This westbound transatlantic crossing represented the third and final segment of a 22 day voyage. So after being acclimated to the routine of the ship it's a different perspective from someone just coming on board. During the layover in Southampton I had taken one of the in-transit tours offered. Upon returning to the Ocean Terminal there appears to be some delay in boarding arriving passengers, but the in-transit people get to go to the front of the queues and re-board.
The first dinner on board was Elegant Casual, but everyone seemed to have taken the effort to dress a notch or two better than casual. Thankfully the change of passengers meant that there were now six at a table for six in the Princess Grill. My new table mates were an American couple from Savannah, Georgia and a British couple. We could enjoy the first of several evenings of civil political discussions since British citizens are not personally involved in American politics and vice versa. Service however was noticeably slower after a change of some crew members at Southampton. Either they were short staffed or the new waiters need to learn their roles.
First day at sea was a beautiful afternoon with many people using the promenade deck chairs but, as it was late September, are bundled up to some degree. There was a storm to the north of us causing swells and the ship was pitching but not nearly as much as it had been on the EB when the pitching was causing the props to cavitate.
The Cruise Critic meet and greet on Cunard ships is traditionally held on the first sea day, 2PM, in the Commodore Club. One member and her husband came. We had a nice conversation but the gathering of 10-20 that I've heard to usually meet on the QM2 does not happen. I can only say that the three of us came to the announced place at the appointed day and hour.
Daytime entertainment/diversions: For anyone who has an interested in the history of Atlantic ocean liners this voyage had been tailor made. However on this segment the Insights speaker, David Drummond, doesn't have the same passion for his topic as did Bill Miller on the eastbound crossing. Some passengers thought it was too much of the same thing -- two speakers following each other on essentially the same topics. Later however the Insights lecture switched topics that ran the gamut of historical events to popular culture: Shackleton's attempt to reach the South Pole, Billy Wilder films, New York as shown in films, and US singer Frank Sinatra.
One activity offered on a sea day is a tour of the Britannia galley. If one has never seen it, don't miss it. The galley is an engineering and logistical marvel. Afternoon tea is a Cunard tradition at sea that I hope never ends. It's just an enjoyable way to spend some time with fellow passengers and do ask for a scone! The scones on QM2 were heavenly.
Evening activities: On these multiple-segment voyages the evening entertainment and ball themes tend to re-cycle. I think the first formal night is always the Black and White Ball. One evening was the Big Band Ball which combined the Queens Room and Royal Court Theatre orchestras. For dancers a night with a live big band is not something that is common even on land today.
On this crossing the evenings also offered Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts presentations of Much Ado About Nothing and The Canterbury Tales. These were abridged readings but a welcome change from the production shows that were already seen in one form or another on the previous voyage segments.
One night event that I had anticipated an a transatlantic crossing was a chance to see the stars under the guidance of the Royal Astronomical Society. Unfortunately we did not have even one evening without cloud cover so the telescopes were never brought on deck.
A comment on something really dumb by Cunard: It's common for there to be a Captain's cocktail party on a formal night. And, for those who have reached Cunard World Club gold status or higher, an invitation to the CWC party. During the British Isles tour, I had received invitations imprinted with my name and stateroom number but specified, ''for guests boarding at Southampton and Cherbourg''. Didn't they know that I had boarded in New York? What was the point of sending out invitations addressed to those who didn't qualify?
During the crossing the clocks are set back on five nights at 2AM ship's time. Manually change your laptop clock and you'll see time zones that most of us didn't know existed.
As the ship neared Newfoundland a flock of sea birds followed along our starboard side. Either people throw them food or the motion of the ship stirs up the sea critters that they feed upon. It's just another wonderful sight at sea -- especially from the aft hot tubs! On QM2 the aft pools give a wonderful 180deg view of the sea. The sea birds kept following us throughout the afternoon. They would drift in the air foils and occasionally skim the surface of the ocean to scoop up a snack.
This afternoon I met a British woman who is travelling on the WB with her husband for their first voyage of any kind. They wanted to try a TA and thoroughly enjoyed it but they had already arranged to fly back after their stay in New York. I was really fortunate to have been on the QM2 for almost three weeks. To do only the TA, seven days is really a very short time to really enjoy the QM2. On this WB trip, almost half the passengers were British, about one third American, and the others from all over the globe. I noticed a difference in the evening dress of the passengers. On this WB trip more men wore black tie formal wear than dark business suits but the women tend to wear short cocktail dresses rather than the long dresses that were seen on the EB trip. Perhaps it's British cultural practice to reserve long dresses for white tie formals.
Sunday morning on QM2 still offers the opportunity for Catholic Mass. Fewer ships carry a priest on board and I'm grateful that Cunard still does. One reason they might continue to do so could be the makeup of the crew. Over 600 crew members are from the Philippines, a country with a large demographic of devout Roman Catholics. Being able to practice one's religion while working on QM2 may be a tremendous incentive to sign on with Cunard rather than with another line.
The last two days on board a dense fog developed. It's quite an extraordinary sight to see a ship of this magnitude enveloped in fog so thick that her bow was partially shrouded when viewed from the Deck 11 observation area. It casts a beautiful ethereal effect on the open decks. QM2's fog horn is almost as impressive as her A flat whistle. The fog horn and motion of the ship give that unmistakable feel of the sea. To borrow the title from the sound track of the 1997 Titanic film: Unwilling to Leave, Unable to Stay.
On the last sea day Captain Oprey spent an hour in the Library autographing memorabilia -- probably the only part of the Captain's job that sucks. But having the Captain sign off on a souvenir makes it more special. On disembarkation day an early breakfast is scheduled 6-8AM, so even those choosing the Self Help disembarkation get a change to have a full breakfast before leaving.
Arrival in New York, with the vessel shrouded in heavy fog at dawn, was a sight that no camera could really capture. As we approached the Verrazano Narrows bridge only the illuminated footings could be seen at first. As we neared the bridge to slip underneath, the bridge lights appeared through the fog as if some spectral gate had formed to frame us. Despite the advantages of radar and GPS, steering a ship like this with no visibility must still be a difficult thing since familiar landmarks cannot be seen for reference.
QM2 docks at her usual berth in Red Hook, not the west side of Manhattan. Either way, we still would not have a view of Lady Liberty. Apparently she hasn't paid her ConEdison bill because she's dark.
In summary, this had been a very relaxing and very educational 22 days on board Queen Mary 2. I had noted wear and tear in an earlier review but that has since been addressed in the November/December refit. That, and three other negatives that keep me from rating this voyage five stars. One being the slow restaurant service after the crew change at Southampton. Two, the PG Maitre d' not reseating me on the middle voyage segment as requested. And three, the registry change to Bermuda will lower standards. On this voyage the QM2 was touring her home country. Its citizens were immensely proud of her and that she was theirs. How soon was this to end with the registry change from Great Britian to Bermuda. Her radio call letters GBQM -- which told the world where she came from and who she was -- would be replaced by the meaningless alphabet soup of ZCEF6. She's forever lost something special, and I think I'd rather remember her as she was.