The Only Modern Ocean Liner in the World
Today, I’m on an airplane bound for London Heathrow Airport, and the nine-plus-hours on the Airbus A330 will give me ample time to think about my forthcoming journey and our next Live Voyage Report: a Westbound Transatlantic Crossing aboard Cunard Line’s legendary flagship, the Queen Mary 2.
Departing from the historic port city of Southampton on Thursday the 27th of August, Voyage M518, this transatlantic crossing is a special one for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s a rather unusual eight-day crossing, giving guests one more day to enjoy the simple pleasures of being on the ocean – or, as Cunard points out, the over 101 things you can do(PDF) each day onboard Queen Mary 2.
It’s also unique in that this voyage features performances by the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of acclaimed conductor, Anthony Inglis. Part of the Phantom of the Opera since its inception, Inglis is the Musical Director for singer Katherine Jenkins and has also conducted the naming ceremonies for Cunard’s Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2.
He conducts the National Symphony Orchestra, marking the fifth such time he has done so aboard Queen Mary 2. The NSO has appeared with stars like Sir Elton John and Diana Krall, and has performed the scores of noted film composers like Alan Silvestri and John Williams.
Guests will have even more time to enjoy the performances by the NSO thanks to the direction Queen Mary 2 is heading: on westbound crossings, the ship’s clocks are set back an hour on six evenings to adjust to the time difference between London and New York – meaning that six out of our eight days onboard will feature 25 full hours to enjoy all that this ship has to offer as she makes her way to New York across the vast and open expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
If the idea of crossing the Atlantic inspires grand visions, the Queen Mary 2 complements them handily. Everything about Cunard’s flagship – the only true modern ocean liner in existence – is based entirely in superlatives.
Queen Mary 2 is 1132 feet long, 147 feet wide at her bridge wings, and stands 200 feet above the waterline. A full 36 feet of her exists below the water. Cunard hints that she might have originally designed to be taller; her funnel and mast had to be scaled down in size in order to clear the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that serves as the entry point into New York harbour.
Queen Mary 2 has the largest library at sea, with over 8,000 individual titles – not to mention an adjacent book shop that’s a maritime lover’s dream-come-true. She boasts the only planetarium at sea, the largest ballroom at sea, and a whistle from the original RMS Queen Mary.
She’s so big she has four stairwells, each of which is given its own indicator (A, B, C or D), and colour scheme. If you see canary yellow, you’re in the D, or aftermost, stairwell. Dark brown oak panelling? You’re in the C Stairwell. If you see paintings of ocean liners mounted to the walls, you’re in the B Stairwell. And if you see hints of green in the carpeting and light-brown coloured wall panelling, you’re in the A – or foremost – stairwell.
Amazingly, including all passenger and crew stairwells, there are a total of 5,000 individual stairs aboard Queen Mary 2.
To move guests vertically across her 14 passenger decks, a total of 22 passenger elevators are featured onboard, including two glass elevators in her Grand Lobby atrium, and two glass elevators mounted to the exterior sides of the ship, just aft of the bridge wing superstructure. There are also nine separate crew elevators, and six service elevators onboard, for a grand total of 35 elevators.
That sounds incredible until you realize that Queen Mary 2 is so big that an Officer standing on the starboard bridge wing actually has to pick up the telephone to ring his or her colleague on the port side bridge wing; you just can’t shout across 147 feet of space. To communicate, they’d use two of the 3,000 telephones onboard.
To propel her across the Atlantic, a set of four Rolls Royce Mermaid propulsion units are fitted underneath her stern. Two are completely azimuthing (that is, they can spin 360-degrees, removing the need for rudders), while two are permanently fixed in position. These Mermaid pods feature specially-designed blades mounted in the forward-facing position; rather than traditional aft-facing propellers that “push” a ship through the water, Queen Mary 2’s “pull” her through the water.
Powering all of her propulsion and hotel operations are four Wartsila diesel engines mounted deep within her hull. Each of these is 41 feet long and weighs 217 tonnes. They’re supplemented, when needed, by two General Electric LM2500+ Gas Turbine engines. Gas turbines are huge, oxygen-hungry beasts so aboard Queen Mary 2, they’re cleverly hidden high atop her uppermost decks, in the square funnel casing that surrounds the base of her iconic red-and-black stack. This eliminates the need for complicated ventilation duct work that would have cut into her interior spaces had the engines been located below the waterline.
On the diesels alone, Queen Mary 2 achieves between 24 and 26 knots. At top speed using the Gas Turbines as well, she can make an astonishing 30+ knots through the water. Most cruise ships have a maximum speed of 21 knots, and a typical cruising speed of between 16-18 knots. Even in adverse weather, Queen Mary 2 can literally force her way through storms and heavy seas in ways that other ships simply can’t.
At this point, I reckon half of you are incredibly fascinated while the other half are bored stiff. So why should you care about Queen Mary 2’s technical gizmos and doodads? Because the Atlantic Ocean is harsh and unforgiving. This isn’t a port-heavy cruise around the placid Caribbean; this is a real journey with a real purpose. Queen Mary 2 must make her scheduled arrival in either Southampton or New York on-time, and she has to be able to do it in any weather condition.
In that respect, her bow is pointed and sharp to allow her to cut through the water more easily. Her entire bridge screen (or “face”) has been built to take heavy seas that might break over the bow and wash them harmlessly aside. Her promenade deck – and her Schat-Harding lifeboats – have been placed more than twice as high above the waterline than most cruise ships, to protect them from heavy seas during winter transatlantic crossings.
Simply put, Queen Mary 2 is a beast. A massive, elegant, beautiful beast. She commands attention. She demands respect. And she gets it, everywhere she sail to.
The transatlantic crossing is one of the most satisfying, rewarding, and oddly adventurous voyages a person can take. So come along with me over the next nine days as we sail the ocean from Europe to North America – just like people used to, so very long ago.