From the moment we stepped aboard the great Cunard liner, the Queen Mary 2, at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, we knew we were on the trip of a lifetime. The QM2 is a beautiful ship, elegant and spacious and awash in British charm, and the only ship making regular crossings from New York to Southampton. I looked forward to the luxury of being able relax and take the slow route to Europe, skipping the unpleasantness of airports and airplanes.
Our departure was quiet and classic. We sipped champagne, listening to live music and the mighty ship’s horn. We cheered and waved flags as the New York City skyline faded into the distance and when a sudden and dramatic late-afternoon spring storm blew up just we slipped past the Statue of Liberty it only added to the fun. As we skimmed under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with what felt like only inches to spare, the bridge was illuminated with shafts of sunlight breaking through the dark clouds.
Something for Everyone
My first mistake was thinking we would spend the crossing in leisure, cocooned in our stateroom or one of the numerous lounges around the ship, or, better still, planted in a comfy chair with a good book in the ship’s library. We did some of that, but I quickly discovered the Queen Mary 2 offers more entertainment and activities than you can possibly do in 7 days. From movie screenings, to top-notch speakers, to the on-board planetarium (Yes, really!) to blissing out in the spa and salon, there was no shortage of ways to fill the hours. Each afternoon there were delicious goodies at tea and after dinner we could enjoy music in one of the lounges or see a show. I did spend some time in the library (one of the largest at sea) and I bought a couple of books at the bookstore that were at that time available in the UK only, but they were souvenirs to be read when I got home.
Star Gazing and Gazing at Stars
There was one elemental pleasure that didn’t require dressing up or even leaving our room. Standing out on our sheltered balcony, my hair whipping in the brisk wind, I could look up at an amazing display of stars. The sky, when clear, was brilliant.
And, of course, because you never know just who is crossing the Atlantic on the great liner with you, we got a special treat when movie director Wes Anderson and a few of his close friends, including Tilda Swinton, decided to take the same voyage. Anderson screened several of his movies, and Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola all added their commentary. The group was often seen out and about aboard the boat.
A Room and a View
Stateroom options on the QM2 run the gamut from the spacious and luxurious Queen’s Grill suites and Princess Grill suites to the recently-added single staterooms. Our stateroom was in the Brittania class and was both beautiful and comfortable. It featured a large bed, a sofa and desk and a large-screen satellite television. We also had a sheltered balcony ( weather on the Atlantic can be rough at certain times of the year) and made use of it whenever possible. But, that said, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose an oceanview stateroom on our next cruise. There are so many activities and beautiful places to pass the time as you cross the Atlantic, we weren’t in the stateroom much at all.
Dining in Style
Queen and Princess Grill suites dine in the exclusive Princess Grill. Most of our meals were taken in the Brittainia Club Restaurant. Our table had a view of the sea and the service was excellent. The King’s Court buffet is another option for more casual dining. On certain evenings a portion of King’s Court becomes a small specialty restaurant and offers a quiet spot for dinner. For a change of pace and a special night out, the Veranda Grill’s French menu is just the ticket. (There is an additional charge for meals in the Veranda Grill.)
A Wardrobe to Win
The suggested packing list found on the QM2 website is comprehensive and somewhat intimidating. If you packed everything they put on the list, you’d need a couple of suitcases. I’m more of the carry-on type but we opted to share one larger suitcase (our “large” may be your “medium”) with two small under-the-seat carry-on bags. We were planning to spend a few days in London after the cruise but I still packed light. Instead of the three formal gowns and two cocktail dresses recommended for cruise dining, I packed one simple black evening gown, one little black dress and a beaded top to wear over black ankle-length pants. I’ve always believed that in situations like formal nights on a cruise ship most people are paying more attention to what they’re wearing than what you have on so I was comfortable with keeping my wardrobe simple and changing things up with accessories. (Anyway, in this case, everyone was paying attention to what Tilda Swinton was wearing.)
One more pair of black pants, a stack of white shirts, some pretty silk scarves and a couple of lightweight cashmere sweaters let me dress for every occasion. I took only one pair of heels, one pair of black flats and a pair of comfortable but stylish walking shoes. Adding a raincoat and an umbrella, I had everything I needed for the cruise and our London vacation.
Our transatlantic crossing was a wonderful and memorable as I’d hope it would be. Of all the places and ways I’ve traveled, it’s still at the top of my list of experiences. If you have a travel wish list you might want to put a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 somewhere near the top. It’s a wonderful experience and one I hope to have again.