Anxious to check out the newest and largest cruise ship in the world, I booked on the Queen Mary 2 for her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Flying from JFK to London's Heathrow Airport, I picked up a coach that tooled me down to Southampton. We arrived dockside at about 3:00 PM. Although you could see the ship in the distance as we wound our way through the dockside, the enormity of it doesn't strike you until you step off the coach and look up at the towering monster. It has been aptly described as "The QE2 on steroids." As you go up the gangway and enter the grand lobby, you are in an atrium that reaches to the 7th deck. The Romans would be proud of its majesty! A shaper Guide takes your bag and leads you by an elevator to Deck 8 and then down an endless corridor to Cabin 8028.
After the usual Emergency Drill in three languages at 5:00 PM, a Sail-a-Way party is held on the Aft Deck as the ship readies to sail at 6:00 PM. The weather is chilly but the sun has arranged for a layer of clouds to be positioned with rays beaming through openings forming a semi-circular fan backdrop to the occasion. Pierside, the express train from London, having discharged its passengers at the Terminal Entrance, wends its way back to London. The cars are Orient Express style, 12 "Wagon Lits" with shining bodies, curtained windows and silver trimming. Champagne flows as water and a Show Band "Onyx" made up of Tiger Woods Look-a-Likes kicks off with "In the Mood". Dancing erupts as hand held British and American flags flail the winds. Recorded music is then played at deafening decibels as those staples of British history bring the deck rails of crowded passengers to full voice with "Rule Britannia! Britannia Rules the Waves" followed by the moving tribute England "Land of Hope and Glory". Fireboats fore and aft spray a Niagara Falls curtain of water. Streamers fill the air from the upper decks. With a nod to Uncle Sam, "Anchors Aweigh" and the "Marine Hymn" follow. Tony and George would be proud! The ship's mighty whistle thunders "Under Way" and followed by a phalanx of small craft, the QM2 edges away from the pier into to Solient and it's on to New York and six memorable days on this palace at sea!
On our first day at sea, the weather turned foul. This comes as no surprise as it is generally known that the North Atlantic can behave this way at this time of year. I envisioned it as a confrontation between King Neptune and the Queen as follows: King Neptune: "So you think you're the biggest and the best! Well let's see what you've got!" Queen Mary: "Out of my way, Buster. You've met your match!" The battle got underway. The Beaufort scale read Force 10 and winds across the deck were clocked at 70 mph. Stay off the decks was the word. The seas erupted in mountainous explosions of white and green foam. The white horses were in full stampede. As you sat in the Commodore Bar on the prow of the ship, you watched in awe as the ship buried its prow in the waves and rose up as a dog shaking off the water. The spray from these frontal collisions would on occasion, wash the windows... and this was on Deck 9, well above the water line. It was beautiful! Speed was dropped from 24 knots during the night to 15 knots and then to 7 as the storm peaked. Next morning on my way to breakfast at 8 AM, it seemed every other Cabin had a "Do not disturb" sign on the handle. This continued for two days. The Lady plowed on. It had a date in NY and it must not be late. Conditions eased to sullenness for a period. The next day, although starting out sunny, suddenly turned yellowish dark and a sneak attack began. The Captain came on and said this was some unexpected turbulence and once again, be careful. On my way to dinner at 8:30 PM, I always stop in the Golden Lion Pub for a sip, a delightful copy of a London pub with gleaming brass, burnished walnut walls and taps of the finest English brews. It was located on Deck 2, near the water line. Seven windows on the outside wall gave you a clear view of the action outside. Once again the waves rose high and explosively and on occasion would rise up against the windows in fury and for a moment you were under the waves. It was awesome!
On the 5th day, with one day to go, the day dawned bright and sunny, the waves calmed and the Captain leaned on the throttle, to 30 knots. We arrived in New York Harbor on time. The Queen passed her first test with flying colors.
