Recapping Our Westbound Transatlantic Adventure with the National Symphony Orchestra
Friday, September 4, 2015
This morning, I awoke at the entirely-hypothetical hour of four a.m. in order to be up on the forward open viewing deck on Deck 11 as Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 eased her way under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and into New York City.
As I passed through the A Stairwell on my way out to the open deck, I was amazed at the stream of people that were also coming out of elevators and climbing stairs in order to be up and out on the open decks for our entry into the Big Apple. While we wouldn’t be sailing past the Statue of Liberty due to our docking position at Brooklyn’s Red Hook Terminal, we would be able to see it clearly off our port side, with the newly-completed World Trade Center just off to our starboard side.
Staking out my position by 4:15, things got a little pushy-shovey by the time we passed under the bridge at 4:45. But I stood my ground as if my feet were cemented to the ground. Sorry – you don’t put in the time, you get stuck with the cheap seats.
Not that there’s any lack of viewing spaces. People were crowding Deck 11 forward, Deck 7 forward, and I presume Decks 12 and 13, where the passage of the ship underneath the bridge can be seen best. I’d reckon half the ship woke up before sunrise just to see that – and what an amazingly moving sight it was:
Our Westbound Transatlantic Live Voyage Report, recapped:
- Day 0: Arrival in London at One Aldwych
- Day 1: Embarking Queen Mary 2 in Southampton
- Day 2: The Only Way to Cross
- Day 3: Pub Lunch, Lectures and Cocktails
- Day 4: Our First National Symphony Orchestra Performance
- Day 5: What Makes Queen Mary 2 Different
- Day 6: Stormy Seas and Champagne Bars
- Day 7: The Power of the Queen Mary 2
- Day 8: A Brilliant Sunny Day on the Atlantic
As always, I like to illustrate the many contrasts between the kind of service and dedication you receive on a cruise ship and that which you receive on land. An excellent example of this was provided by the driver of my coach to JFK Airport this morning.
I went up to give him my luggage. He looks at me, declines to smile, and says, “Airline?”
Now, notice how he didn’t say, “What airline?” or even the fantastically old-fashioned, “Which airline are you travelling on?” No. Just, “Airline.”
So, I replied. “WestJet.”
“No,” I said. “WestJet.” At this point, convinced I am speaking a regional dialect of Swahili, the driver pulls a worn document from his pocket. It’s folded four times and stapled at one corner. The entire thing looks like it’s mopped up spilled coffee at some point in its life. The driver then flips to the “B” section of the airlines, which are sorted alphabetically, gives it a cursory look, and exclaims, “I don’t see it.”
I point out his list is alphabetized. He ignores this and asks again what airline I’m flying on. Once again, I say, with decidedly more emphasis, “West. Jet.” Once again, it has no effect. Finally, I realize he’s looking for the terminal, and I just say that I need to go to JFK’s Terminal 4. Let’s keep this train wreck moving.
More wackiness ensues at JFK as I try in vain to not spend my eight hours there waiting for my evening flight like an impoverished prisoner in a North Korean gulag. Once I realized that T4 has an almost complete lack of seating pre-security (because why would people want to sit down?), and a near lack of food outlets (Dunkin’ Donuts, anyone?), I spent the day riding the Air Train that connects the many terminals of JFK Airport together, just to amuse myself.
And I mention it all because the world that exists aboard most cruise ships – but particularly aboard Queen Mary 2 – is so foreign to the so-called “real world.”
In the “real world”, my motorcoach window has a little sticker on it with a phone number I can call to snitch on anyone on the bus I suspect might be a “terrorist” or who I believe – rightly or wrongly- might be conspiring to commit a “terrorist act.” The “real world” includes sniffer dogs, rude security agents, unhelpful retail clerks, bewildered and alphabetically-challenged motorcoach drivers, delayed flights, lousy airport food, and interior décor that’s reminiscent of a Dickensian workhouse.
What Cunard is providing with Queen Mary 2 is manifold. Firstly, they are continuing the proud tradition of transatlantic travel that Cunard pioneered back in 1840, some 175 years ago. Secondly, they are upholding traditions that are prized by many, and experiences that many of us just don’t have the chance to experience on a daily basis. When was the last time you had proper, English-style high tea with white-gloved waiters at 3:30 in the afternoon? When was the last time you sat and listened to a jazz trio while sipping a martini? When was the last time you saw the National Symphony Orchestra, watched a planetarium show, or attended a lecture on the history of Grand Central Station?
That’s what I thought.
But the most important piece of the Queen Mary 2 puzzle is the one I had never considered: that people actually use the ship and her transatlantic voyages as a way to get from Point A to Point B.
Many people emailed me and asked why anyone would want to do this over flying, and I have but one excellent answer: many people, either by preference or because of an underlying condition, simply cannot fly. Other crazy individuals, like yours truly, would cross to and from Europe every single time if it was a viable option.
But I was shocked at the number of guests I have met over the past week who have crossed over once or a dozen times simply because they cannot fly. Some are fearful of flying – that’s understandable. CNN sees to that with their crazy, round-the-clock MH370 “flaperon” coverage. Others can’t fly because of medical reasons that are more varied and complicated than you might think. Others cross still so they can take their pets in comfort and style without subjecting them to an aircraft baggage hold.
With Queen Mary 2, Cunard is giving these people a way to cross between continents. Without this ship, their options would be severely limited. Sure, other ships make transatlantic crossings in the spring and autumn, but these are long, port-heavy cruises that can take up to three weeks to cross. Aboard Queen Mary 2, you can sail in just seven or eight days – and you can do it over twenty times a year.
Was it perfect? No. There’s no such thing as perfect. I had a rather expensive Pina Colada on Friday that was conspicuously missing its alcoholic wonderfulness (though I suspect someone who ordered a virgin one was having a whale of a time), and there was much whinging, to use the British term, about the self-service laundry stations: there simply needs to be more of them. I’ve never seen so many people queuing up for a laundrette in my life! On the flip side, I’d never consider using one on my cruise – it takes up too much time.
But this is a special ship, and a special run. It’s as magical an experience as I have ever had. It continues to impress and move me with each passing voyage. But more importantly, every time I sail aboard Queen Mary 2, I gain one very important thing: respect.
Respect for the sea.
Respect for the impossible distances of our planet that we have mastered with air travel, but conquered far earlier by water.
And respect for Carnival. It was their wide-reaching vision that allows us to continue to cross the ocean in 2015. Their purchase of Cunard was a business-oriented decision, first and foremost. When Trafalgar House put the line up for sale in 1997, Carnival probably would have rather bought it than see it go to the competition, as Celebrity Cruises had that same year when Royal Caribbean swooped in and gobbled them up .
But Carnival had the experience and the team of dedicated people to see to it that Cunard succeeded. They refitted the QE2 to her former grandeur. They made sweeping changes to Cunard’s existing fleet. And, most critically, they laid pen to paper to sign the contract for Project Queen Mary – the closure of which led to the birth of the Queen Mary 2.
Queen Mary 2 is designed with an approximate service life of 40 years. Following her entry into service in 2004, that pegs the twilight of her career somewhere around the year 2044. That year, I’ll turn 62.
I can only hope there are more wonderful transatlantic crossings aboard this great ship to come in my future. This isn’t just a cruise, or some vacation you can take to escape from it all. Queen Mary 2 is the physical embodiment of the dream that Canadian-born Samuel Cunard had, so very long ago. He may not recognize the world today – but he’d recognize a Cunard ship. And I think he’d love Queen Mary 2.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 has sadly come to a close, but there are more exciting adventures to come! Be sure to follow along with our voyage reports on Twitter @deckchairblog.