Every June, the six members of my immediate family come together for our annual summer vacation. While reuniting us is a near impossible task, every summer my mother and father manage to accomplish the feat. From a South African safari to a Lake Placid escape, the six of us have shared many great times together on these summer family vacations. While planning these trips, my mother (55) and father (60) always ask for input from "the kids"-- my sisters Anna (28), Julia (26), and Miriam (19), and me, Jonny (24). While our past trips often required one or more flights, the one thing we all agreed upon this year was a desire to limit the amount of time we spent at airports. After some hesitation, I suggested that my mom look into booking a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2. I hesitated because my family knows of my passion for cruise ships, and my desire for a family cruise has often been rebuffed. Nevertheless, I saw our shared desire to avoid airports as the perfect reason to suggest it again. There was also an additional advantage to my proposed QM2 vacation: Since the ship departs from New York, it would be easy for all of us to meet there, since everyone already lives in the Northeast (I am the lone exception; I am based in Los Angeles and the flight from LA to New York has never bothered me). While my three sisters weren't exactly keen on the idea of an ocean crossing--none of them were fond of cruises and Julia has always been susceptible to seasickness--we all agreed that it was something we, as a family, should finally try. Before we knew it, the six of us found ourselves reunited on a hot summer day in New York, headed to a pier in Brooklyn.
The first sight of QM2 was breathtaking: she first became visible during our cab ride from Manhattan, and even from that distance her size took my breath away. As we got closer, she grew larger and more magnificent, impressing everyone in the car. We arrived at the pier promptly at 2pm and were swiftly whisked to our cabins by 2:30pm, a boarding record for me. Greeted warmly by crewmembers as we stepped aboard, I was impressed at how the ship's professional staff efficiently showed us to our rooms while simultaneously maintaining an air of relaxation. Unlike the madness that occurs on a typical mass-market ship's embarkation day, the QM2's staff kept the process pleasant, their friendliness and efficiency belying the ship's grand size, maintaining a level of intimacy throughout the process.
Our cabins, located on deck nine mid-ship, were at the perfect location. I suggested to my mom that we book cabins at this location for two reasons: we would feel less rocking there, and we would also be close to the ship's public rooms (an important factor given the ship's size). My sister Julia and I stayed in cabin 9054 with my two other sisters next door and my mom and dad on the port side, guaranteeing us a view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline as we sailed away. The cabins were spacious and comparable in quality to the rooms of a luxury hotel. Moreover, virtually everything about the rooms felt new, a result of the ship's recent refurbishment. Shortly after embarkation, our cabin steward and butler came in to introduce themselves, an instant reassurance that we were going to be taken good care of during our trip. With little time before the muster drill, we explored the ship and tried to soak up the sun while we had it (the weather on crossings is often unpredictable).
As we pulled away from Brooklyn, the six of us enjoyed champagne and hors d'oeuvres on my parent's balcony, an event organized by the friendly and professional concierge for deck nine. Looking at my family's faces, I could tell that at that moment their initial reservations about our first family cruise vacation had melted away: they were just as excited as I was to be there. For me, the trip was especially exciting as it represented more than just the opportunity to spend quality time with loved ones. Spending six full days at sea with no cell phones, little Internet and nothing but the blue ocean in sight would also serve to inspire my songwriting; I frequently dreamed of days where my writing sessions would not be interrupted by nagging phone calls, business emails and the non-stop hassle of everyday life. This cruise would give me the serene and relaxed environment that I thrive in; it served as the perfect setting for my songwriting sessions.
When sailing eastbound on the QM2 you lose one hour of sleep on the second through sixth nights of the crossing, a gradual time change that helps you acclimate to the time difference between New York and Southampton more smoothly. Yet while we constantly changed the times on our watches, one thing remained consistent, namely our nightly family dinners. Our first night's meal took place at the Queens Grill Restaurant, with its beautiful and spacious seating arrangements. Throughout the cruise we ate at the Queens Grill, always sitting at the same table by one of the restaurant's windows. The dining room service was the best I have had at sea--no minor compliment given how often I have cruised. The chef even took the time to introduce himself, one of the many personal touches we experienced on the QM2. The food easily lived up to my father's expectations--a man whose well-developed palate has often found the cuisine of some of the finest restaurants wanting. We all were consistently impressed by the cuisine on the ship. As a family of self-professed foodies, we expected the typical cruise fare, but were pleasantly surprised throughout voyage. Even the food in the faster-moving, fewer-frills Kings Court (where they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner) focused on quality rather than quantity.
I awoke early on the first morning of the cruise--too excited to sleep--snuck out of the cabin and made my way down for breakfast. There were no lines or waiting at Kings Court, so I helped myself to some of the delicious breakfast fare and sat down at a table next to one of the bay windows. With my notebook in hand I started jotting down the lyric ideas and song concepts that had been floating around in my head. I am lucky enough to be able to do what I love while still travelling, and in this kind of setting I found that I was able to work even more effectively than I could at home. The rolling sea and peaceful atmosphere put me in the perfect mindset, helping me further several of my projects. From the country ballad I was commissioned to write, to a series of dance tracks I was in the process of revising, the QM2 provided a calm yet invigorating backdrop for my work, allowing ideas to flow freely. After my power breakfast I threw on my headphones and took a walk around the promenade, enjoying the spectacular views from the deck as the sun tried to peek through the clouds.
Every morning I had the pleasure of repeating this routine. I wish I could provide a moment-to-moment rundown of the other events I undertook while on the QM2, but the days were so relaxing that they blend together in my memory. From exercising in the fitness center to listening to guest lectures (which my whole family enjoyed), the QM2 provided all of us with countless moments of relaxation. One of those experiences, shared by my whole family, was the daily high tea in the Queens Grill Lounge.
Walking into the Queens Grill Lounge during high tea is like taking a step back in time, with white glove service and formal yet warm hellos from every crewmember in the lounge. Every day at 3pm sharp you could find our entire family sitting at a large window in the lounge, catching each other up on our respective mornings, sipping delicious tea and eating some of the best scones any of us had ever tasted. Although a simple affair, high tea isn't served like this anywhere else at sea, making Cunard the proud upholder of such a wonderful English tradition.
Getting the chance to relax and spend quality time with my family is something that rarely occurs, and our cruise made just such an experience possible. Although the thought of being on a ship for seven straight days was initially a daunting prospect for my three sisters, throughout the voyage they each declared how glad they were that we had decided to experience the QM2. The ship offered each of us the opportunity to disconnect from the outside world while reconnecting with one another: no Facebook, no texting, no phone calls; just each other's company, and the relaxing atmosphere of the ship.
As we made our way through the English Channel on our final day at sea, my family and I ate our last dinner together on board. We went around the table and asked each other what we enjoyed most about the voyage. We each highlighted different parts of the trip, from the daily afternoon tea, to the wonderfully relaxing Canyon Ranch spa, to the remarkable courtesy and warmth of the QM2 staff. As I looked at each member of my family, I could tell that we were all walking away from this experience with memories that would last forever. Although I knew I was going to have a good time on our trip, I did not think the QM2 would make cruisers out of my sisters, provide me some much-needed inspiration and peace for my songwriting, and make my entire family want to experience the QM2 all over again.