The event was my 50th birthday (to be spent on the ship) and I took along the person that had been with me throughout my 50 years - my mother. I have been planning this journey since April 2006 and booked our suite immediately when the journey became available thru the Cunard website. I decided to go all out and book a penthouse suite, as turning 50 is a memorable event. So I started saving my dollars for this luxurious cabin.
A week before sailing I was informed by email that we were to be upgraded to the Windsor Suite, a duplex apartment (Q2 category) at the stern of the ship. I was thunderstruck, as I never expected such a premium upgrade and proceeded to tell all my friends...but kept the secret from my mother whom I surprised when we boarded the vessel.
Boarding was one of the easiest experiences, as porters met us curbside with our taxi and proceeded to tag and take our bags. Then into the terminal where we checked in at the Grills check in desk....this is where it got tricky since they took our tickets and crossed off the old cabin number and replaced it with the new...my mother asked me if this was correct and in all the excitement I said 'never mind'. After a brief 10 minute wait in the Terminal Grill Lounge, we were allowed to board this MASSIVE ship and greeted by a porter who directed us to a bank of elevators and to our suite.
My mother's face dropped as we entered the Windsor Suite and I knew in my heart that this was going to be a fantastic journey. After we explored the two stories of our suite, I proceeded to take copious mini-movies with my digital camera in order to preserve this moment for prosperity's sake, knowing that something like this may never happen again.
We enjoyed the complimentary champagne as we set sail, enjoying vistas of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from our terrace. The views were something that you would see from a 40's film or a postcard....unbelievable. I was told from many people that the sailing in the opposite direction is always the best (Southampton to NYC) since coming into the harbor to see Lady Liberty is a sight second to none, however when I heard that you arrive at 5am, I thought this crossing would be just as eventful, and I wasn't disappointed by the vistas from our nation's landmark.
Next it's time to dress for our first dinner at the Queen's Grill (this was a casual night, with 3 formal nights dispersed within the six night journey) and we discovered that we were seated at a table of six. Since I made the reservations so long ago, I did not remember if I had requested a table of six, since I saw tables of two all around us. We were the first to arrive and thought about changing tables...what a relief that we did not. We happened to be seated with four of the most entertaining and fascinating people I have ever had the privilege to meet...so think twice about wanting to be seated alone. In fact, by the end of our journey, all the tables of two were always crowded around our table for a laugh and conversation!
The food was sumptuous, and one of my concerns was that eating 3 full meals a day would increase by waist by 2-3 inches. However, Cunard has thought all about that (I presume) and made the portions a little smaller (certainly not mammoth 'American' size portions) so you did not feel as if you were constantly overeating. Of course if you were still hungry you could order more, however that was never the case with me. Since my mother is not a wine drinker I was concerned about ordering a bottle of wine at dinner, since I did not want to polish off the bottle all by myself...however the grill stored any unused portion until your next meal...great idea!
If you did overeat, the spa and gym were excellent...I used the treadmill twice during the crossing, and my mother took a yoga and aerobics class. After a while exercising was not that important due to the fact the ship provides you with a daily program of activities, more than enough to keep anybody occupied (mother loved the line dancing classes in the Queen's Room with one of our table-mates). I enjoyed a Planetarium presentation, the ship's library was immense, and for those who need their online 'fix', you could purchase an internet package (1 2, 3 hours, etc) and go to certain locations on the ship for Wifi access, usually at the bow of every deck. My closest access area was the Commodore Lounge on Deck 9, where I would retire every day at 4pm to check emails, and meet more interesting people on my journey.
The public areas on the ship were incredible, the main lobby always had interesting shopping during the day, as they would pull out tables with interesting items at very reasonable prices. I will also say that the wine with dinner was also reasonably priced (not inflated 3-4 times as with normal restaurants). I also spent the first two days on the vessel just exploring the different decks (since the weather was so beautiful)...they have basketball courts and golfing facilities in addition to what seemed like 4 swimming pools and 7-8 whirlpools spaced our on various decks.
Since we had a butler, he told us that he would help host a cocktail party if we so desired, so on the day of my birthday I planned a champagne cocktail party for our table mates and various other passengers I had met on the voyage. I ordered the champagne, and he supplied all the food, and he was there in his white gloves serving the champagne and food. This is a party I will always remember.
Of course this was only a six day journey, so we did have to leave eventually. My mother and I mentioned numerous times that we have been spoiled terribly by the suite we were upgraded to, and appreciated the splendor of the accommodations and would book another trip in a heartbeat. I had the opportunity to visit other cabins on the ship and they were just as splendid in their own right, knowing I would feel just as comfortable there(albeit a little less room) but also knowing the service and ambiance of the vessel would always prevail.
I only complaint I have is that the disembarking experience was not as smooth as everything else. It was a madhouse at Southampton with everyone going this was and that with trolleys filled with luggage, looking for their transport to London. Or it could have been that I was already missing my liner and anything would have put me ill at ease...
I would heartily recommend a crossing soon, whatever class you decide to book. It was truly a vacation of a lifetime...I am trying to get mum to book for her 70th!