Queen Mary 2 by Phil Reamon
Even from a great distance, without a doubt she was the Queen Mary 2. Carnival who owns the ship, in a high budget media blitz made sure she was as visible as the Egyptian Pyramids. The glossy brochure writers applied all usable superlative extolling her every nook and cranny in glowing terms, leaving readers with great expectations. Presently she is the " biggest kid on the block". What is truly amazing is how this 150 gross ton mass of metal, 18 stories high and some four city blocks long (1,132 ft) is eased into port with a tiny joystick from the bridge, by Ron Warwick, Master of the QM2.
We met Commodore Warwick and his beautiful wife Kim by chance in an elevator one Sunday morning. He was on his way to the Royal Court Theater to conduct an interfaith service. He was congenial and unassuming, belying a great responsibility as the final authority on the QM2. Kim was sincere and wholly unaffected. We often saw them at ship's functions and Kim always sought us out to say hello.
Other religious shipboard activities included Father Arsenault a Cajun priest from Prince Edward Islands offering Catholic mass daily for the passengers and Father Frank a Filipino priest conducting services for the crew.
We booked our 25-day QM2 "Grand Rio Carnival" cruise some eleven months before, while on a 52-day Atlantic Africa voyage aboard the Caronia. We had dined with two English ladies, who graciously taught us how to drink tea, appreciate mushy peas and digest our food. We were ready for a grander version of British cruising aboard the QM2 on her maiden voyage to the Virgin Islands and Brazil from Fort Lauderdale and return via Barbados, Martinique and San Maarten. We were eager to visit the new countries (for us), specially Brazil for their carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
Despite the strong winds I made my way to deck 12 of the Queen Mary 2 to see the dog kennels. A locked kennel door marked private ended any further quest. Except for a lone waiter at the Broadwalk Cafe, adjacent to the kennels, futilely straightening tables upended by the wind, deck 12 was deserted. He said the kennels were empty. Due to the powerful gusts on the upper decks the Broadwalk Cafe that served grilled foods for the swimming pool crowd opened only when the weather allowed.
Deck 7 housed the King's Court, theme Lido type buffet eateries. On the same deck were the Queen and Princess Grill, dining rooms assigned to passengers eligible by the square footage of their quarters. The King's Court was a good place to visit with shipmates from previous cruises and to meet other voyagers.
On board were a diverse mix of Americans, British, Europeans, Japanese with a group of Chinese and South Americans boarding the ship in Rio. The bulk were retirees, veteran cruisers, nostalgia and inaugural chasers chiefly seniors. Several people we met shared their unique travel experiences with us. Phil a retired writer and cartoonist from Florida was on his hundredth cruise. We sailed with Phil on the Caronia. Joda, a renowned Kabuki dancer, who with her husband flew on one of the last Concorde flights during a world cruise. Two sisters from England showed us their photo as children on the first Atlantic crossing of the Queen Mary after WW2. Mike, an 80-year-old adventurer from the Florida Keys got the ship's award for jogging 86.5 miles during the trip.
We had breakfast and lunch at the King's Court often because of the bounty of fresh fruit and newly baked goods. Our lunch of sautEed fresh vegetables became a favorite dish at the Lotus restaurant. Two chefs recruited from five-star rated Manila hotels delighted the often-long line of diners with their "stir-fry" creations.
The friendly wait staff were seasoned veterans from Cunard's Caronia, QE2, Seabourn and the White Star Academy. Most were from the Philippines, Eastern Europe and South Africa. We had sailed with several of them on prior voyages and were elated to see them again.
We had our evening meals at the Britannia with the majority of passengers. The Britannia seats at least 1351 persons and occupied two decks. The menu offered a wide choice of typical cruise fare and desserts. I opted for the Canyon Ranch cuisine that was superbly prepared and served in just the right portions. The service was slow at first, even by British standards, but improved in duration. Order terminals, beverage dispensers for coffee, tea and soup tureens installed at the waiter's stations saved time. Waiters still had a long walk to the galley to fill orders.