ENTRY INTO THE PORT OF New York
This final day on the six-day cruise from Southampton was looked forward to with much excitement by the 2,746 passengers. This was it! The day dawned gloomy and foggy. The decks were crowded as the ship aimed for the middle point of the Verrazano Bridge. It moved underneath smoothly with an estimated 23 feet to spare. The flagship of the Moran Tugboat fleet led the way up the
North River and her sister tugs formed an escort convoy. Police boats and Coast Guard vessels accompanied and they all looked so small from the 7th deck rail. The fog began to dissipate and slowly there emerged on the port side, the Lady. There hasn't been a time I have passed her that others) (and I don't get a feeling of pride and emotion. On 7 Deck is the cafeteria restaurant for those who shun the Dining Room. It is large and expansive and manned primarily by newly hired Filipinos. It was open for early breakfast but when the National Anthem sounded for the Statue of Liberty, the workers deserted their stations en masse, and flocked out on deck. The pattern was the same...first a look of awe and staring and then the cameras went to work. Singles, doubles, groups backed against the rail with the backdrop, the Statue. Very crowded, they stood on slippery deck chairs to see over the heads of the crowd. Slowly, they filed back into the restaurant and their stations. Wail 'til they see these pictures in Manila! The ship now neared the Battery and two fireboats joined the parade, shooting geysers of red, white and blue water into the air. Helicopters buzzed the ship providing early morning fodder to the Networks. At Ground Zero, the ship paused and sounded three long thunderous blasts on her whistle and then continued the march to Pier 92. As the ship made her turn into the berth, tugboats hovered nearby in case...they were not needed.
Commodore Warwick slid her in slow and as smooth as silk and edged her to the pier. On the roof of the adjoining pier, the United States Maritime Academy band saluted with martial music and once PG 2 again with the National Anthem. Mayor Bloomberg greeted the Captain as the gangway landed and told Captain Warwick he had a bad dream. He said it was of the phone ringing and the Captain asking if he could raise the Verrazano Bridge just a bit for passage.
NOTES AND COMMENTS
When I arrived in my Cabin in Southampton, the television was on and the screen read "Welcome Arthur Stewart. See Instructions". In the desk drawer was a keyboard—computer style—with directions how to find out anything you wanted to know about on-board. Lectures, programs, shops etc. And if you were expecting e-mail, it would appear on the screen.
The Lecture Programs were of the highest caliber. The speakers were from the Oxford University Discovery Program. There were several from other leading educational institutions in the UK and North America. Subjects covered in 3-4 one hour sessions included: Shakespeare, Dinosaurs, Trans Atlantic crossings when immigration soared, Opera, and Charles Darwin's Epic 5 Year Voyage on HMS Beagle.
A highlight for me was the planetarium on board. A large theater with lean-back seats, the ceiling was a constant vision of the heavens. During the lecture, the lecture ceiling, now lowered, reflected a variety of star galaxies that were brilliant. Haven't seen that many stars in years.
Commodore Warwick, Master, comes from a family of ship captains. His grandfather and father captained Cunard Liners. He took over as master of the QE2 when his father retired from that position. He has a lovely wife Kim who sails with him on most cruises. He said the happiest moment for him had been when, with special permission of the Governor of Massachusetts, he performed a marriage ceremony for his daughter in Boston Harbor.
The Library, the largest afloat, (8,000 hard backs, 500 paperbacks, audio and CD ROMS) was located in the bow with windows overlooking the ship's prow. Wooden cabinets of oak polished softly contained a myriad of books on every conceivable subject. You could sit in a living room type chair and read at your leisure glancing now and then at the sea before you. Authors appeared regularly and you could get signed copies of their current book. In one room a "shop" was open for purchase of cards, QM2 bookmarks, napkins, etc. It was constantly busy.
