to keep them occupied. Some attended scarf tying lessons and Bingo while others
entered in sports competitions and dance lessons before indulging in the ship's
excellent spa, complete with a Thallasotherapy pool.
casino and numerous shops attracted a fair share of passengers, but so did the
large library and bookshop - complete with the only professional librarians at
sea. A few passengers always discover the ship's kennel, and on my trip, I was
amused to discover one dog was being looked after not only by the QE2's kennel
staff, but also by a professional dog handler who was employed by the owner to
cross with the dog and help ease the pampered pet's transition.
most popular activities, however, are the impressive line up of featured lecturers
that can attract notables such as Monty Python's John Cleese, who lectured onboard
in June on British comedy. Each crossing features a theme of lectures, and my
recent crossing's theme was "Beyond the Human Limit", highlighted by
simply riveting lectures by former hostage negotiator and hostage himself Terry
Waite, as well as the first man to row across the Atlantic and an extreme sports
doctor who accompanies expeditions to Antarctica and Mt. Everest. Coupled with
an author and screenwriter as well as two lectures by a Concorde pilot, I sometimes
spent three hours in a row listening to their talks.
night, we could choose between a classical music concert in the Theatre or dancing
in the ship's surprisingly active nightclub. Ballroom dancing is held nightly
in the Queens Room, by far the largest dance floor at sea, and cabarets and comedy
shows are held in the ship's Grand Lounge. (One common complaint about the QE2
is the ship's lack of a true show lounge, and the quality of the cabarets and
dancing shows tends to be weak in comparison to other cruise lines.)
up in a few lectures, afternoon tea, a pleasant conversation at a table by the
window, and a whirl of cocktail parties, gourmet dinners and after dinner dancing,
the days end up passing quickly and leave you wondering where the time has gone.
the best entertainment onboard a crossing is simply the joy of being at sea without
worries of deadlines or time constraints. Passengers instinctively flock to the
ship's traditional teak lined Boat Deck, and wrapping themselves in windbreakers,
steadily march into the ship's strong winds on one side before turning around
and being pushed from behind on the way back. It is a happy scene, an instantly
formed community where passengers smile at one other while battling the buffeting
aft by the pools, passengers sit and chat around tables while others study the
ship's frothing and boiling wake as the ship powers across the Atlantic at 24
knots, an incomparable study of speed and power. On warmer days, passengers sunbathe
or sit on traditional wooden deck chairs and attempt to read, although the mesmerizing
swells racing past often attract more attention and soon lull one to sleep.
of my favorite aspects of a crossing is the refreshing mix of passengers' nationalities
and age. My last crossing had over 20 different nationalities onboard and Americans
outnumbered the British by only 70. There were several families as well as younger
couples, and in our mid-20s ourselves, my friend and I felt young, certainly,
but hardly out of place. Impressively, 55 percent of the passengers onboard were
repeaters, part of a fiercely loyal legion of passengers who insist there is no
better seagoing experience than a QE2 crossing.
you've decided to cross on QE2, choose your cabin carefully as it determines which
restaurant you will dine in, and passengers need to be fully informed of all the
distinctions and variations in grade. While the basic menu tends to be fairly
similar throughout all five restaurants onboard, the quality of the food and cabin
size vary considerably. Also, no matter where you dine, the middle four nights
will be formal for the entire evening, with most passengers donning tuxedos and
sparkling evening gowns.
cheapest cabins are assigned to the Mauretania Restaurant, offering two assigned
seatings for dinner. Food and service favorably competes with the premium cruise lines,
but Mauretania passengers expecting the absolute best at sea can be disappointed.
Be warned in advance that the smallest inside cabins onboard QE2 are shockingly
small-if you feel you might be claustrophobic, it is best to book at least one
inside cabin grade higher or one of the ship's outside cabins. Despite the small
cabin sizes, however, Mauretania passengers can still revel in the fact that they
are getting the same facilities and options that passengers in the higher restaurants
are getting but at a fraction of the cost. (Cunard was advertising starting fares
of $999 including airfare this year.)
step above is the Caronia Restaurant, which features single seating dining. Caronia
cabins are substantially larger than those in the Mauretania, and the single seating
in the restaurant does help to create a more leisurely and luxurious feel to the
dining experience. If you are considering between Mauretania and Caronia and feel
comfortable enough with the increase in money, the better dining experience in
Caronia and the larger cabins make the upgrade well worth the money.
is in the three Grill-class restaurants, however, that dining on the QE2 become
a truly extraordinary event that rivals land based establishments. Here, the most
experienced waiters and Matre'Ds have been serving for years, caviar is complimentary
every night and the ambiance is exclusive and secluded.
Ordering off the menu
is encouraged, and the Matre'D will even come around at lunch with the dinner
menu to ensure it meets your satisfaction. Grill class passengers even have the
exclusive use of the cozy Queens Grill Lounge that allows them to create an enclave
seemingly separate from the entire rest of the ship.
all the Grills, service is unobtrusive, low-key and simply flawless. While there
is a Lido buffet option for all meals, the dining experience can be so wonderful
and addictive that many end up eating every meal in the restaurant. Ultimately,
those dining in the Grills have the best of both worlds - the facilities and entertainment
options of a larger ship combined with the intimacy, personal service and quality
of dining that can only be expected on the smaller, ultra-luxury cruise lines
Princess and Britannia Grills are the ship's most intimate restaurants, holding
only 100 passengers each. With each reached by their own staircase, these restaurants
are clubby and very sophisticated and oftentimes the favorite of regular QE2 passengers
simply because of their small size. The Queens Grill, certainly the most famous
restaurant at sea, is twice as large and is the most exclusive venue on the ship.
Queens Grill cabins are substantially larger, and include the evocative and spacious
wood paneled cabins on One and Two Deck as well as the balconied, newer suites
on top of the ship.
the end of the crossing, most passengers realized the overall QE2 experience is
one that is far more than the sum of the individual parts as they came to appreciate
her unmistakable pedigree. Touring the onboard Heritage Trail, a museum-like collection
of memorabilia spread throughout the ship, taught many the 162-year history of
Cunard. Some realized that the teak promenade deck used by countless passengers
for exercise was once used by British soldiers training on their way to the Falklands
when the ship was a troopship in 1982.
overlooking the strong bow stretching forward to the New World, passengers would
speak of how the ship has withstood 95-foot waves and winter Atlantic storms that
would have crippled other mere cruiseships. Or listening to an interview with
the ship's proud Captain, whose father was the first Captain of the ship, they
understood the true essence of the ship is not about caviar or champagne but tradition
the middle of the crossing, days from both Southampton and New York, it becomes
easy to get lost in time as you watch the stars or listen to the wind snaking
furiously through the lifeboats overhead. With only a little imagination, you
can easily picture yourself or others on the decks of the original Queen Elizabeth,
racing to Europe 50 years ago for a summer holiday, and know that you, too, partook
in a bit of history by crossing on the QE2.