Table settings at the much-puffed Todd English were excellent, but the fare was only comparable to regular cruise cuisine with the vegetables overdone. The wine served was flat. You don't get a wine list unless you ordered by the bottle. The wine waiter got upset when we ordered by the glass. Tempers rose and shouting matches erupted on several occasions between diners queued for table reservations at the bistro.
The QM2's 13 bars and Empire Casino held the least attention from us, since we were not into spirits or gaming. We spent much of our time at the marvelous ship's library, the gym, attending talks at the planetarium or viewing the remarkable set of original art that abound the ship. What we missed were live plants. A beautiful bowl of silk roses grace a table at the Queen's ballroom. Ersatz trees and flora populated the corridors and the Winter Garden with it's equally faux waterfall and recorded bird-songs.
The superb six thousand-volume library of the QM2 would surely warm the hearts of many a bookworm as they experience it. A wide choice of English and foreign books on varied subjects line new bookcases. The place is quite popular and bustling, specially during sea days. Three Internet stations were available for email (pricey and unreliable at best). Located at the bow of the ship, the library has a radiant view of the sea. The gym is in a bright and cheery room one deck below the library. It has a good number of the latest cardio equipment and a weight room.
The Illuminations is a beautiful 500-seat auditorium used for lectures and a cinema. It draws quite a crowd during lectures given by well-known authors and famous people. The place is usually packed and had standing room only when the actress Patricia Neal appeared to recall her life on the stage.
A huge dome lowered over the center 150 seats converts the auditorium to a planetarium. Powerful projectors aim a bright, simulated night sky at the dome. Cozy seats recline for best viewing. The display and sound is a majestic presentation. The Royal Court Theater contains about 1357 people if the seats behind several massive columns blocking the view to the stage are included. The shows are the usual cruise-type productions.
A huge computer-generated photo-mosaic welcomes passengers aboard the QM2. The fascinating portrait is composed of small photographs depicting the history of Cunard. Bas-relief panels depicting world cultures dominate the walls of wide carpeted promenades. Murals portray English countryside scenes, still life of fruit, seafood and wine adorn the walls of staircase landings. A small art gallery on the way to the Queens Room exhibits works of surrealist painter Dali, etchings by Chagal, Rembrant, Goya and impressionist painter Pissarro (who was born in the West Indies). A series of textile wall hangings at the Canyon Ranch Spa are quite intriguing.
The QM2 docks at dawn in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This is the crest of her maiden voyage to the Rio Carnival billed by Cunard as the "greatest party in the world."
A slight drizzle fell as we left the ship. The local guides herded us to waiting buses for an hour's ride to the Sambadrome. They handed out plastic ponchos to ward off the rain and foam seat cushions for the hard cement bleachers.
Deafening samba rhythms and a blast of color greeted us as we joined the immense crown that filled the stadium. Scantily clad performers rode on gaudily decorated floats followed by Cariocas dressed in brightly colored costumes swaying to the thunderous throb of the Samba beat. Sweating rows of muscular men propel the heavy floats forward. The parade does not allow the use of motorized vehicles. The revelry was a sight to behold.
The weather was wonderful, and the ports were great. It was smooth sailing all the way. We enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones. The QM2 is a beautiful ship. Overall the facilities are excellent. We were pleased with our 194 sq. ft ocean view cabin. The old-time staff was adept and capable. The new hotel personnel specially the desk clerks at the Purser's office were totally baffled and appeared unable to answer simple questions. There certainly is room for progress by more training to abate the long queues for service.
We looked forward to the refined elegance of British cruising we found on the Caronia and QE2. British tradition on the QM2 seemed relegated to a pub, the Carvery, and afternoon tea.
Disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale was as chaotic and confusing as embarkation. QM2's transfer crew was less than helpful. We located our luggage quickly but porters were rare and few in between. Self-service carts were not available. We paid the ship for porterage but ended up handling our own luggage. We fared better on other cruises. During embarkation 2000 people were limited to a single double door and a lone metal detector.