Cruise Critic’s Editor-in-Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown is taking a transatlantic voyage this week on Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2. This is her second dispatch from the high seas. Read the first one and stay tuned for more installments.
So far, every day onboard Queen Mary 2 I’ve felt just a little bit lighter than the day before, just a bit more relaxed, and increasingly more content. And with time to reflect, it occurs to me that there three solid reasons why an Atlantic crossing is – as noted cruise historian John Maxtone-Graham is fond of saying – “the only way to cross”. That is if you’ve got the week to spare!
1. Activity. The Daily Programme’s array of offerings is so dense your head will spin as you try to figure out how to fit in all the fun. If a lot of stuff on the activity menu is typical cruise fare (line dancing, Texas Hold ‘Em, Beginner’s Bridge, and afternoon trivia), there’s plenty of unique-to-Queen Mary 2 offerings, too. On my list of things-I-always-wanted-to-try-but-usually-don’t-have-the-time: Making movies on the iPad; revisiting childhood art classes with a series on how to watercolour; and catching up on flicks I missed at the cinema, like the Jackie Robinson homage “42”. Cunard’s series of “Insights Lectures” is thought-provoking and intriguing; today’s various events feature “The Life and Music of Al Jolson,” “Getting There Was Half The Fun: The Last Atlantic Liners (wait: Aren’t we on one?),” and, led by Rockefeller Center’s archivist, a guest lecturer onboard, “The Art of Rockefeller Center.”
And, come to think of it, here’s something I know I never would find time for at home that, with time to spare, strikes me as fun: On this crossing, Britain’s National Symphony Orchestra is onboard. Alongside some concerts, its conductor, Anthony Inglis, is organizing an all-passenger choir to sing alongside the NSO on the stage in Royal Albert Hall – oops, meant Cunard’s Royal Court Theater. No auditions are necessary. We’re rehearsing four part harmonies of songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Rule Britannia” daily. It’s been a blast.
Tip: Use a highlighter to identify the events you want to attend (or create a spreadsheet); otherwise, it’s easy to miss out on stuff you want to do.
2. Relaxation. This may fly in the face of taking advantage of the blur of activity, but enjoy a chance (or two, four or 21) to simply…chill. On the crossing’s first day I hung out in the spa’s thermal pool area, indulged in a snooze on the balcony, read a really trashy novel, and enjoyed a long, lazy lunch at Todd English over a bottle of wine. Lose the guilt over all the worthy fare you’re missing.
Tip: From east to west, we have five 25 hour days because when you sail from London to New York the clock gets turned back on five nights out of eight. By the time we arrive in New York we’ll be on East Coast time (the opposite applies if you go west to east). The down-side? Setting the clock back means you may wake up just a little bit earlier every morning (sleeping in until 9 a.m. that first morning, after three turn-backs I’m now waking up at 5:45 a.m. ship’s time). As a result, you may need a disco nap to stay up past dinner.
3. Tradition. Have you heard about Titanic II, the ship that an Australian entrepreneur wants to build to recreate cruising’s so-called glorified past? Well, we’ve already got one. It’s Queen Mary 2, and though this ocean liner is a mere 9 ½ years old, many cruise traditions are alive and well. These include a lavish afternoon tea in the gorgeous Queens’ Room, ballroom dancing, a masked ball, and dressing elegantly for dinner. Aside from the more contemporary dance tunes thumping away in the G32 Disco, music played onboard tends more towards pop tunes from an earlier era, and classic standards from the likes of Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, and even Dixieland Jazz. The library’s biggest strength is its collection of books on maritime history (the adjacent bookshop also has a terrific range you can buy).
Tip: Don’t miss out on Maritime Quest, a series of exhibits and artwork that celebrate Cunard’s history, from life below decks to ship building and from celebrities who’ve sailed to ships during wartime. You can borrow an audio headset that will guide you through.
If I’d give one caveat to an Atlantic crossing, it would be this:
Come Prepared. You are captive when you’re spending eight straight days at sea and of course that means you can’t nip off in a port of call to pick up something you forgot to pack (though of course there are shops onboard for necessities ranging from lipstick to formal eveningwear). If you don’t want to pay $2.75 for every can of Coke, pack a stash (or buy an all-you-can-drink soda card). Before you board, load your iPad or Kindle because while the library is admittedly gorgeous, its book selection is less compelling, with few if any tomes published in the past few years. And the only mobile signal you’ll get while out at sea is via satellite. Setting your devices on roaming could be disastrously expensive (instead buy an Internet package and stick with email if you can).
Throughout my week on Queen Mary 2, I’m also sharing my experiences on the Cruise Critic Facebook page). If there’s anything in particular you’re hankering to know, please drop me a note via the comments below and I’ll find an answer for you.