Crossing the Atlantic with the National Symphony Orchestra
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Once again, sleep aboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 takes on the feeling of being in a wonderfully luxurious hotel on land. Only the slightest swaying of the ship can be felt and when I awoke today, the wavelets that had littered the surface of the ocean yesterday had been replaced with small swells and seas so calm you’d think you were on a pond or a lake.
The North Atlantic has often been subject to terms like “rugged”, “fierce” and “vengeful.” And all of those are true – just not this week. But the Atlantic is a chameleon; the weather, sea conditions and cloud cover change rapidly and repeatedly throughout the day. Sun comes out, then disappears behind clouds. The bridge navigation team does their best to skirt around rain whenever possible, but often the ship will sail through a short, five-minute rain storm before the weather changes yet again.
Some shots of the ocean taken today, from various points on Queen Mary 2’s spectacular outer decks:
As much as the ocean changes, there are some exciting changes coming for Queen Mary 2 next year as well, when she enters drydock for a substantial refit at the Blohm + Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.
Taking place between May 27 and June 21, 2016, Cunard is embarking on some of the first major structural and general arrangement changes to Queen Mary 2 since she first set sail in 2004.
These changes include the addition of 15 staterooms designed specifically for solo travellers, which will become the first solo accommodations added to the Queen Mary 2. Known as Category KB and KC, these solo oceanview staterooms will occupy some interesting areas of the ship. Nine Category KB staterooms will be installed on Deck 2, in the area currently occupied by the Empire Casino’s slot machines. These will be relocated to the forward part of the Empire Casino, adjacent to the Grand Lobby. Personally, I can see why Cunard chose that area: the Casino, even in the evenings, is far too big on this ship for the relatively small number of guests that utilise it.
Solos can also select one of six Category KC oceanview staterooms on Deck 3L, the so-called “tween deck” that functions as a pass-through to access the Queen’s Room without having to go through the Britannia Dining Room. Currently, this space is home to Images Photo Gallery, which will be relocated across the hall from the Golden Lion Pub on Deck 2. From the deck plans, it appears as though the corridor will still provide access to the Queen’s Room aft, and the G32 Nightclub that exists beyond the Queen’s Room.
Cunard is also increasing the number of Britannia Club Balcony staterooms with the installation of 30 new Category A2 staterooms on Deck 13, marking the first time accommodations have been featured on Deck 13 of this ship. They will take the place of the current (and rarely-used) Splash Pool and Regatta Bar. Ranging from 242 to 248 square feet, these rooms let guests dine in the more intimate Britannia Club Restaurant which is situated adjacent to the main Britannia Dining Room. Guests have assigned tables, but may come as they wish between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
When I first heard about these new staterooms, I was against it completely. I didn’t want them to interfere with Queen Mary 2’s profile; some cruise lines (hello, Holland America!) have a tendency to “Frankenstein” their ships when they refit them. Just check out the funky stern and awkward proportions of the latter’s 1996 Veendam to see what I mean. (“I’ve created a monster!”)
However, after having ventured up to Deck 13 forward for the past four days, I can say this: it’s deadsville up there. Few people even realize there’s a pool and two hot tubs that far up and forward, and the Regatta Bar is never open. So, from a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense.
To accommodate the additional guests in these new Category A2 staterooms, the Britannia Club Restaurant will also be expanded during the refit, gaining a new annexe off the starboard aft side of the dining room.
Interestingly, the five Category IF Inside Staterooms that are currently situated on the forwardmost part of Deck 12 will be moving one deck up to Deck 13. No word on why they’re being replaced, but I’d imagine Cunard will leave those staterooms as they are and perhaps convert them to crew accommodation given their proximity to the Navigation Bridge on Deck 12.
Humans aren’t the only beneficiaries of this extended drydock: a total of 10 new kennels will be added to the kennel area up on Deck 12, increasing the available number aboard the ship to 22 from 12. Both dogs and cats can sail across the Atlantic on Transatlantic Crossings, and the existing 12 kennels sell out well in advance, according to Cunard. In fact, on this voyage we have seven dogs and one cat making the crossing.
The kennel refurbishment will include a new inside play area, a larger outdoor walking area for the pets, and an enhanced Owner’s Lounge. Cunard will also install a lamp post and a fire hydrant inside the dog walking area; features that were included originally aboard Queen Elizabeth 2 after a suggestion made by the Duke of Windsor.
The refit will also spruce up existing passenger areas, and will include regularly-scheduled technical maintenance like the repainting of the hull and the inspection and cleaning of the ship’s four Rolls-Royce “Mermaid” propulsion units. Queen Mary 2’s last large-scale refurbishment occurred in 2012. But Cunard also hinted at other changes to come. “We look forward to making more announcements about this impressive refit in the coming months,” said Richard Meadows, president of Cunard North America, in a press release.
One thing that doesn’t need any tweaking, though, are Queen Mary 2’s guest lecturers and performers. Tonight, we were treated to our very first concert by the National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of acclaimed conductor Anthony Inglis.
With two performances taking place in the Royal Court Theatre (for early and late-seating dinner guests), this evening’s theme was “Great American Composers.” To that end, Inglis and the NSO performed a full hour-long set featuring “The Star Spangled Banner”, “Strike up the Band”, “Washington Post”, “Belle of the Ball”, “Liberty Bell”, a suite from “South Pacific”, and the crowning achievement: the full, unabridged version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
I’ve seen lots of different production shows in my time. Some have been good, some have been just alright. Seeing the National Symphony Orchestra perform live for us in the Royal Court Theatre was as good as any performance on Broadway or in London’s West End. It was, without exception, the single best thing I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. Period. Sorry: “ocean liner”!
It also made me realize how many other cruise lines rely on prerecorded orchestral music for their shows. Not that that’s a bad thing; that’s just how it goes these days. But the rich, full sound that reverberated off the walls of the Royal Court Theatre was without equal.
While Anthony Inglis and the National Symphony Orchestra are unique to this particular crossing, Cunard routinely features different musical guests onboard. Past guests have included the Julliard School of Music, the National Symphony Orchestra, and even pop stars like James Taylor and Sting.
This October, Cunard even has a special Natalie Cole and Blue Note Jazz at Sea Eastbound Crossing from New York to Southampton. I have to be honest: I’m thinking of hopping aboard that one after seeing tonight’s performance. Call it an early birthday present. But I wouldn’t write about it; I’d want to do nothing but read and listen to music and enjoy the Queen Mary 2 as she crosses the Atlantic!
What’s more, after this premier performance by the National Symphony Orchestra, guests aboard Queen Mary 2 weren’t tired. No – they had the taste for more Live Music!
The Chart Room on Deck 3 was packed, so I ambled down to the Golden Lion Pub on Deck 2, where pianist Pat Patton belted out the usual pub tunes like “Mr. Bojangles” and “Piano Man.” Each public room aboard Queen Mary 2 takes on its own ebb and flow at night, wooing guests with its uniqueness. Ballroom dancing was going on in The Queen’s Room, and clubbing was a hit in the always-popular (and very tucked away) G32 nightclub.
Even as I climbed the C Stairway back to my stateroom after the clock struck one a.m., I was amazed to see how many people were still up and about. After all, who needs sleep when you’re having this much fun?