The Britannia Dining Room is a two-tiered restaurant with open seating at breakfast and lunch and two seattings for dinner at an assigned table. The main floor was vast and truly a grand salon. It was ringed with balconies and then a third, more cozy third wing. In total, the restaurant soars for three decks. Our table was near the door where the waiters went to get the food and return to your table. To do so, they exited by an escalator to the kitchen and when you saw a tray slowly moving upward toward the door, it was time to eat. The open seating was a positive feature as you got to talk with different people daily. At lunch, two young men (40ish) on my left had flown to London from Auckland, New Zealand to be on this trip. One was from the US, went to NYU where he later got his law degree and now works for a company in Auckland. The other was an applicant for a teaching job in London and would stay aboard for the return trip to Southampton. Another couple from Westport, CT asked me what the notice in the Daily Bulletin was that said "...friends of Bill will meet at 2:30 in the..." I informed them it was AA and it is on board every Cunard ship I have sailed. They mentioned attending a church in Westport—the Congregational Church. I asked them if they knew a Wally Scoffield. "Oh yes!" they beamed. He is our present Minister in the First Congregation Church in Riverhead, NY. And so it went. I did note that on several occasions people from other countries would lean close to you and ask, "Is Bush going to be re-elected?"
The Captain's Compliments, and will you join him for cocktails..." The first blast was welcome aboard for all passengers who thronged the Queen's room at 5 PM for the inevitable picture taking of you and the Captain shaking hands. It's your Proof that you made this trip. The next invite was to the Frequent Floaters (5 plus cruises with Cunard) extended by the Captain. 700 Showed up for this gala and exchanged war stories of previous cruises and one-upmanship. Not to be outdone, the Senior Staff Officers threw another FF party and the same 700 showed up to do battle again, Surprising how so many couldn't make it to breakfast or lunch seemed in full fettle for these bacchanalia.
Maureen Ryan, senior cruise hostess, always greets me with a warm properly mannered hug and updates me on some of the people I know so well from the QE2 who are still with her. She hosted a small group get-together for 70 passengers who had sailed on the original Queen Mary. Four of them were on her for her maiden voyage. They all told stories of what it were like and the gal from our dinner table who attended said it was a pleasant afternoon session—with tea. As to staff who left or were transferred to the QM2, I recognized and was warmly greeted by about 10. And, truth be told, the preponderance were bartenders. Don't tell.
We were provided with a Passenger list of the 2,476 passengers on board. The first name on the alpha listing was..... Tahereh Abdolkarimzadeh through Helmut Zylla
The ship picked up the Pilot at Ambrose light at 4AM and Robert D. Jones came aboard to guide her to her berth at Pier 92. A veteran of 45 years of service, he stood on the bridge with binoculars and hand held radio well away that the world was watching as he peered through the early morning fog. He knew that off Brooklyn he had to make two crucial turns. "We were flying along at 18 knots" and he asked Commodore Warwick "How'll she do?""Fine" he responded. "She's a lot like the QE2." Jones didn't want to hear that. He said on the QE2 you had to use a lot of rudder. (The QM2 had no rudder—it's all done by propellers strategically mounted) But this thing noted Jones "Pranced around just magnificent!" At Pier 92 Jones turned over the duty to the Docking Pilot. And that concluded his service as a Pilot. He retired as of that day. What a way to go out!
FINALE A story line in THE New York Times summed it up perfectly: A QUEEN ARRIVES, AND EVEN IN JADED New York, JAWS DROP. Early debarkation was arranged and my time with Carl at the helm had me home by 11:30 AM. It took two days to come down from my high.
In summary...Of my 10 years of cruising, there have been many notable events, places visited, people met, and friendships formed. This 6-day cruise was by far the most memorable of them all. It was as though you were in another world... and indeed you were. Each night you set your clock back one hour and another 25-hour day was yours to savor. In 1839 Samuel Cunard of Halifax, Nova Scotia had a dream of Trans-Atlantic shipping carrying the Royal Mail. More than 160 years later, the newest Queen of the Cunard Line carries his vision on.