By Lisa Craze
Two hours before I booked a balcony cabin on the only dedicated ocean liner in the world, I was laid-off from my job.
What the hell?
Might as well get out of town.
Might as well spend a week sailing across the Atlantic from Brooklyn, NY USA to Southampton, Great Britain, wiling away the hours at sea in the high style of a bygone era.
To backtrack a bit, it all started with online chat with my sister that day of the layoff.
She was in the middle of chatting with a mutual friend who enjoys booking trips — especially cruises.
He’d found a deal on the Queen Mary 2, departing in less than 3 weeks – and he wanted us to come along.
This wasn’t some run-of-the-mill booze cruise. It was THE QUEEN FUCKING MARY 2!
Some stats on this vessel; it’s pretty new – commissioned in 2004. She sails about half-the-year on the Trans-Atlantic route, with these hella-fast diesel engines with gas turbines. They say she is capable of going 30 knots, and can cross the Atlantic in less than 4 days—but they stretch it to 7 just to be civilized.
The QFM2 has 15 bars and restaurants, 5 swimming pools, a Broadway-style theater with a turntable built into the stage, a casino and a planetarium!
It’s operated by White Star Cunard—the same company that operated the Titanic —but don’t let that make you nervous. Really. Their safety record is pretty great since 1912.
Wasn’t like I had to ask my boss for time off anymore so I agreed it was the perfect antidote to unemployment-fueled rage.
I have to admit, sailing on this vessel wasn’t even on the perimeter of my bucket list.
There are no ports-of-call in between the coast of the USA and Merry Ol’ England. You are AT SEA every freaking day. And everybody’s gonna be really old and feeble, right?
Well, not exactly.
Turns out some 2300 people of every age, from toddlers to the extremely elderly, to dozens of dogs owned by the passengers- enjoy the ocean voyage on the Queen Mary 2.
Oh, and there’s also about 2200 crew members to wait on you hand and foot.
After my sister and I booked the trip, we were sent a list of expectations for passage. That’s expectations for the two of us. For the way we were expected to dress after 6pm every night. We were informed that of the 7 nights aboard, 4 were “smart attire” (i.e. business casual or cocktail dress) and 3 were “gala” evenings in which formal ware was expected. That means evening gowns – or other fancy-dress clothing, and tuxedos or nice suits for men.
Fortunately, I have all kinds of formal separates, shifts, sparkly tops and jackets from my years of singing in concerts and other events. So, I packed the fancy stuff and my sister took care of a lot of the other things we needed.
(Note to fellow travelers: Sparkly stuff weighs a TON! My bag was overweight, and after the cruise, I traveled in the EU for another week. Had to lug that stuff everywhere. There’s gotta be a better way.)
You’re allowed to bring a limited amount of wine and liquor for personal use – for cocktails in your stateroom, so my sister made sure we had adequate supplies.
When we arrived on board, I was thrilled to see we had a lower level balcony stateroom near the middle of the ship. That means the least amount of rocking motion if there are rough seas. If your stateroom is higher than the 6th deck, and if it’s closer to the bow of the ship, you’ll feel much more motion.
But it turned out the seas were calm for much of the journey, and I really enjoyed the gentle rocking sensation every night as I was falling asleep.
There’s a standard split of champagne in a silver bucket with two glasses and a special note from Cunard as a welcome gift in every stateroom. That’s a classy touch.
And, there’s a leather spread on top of the bed as you arrive, so you can unpack your suitcases into the generous closets without dirtying up the fluffy duvet on your bed. Another classy touch.
There’s 24-hour room service if you just want to stay in your stateroom. But, ordering the Tuna-Melt was a BIG mistake. It was Nasty. Stick to breakfast in bed. They did that pretty well, but one small pot of coffee was definitely not enough for a Seattlite.
