Introduction: This was the classic trip from Southampton to New York on a true ocean-going liner, the Queen Mary 2. It was a solo crossing - just me and three or four thousand others.
The Queen Mary 2 is a ship on a grand scale with pleasing lines that thankfully offers a true promenade deck. The interior is rather beautiful with sweeping staircases surrounding a grand lobby, stylish public rooms and fine artwork aplenty but finding your way around takes time - I'm sure I met some people who should have disembarked several weeks earlier.
Announcements were in English only, except for noonday navigational announcements which were in French and German also - although francophones and germanophones weren't treated to the true explanation of the phrase, "To freeze the balls off a brass monkey".
The on-board currency was the US dollar - one of several illusion-breakers that this might be a British ship.
The passengers with whom I came into contact were mainly from the UK and the US. They tended to be well past the first (and indeed second and third) flush of youth, but certainly there were plenty who were in their twenties and thirties physically as well as psychologically.
There were three formal nights including a Black and White Ball, and the Ascot Ball for which sadly, I couldn't fit the horse into my suitcase - even when filly expanded.
The dress code was uniformly adhered to although the requirement for men to wear a jacket for dinner in the Britannia Restaurant was thankfully not strictly enforced for the first night. I wore smart jeans for some non-formal nights - just not blue jeans. As for the women... well, they added immeasurably to the elegance, particularly on formal nights.
Embarkation and Disembarkation:
After handing in my luggage I had plenty of time to explore the QE2 Mile in Southampton (an easy walk from the terminal). The air-bridge broke down mid-afternoon which led to embarkation delays, so I just left the queue and read in the lounge until the queues diminished. Apart from this, embarkation was efficient with minimal fondling by security personnel.
The passenger safety drill was conducted before sailing.
Disembarking proved to be a slightly chaotic and lengthy experience courtesy of US Customs and Immigration. A midtown Manhattan hotel (including luggage store) and airport transportation were provided for those flying back the same day. Note that cruise cards were collected during disembarkation.
My extremely comfortable and well-appointed inside cabin was a long way forward on Deck 6 - underneath the gym and therefore subject to the noise generated by early-morning masochists. You could certainly hear and feel the ship ploughing through rough seas - but that added to the experience. Apart from occasional severe swells, it was generally a fairly smooth experience with blue skies making promenade walks and wrapped-up lounging possible and popular. The disadvantage of an inside cabin was mitigated somewhat by having the TV tuned overnight to the Bridge-cam channel - using it as a window to the outside world. The cabin steward (Jason) was superb. Being responsible for 16 cabins, I asked him not to turn down the bed at night - just leave the chocolates.
The late-sitting, dining experience in the Britannia Restaurant was consistently excellent and our waiters (John Felix and Paulina) were friendly and unobtrusive. Portions were a little on the small side, but this was deemed to be a good thing considering the tendency to overeat on a cruise. The artistic presentation of the desserts was a particular delight....but if only we cheesecake aficionados could experience a proper American or European-style baked confection. We were a table of five solo travellers (I requested to be on a table of eight) and got on splendidly.
The 24-hour Kings Court buffet was always excellent with a tremendous variety at all times. (I asked for, and received, the recipe for the delicious poppy seed cake - a particular breakfast delight.) Cakes predominated and biscuits were not sighted (sometimes that's all you want with a cuppa) although cookies were.
Fish, chips and mushy peas in the (almost always, very busy) Golden Lion pub made for a delicious lunch, with the batter being only slightly too oily. There was even a Quorn pie offering for vegetarians which I wish I'd tried.
The white-glove service afternoon teas in the lovely Queens Ballroom (Cunard seems to have an aversion to apostrophes) were a treat. They comprised two tea dances whilst on the other days a pianist or harpist provided the musical backdrop. An identical afternoon tea was also available in the Kings Court. Scones, though very tasty, seemed to be more like a sweet bun than a true scone. The cream was not clotted which it really should be on Cunard.
The lecture programme varied from the wonderful (husband and wife NASA astronauts - an absolute "Hoot") to the woeful (a relative of Greta Garbo). Skyscraper and political lectures had excellent content with less excellent presentation - words spilling out of the former in an uncontrolled, stuttering rush, and an unnerving amount of loud lip-smacking from the latter.
The excellent and varied 20-minute Planetarium shows (just lie back in the red seats and enjoy the ride) were repeated through the day - I went on two occasions.
The theatre shows were justifiably popular - the resident orchestra and dancers were excellent. Musical divertissements provided by various artistes around the ship were extremely well-appreciated, as was the RADA theatre group. The cruise director was competent and confident without being showy. He should update his act though - Rex is no longer the kennel-master!
There was no crew talent show, no passenger talent show and the waiters' renditions of "Happy Birthday" were "a cappella" rather than "alla chitarra". There was however a passengers' choir performance which I inadvertently missed.
Dance lessons (line and ballroom) were popular, particularly the latter - they're an excellent opportunity to socialise. The six attentive dance hosts were always in demand, particularly the former protection officer who had hoofed it with HM! The grand balls included a showcase performance by the dance teachers.
The casino attracted many punters as did the art gallery where Sir Rolfe de Harris proved a popular, er, draw, particularly after his entertaining demonstration and talk in the theatre.
There were many more activities on offer including pub quizzes, workshops, and bridge classes and tournaments - you'd probably need 72-hour days to attend them all.
Public Rooms and Spaces:
There is a fine and well-stocked library next to the bookshop, plus internet room, lounges, bars, pools and hot tubs, a table tennis table and a golf simulator, shops and deck space aplenty including areas for shuffleboard and paddle tennis, and for walking animals in the kennel. The covered Winter Garden was a particularly pleasant place to relax, hosting concerts and readings, and a healthy morning buffet.
Launderettes are located on every passenger deck with washers, driers, ironing boards and irons. Their convenience cannot be over-stated.
There were play zones and outdoor areas for children and teens, but there were very few of them on the cruise.
Fitness and Spa Centres:
Suffice to say that these had excellent facilities and proved popular. Trying to get from A to B without using the (many) lifts was exercise enough for me.
Ports of Call:
New York was cold and wet - but what would you expect in November? A big bonus, however, was docking in Manhattan rather than Brooklyn. Transportation to Newark was suited to the earliest flight out. Had the weather been better, I would have been tempted to make my own way there later.
This was an extremely enjoyable cruise which proved to be popular with many other solo travellers. The Queen Mary 2 is a graceful, stylish and well-kept ship with polite and helpful staff and crew offering a rather special experience. Travelling to Southampton was only half the pain it might have been as I had a direct flight back to Manchester, whilst being a solo traveler was no pain at all.
I'd love to do it again.