Here was my absolute favourite part of staying in my room for breakfast every day: (notice I used the British spelling of “favorite”…) The Morning Programme (again, British spelling) on the shipboard TV station hosted by the very British Entertainment Director Amanda Reid. It is shot onboard the ship in the lowest production value one-camera style of classic local cable TV. But Amanda’s presence is so proper and delightful that you don’t mind watching it over and over. (The show runs on a loop from 6am until noon on one of the 40+ channels on your widescreen stateroom TV). She informs you of that day’s highlights, and how you should dress, and interviews the guest speakers and entertainers featured that day. Most of them brought her some kind of gift the days we watched, and we laughed with glee along with her as she accepted each one with surprise and humility. She also ended each programme with a joke. Seriously entertaining in an extremely low-tech way. Now that’s a job that’d be fun to have.
One other thing to note about your stateroom TV: If you’re too tired to go outside, you can always watch the channel that features the “bow cam”, looking at the endless miles of ocean – (and scouting for icebergs…just in case) day or night.
I really enjoyed High Tea in the Queens Room – but only made it once, because it only lasts an hour, from 3:30 – 4:30 every day—but because we were traveling from West to East, the ship’s clock lost an hour every day at noon. So 12 became 1, meaning tea started at what might otherwise have been 2:30 the day before…or 1:30 the day before that. Just too confusing. But delicious when I made it in time.
There’s also dancing in the Queen’s Room after dinner at night, and they bring in these male dance hosts who cruise for super-cheap fares, if they dance with the ladies at night. Only 1 of the 6 or 7 gents onboard our cruise was worth his salt. His name was Jai, and was from Sussex, England. Fantastic dancer – delightful conversationist and we cut a mean rug several times. If I were a man, I’d love to travel as a dance host. You’ve got some pretty specific responsibilities, from attending the “singles coffee” in the morning, to helping with line-dancing classes and dancing at night. No kissy kissy, keep it clean – but talking to Jai the last day of the cruise, he said he loves traveling on the QFM2 and that it’s much cheaper than paying rent.
The only downside on the voyage we took was that the main guest lecturer was a retired US Army General who’s a regular talking head on those FOX-TV hate shows. And he had several talks planned including one entitled, “Why Radical Muslims Will Try To Kill Us For The Next 500 Years”. The second lecturer, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer from London (and the father of British Celebrity Chef Nigella Lawson) was a climate change denier who did several talks quoting somebody who had “doubts”. Decided to avoid the lectures altogether, and spend my entertianment time watching a Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” set in post-WWII America. No cheezy Las Vegas style shows on the QFM2!!
The food was pretty great in the restaurants – and the buffet in the King’s Court on Deck 7 was pretty good—especially the day they had sushi as one of the offerings for lunch. As much as you want and it’s top-grade fish.
And the food in the Brittania Dining Room was alright – I stuck to fish and vegetarian options for the most part. Beef-eaters seemed to be happier with their nightly steak and roast options. Didn’t like the desserts though. They never tasted as good as they looked.
They want to charge you for all kinds of extras on the QFM2- even soft drinks are charged extra. So, I was looking for bargains wherever possible. My favorite was the $10 sale day – a big table in a hallway with all kinds of stuff for….guess how much? Yup. Got a sweet tote bag that helped me bring home chocolates from Belgium after the cruise. What was Not a bargain was the $110 Michael Kors wallet-purse I bought the day we arrived onboard. But it’s SO cute. And hell, I’m on vacation. And it holds my phone and all my cards, and looks good on gala nights. And they make it so easy with one card for everything – door key, drinks, Michael Kors wallet-purse. Life is short.
The next-to-last night of the trip, they had a 1920’s-themed gala night. My sister bought a flapper dress just for the occasion. I dolled up my beaded fancywear and sang Karaoke in the pub. Even met a nice man who liked my singing and we had a date in the champagne bar the next day. We’re Facebook friends now.
When the cruise ended, we spent a week in France and Belgium and I went up to Iceland before flying over the pole back to Seattle. That’s another blog post for another time.
But everyone asks me if I’d take the QFM2 again.
You’d better fucking believe it. I’m looking at deals for a 14-day round-trip sailing right now.
Lisa Craze is a broadcaster, writer and singer-songwriter with 2 albums of original songs to her credit and more than 30 years in radio news and information. She lives in Seattle, Washington.